When educators share English Language Arts lessons that are rich in poetry, they offer a well-rounded literary education. Poetry provides students with a historical understanding, improves writing skills, sparks creativity, and encourages emotional expression.
Not sure how to incorporate poetry into your lesson plans? These 8 influential poets, beloved across generations, are a great addition to any curriculum—plus, we have a set of companion worksheets for each one!
1. Alice Moore Dunbar-Nelson
Alice Moore Dunbar-Nelson (1875-1935) was an American writer of poetry, short stories, and essays. She was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, and her works explored themes of racism and oppression, which made it difficult for her to get published.
Dunbar-Nelson was politically active and organized for women’s suffrage. She was also an influential figure in the Harlem Renaissance.
“I had not thought of violets late,
The wild, shy kind that spring beneath your feet
In wistful April days”
– Alice Dunbar-Nelson, “Sonnet”
2. Paul Laurence Dunbar
Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906) was born in Kentucky to two formerly enslaved people. Due to his family’s financial situation, he was unable to attend university, so he found work as an elevator operator and continued writing on the side.
He went on to become one of the first internationally acclaimed African American poets, publishing several collections of poems including Oak and Ivy, Majors and Minors, and Lyrics of Lowly Life.
Dunbar’s poems put the African American experience into writing before a broader audience for the first time, and many considered him the voice of the Black experience in America. He was married to Alice Dunbar Nelson (above), but they separated after 4 years.
“I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,—
When he beats his bars and he would be free;
It is not a carol of joy or glee,
But a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core,
But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings—
I know why the caged bird sings!”
-Paul Laurence Dunbar, “Sympathy”
3. Emily Dickinson
Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) was a 19th-century American lyric poet known for her distinctive writing style, experimenting with expression and elliptical language.
She was not very well-known during her lifetime (only 10 of her nearly 1,800 poems were published while she was alive!), but she has since been recognized as one of the greatest American poets of all time.
“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all -“
-Emily Dickinson, “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers”
4. William Butler Yeats
William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) was an Irish poet. He founded the Irish Literary Theatre to promote Irish plays. In 1912, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature “for his always inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form gives expression to the spirit of a whole nation.”
Many of Yeats’s poems were written for Maud Gonne, a woman he loved for many years and viewed as his chief muse but never married. His poetry also contains themes of the struggle for Irish independence
“But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”
– W.B. Yeats, “He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven”
5. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) was an American poet and educator. His most famous poems include “Paul Revere’s Ride” as well as long narrative poems like The Song of Hiawatha, and Evangeline, A Tale of Acadie.
Many of his works had a lyrical style and were known for their musicality. He also drew inspiration from myths and legends. He was one of the most widely known American poets of the 19th century.
“Kind hearts are the gardens,
Kind thoughts are the roots,
Kind words are the flowers,
Kind deeds are the fruits.
Take care of your garden,
And keep out the weeds,
Fill it with sunshine;
Kind words and kind deeds.”
— Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “Kind Hearts Are the Gardens”
6. Langston Hughes
James Mercer Langston Hughes (1901-1967) was an American poet. He was a prominent figure in the Harlem Renaissance, a literary and artistic movement of the 1920s that celebrated Black American language, music, art, and culture.
His love of jazz music influenced his writing, giving rise to the fusion genre of jazz poetry. Through his work, Hughes portrayed the joys and hardships of working-class Black Americans during the early 20th century.
“Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.
(America never was America to me.)”
– Langston Hughes, “Let America Be America Again”
7. Lewis Carroll
Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (1832-1898), known by his pen name, Lewis Carroll, was an English author and poet. His most famous works include Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel, Through the Looking-Glass.
Carroll was particularly interested in logic and games, and he wrote fantastical and humorous verses that often sounded very childlike.
“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
– Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass
8. A.E. Housman
Alfred Edward Housman (1859-1936) was an English poet. He is best known for his two published volumes of poetry, A Shropshire Lad and Last Poems.
His work explores themes of pastoral beauty, unrequited love, fleeting youth, grief, death, and the patriotism of the common soldier. Throughout his life, Housman worked as a professor of Latin at Cambridge.
“All knowledge is precious whether or not it serves the slightest human use.”
– A.E. Housman
Round out your lesson plans by looking through all 80+ poetry worksheets in the Education.com Learning Library! We have worksheets based on works by Robert Frost, fan-favorite poems like “Casey at Bat,” and more—across grades PreK to 8th!