It can be hard to know which poems will spur your middle and high schoolers into deep, meaningful discussion and which will leave them yawning! So we asked experienced teachers to share their favorites. We asked for their favorite poems that always get a reaction, even from teens. Here’s what they had to say about the best poems for middle school and high school students.
Discuss symbolism with this short poem by Frost.
Discuss the literal and figurative meanings in this poem.
3. The Rat Ode by Elizabeth Acevedo
Listen to the author herself as she performs her poetry.
This poem follows Joe’s pain and suffering she experienced at Schubenacadie Residential School in Nova Scotia.
This poem for President Joe Biden’s inauguration had the nation talking about it for days to come.
Recount the dangers of misconception with this poem.
Frost doesn’t hold back with this poem, an ideal one for discussion and debate.
Ea documented this to raise awareness about the alarming rates of deforestation and the reckless destruction of our environment.
An oldie but goodie!
The late artist created a clear connection between the rhythm and deeper meaning of poetry and rap.
For your fans of science fiction.
A reaction to the experience of being black in America in the late 19th century.
Poe is an expert at rhyme scheme—and this poem is clear evidence of that.
14. Deer Hit by Jon Loomis
Students won’t soon forget this poem, both for the story and the sensory details.
Read this poem to discuss the meaning beyond the literal words on the page.
An example of just what one line can do.
Lehman engages with popular culture and an irreverent tone.
Any student who has ever felt annoyed or had to put up with daily frustrations will relate to this poem.
A politically-charged poem that still rings true today, Hughes’ poetry, but particularly Mother to Son, is timeless.
20. Beethoven by Shane Koyczan
This poem is a biography in verse that connects Beethoven’s story to the universal.
21. Oranges by Gary Soto
Soto’s poem about trying to impress a girl shows what small moments reveal about ourselves, and how those moments embed themselves in our memories.
This poem leaves lots of space for inference, which leads to great discussion.
Teach this poem for how O’Hara uses references or for the humor.
24. Pass On by Michael Lee
Lee’s poem creates snapshots of memory, creating lines and ideas for every student to grab and hold on to.
25. Snow by David Berman
Captures a narrative in miniature with a creative structure.
A political, uplifting, call to action that students should read right when they’re starting to define the mark they can have on the world.
Sheds light on the writing process, with a sense of humor and a tongue-in-cheek challenge.
This poem is deceptive in its simplicity and leaves a lot to talk about. Make sure to discuss that internal rhyme!
A solid work for teaching poetry elements (repetition, rhyme scheme …).
30. Daddy by Sylvia Plath
Plath rarely minces words and this is no exception—this poem is stuffed full of deeper meaning.
Dickinson is so good at creating mood, this time about reflection.
32. Annabel Lee by Edgar Allan Poe
A ghost story wrapped up in a poem, another Poe classic.
The rest of the poem is as humorous as the title, and it’s fun to dissect and analyze how Neruda writes about everyday objects, like the tuna on ice.
Use this poem to teach ways to approach point of view.