Digital Poetry Bridging Common Core Standards with Multimodal Instruction

Over the past few years, school districts in 46 states have been reshaping their literacy instruction to align their curriculum with the Common Core State Standards (CCSSI, 2010). Two of the more significant changes to English Language Arts standards are in the area of writing and multimodal instruction. CCSS place a stronger emphasis on writing and indicate a broader definition of literacy. For example, fifth grade students are expected to analyze the author’s manipulation of media, create a multimedia presentation, and produce a two page typed document (CCSSI, 2010). 

In addition, new literacies challenge our relationship with the writing process. As a result, educators need to re-evaluate and expand their understanding of literacy to include multimodal composition. In traditional poetry, composition is mediated on a piece of paper. The author’s goal is to evoke feelings and mental images through the printed text on a page. In digital poetry, composition is mediated on a screen and meaning is defined by the author’s use of sound, images, and textual motion (Hayles, 2008). 

Curwood and Cowell (2011) maintained that their iPoetry project increased 10th grade students’ awareness of audience, a greater attention to mood, and self-reflection. Findings from this study suggests multimodal composition afforded students a meaningful tool to explore poetry within a collaborative, multimedia environment. In addition, digital poetry connected out of school literacies with classroom instruction and added relevance to the study of poetry as a genre. 

Canadian researchers, Hughes & John (2009) implemented digital poetry with 6th and 7th grade students. The results highlighted the development of critical literacy and collaboration skills. According to the authors, the use of multimodal composition taught students how the use of multiple modes could increase the mood, imagery, and voice of the poem. In addition, the quality of students’ writing improved along with their ability to edit. 

Step by Step Guide
The following three standards (CCSSI, 2010) could be used to guide the design of a digital poetry project:

  • RL.5.7 Analyze how visual and multimedia elements contribute to the meaning, tone or beautify of a text (e.g., multimedia presentation of poem).
  • W.5.6 Use technology to produce and publish writing as well as to interact and collaborate with others; demonstrate sufficient command of keyboarding skills to type a minimum of two pages in a single sitting.
  • SL.5.5 Include multimedia components (e.g., graphics, sound) and visual displays in presentations  

The digital poetry project could consist of sixty-minute sessions over the course of four consecutive Fridays. In between each session, students read mentor poetry texts, record ideas in their writing journal, and collect sounds and images to use in their poem.

Session 1: Have students read and analyze page-based poetry and digital poetry by discussing the differences between two types of poetry. Guide students to think more critically about how sounds, images, and movement worked together with printed text to enhance meaning. 

Analyze Poetry as a Reader
What do you notice?
What was your first response to the poem?
What personal connections did you make to the poem?
When you reread it, what else did you understand?
What do you think the poet wanted you to get from this poem?
Which lines stood out and why?
What mood did it leave you in?
What did it inspire you to write?

Analyzing Poetry as a Writer
What mode(s) does the author use?
How does the author manipulate the media?
How does the media enhance the mood, theme, and reading of the poem?
Was the media distracting?
What do you notice about the line breaks?
What technique do you want to try in your poem?

Session 2: Introduce the composition process of digital poetry by using a think aloud when modeling how to create a digital poem. Invite students to apply an image, a sound, or a movement to the poem, Grandma, by Ralph Fletcher. After the whole group lesson, ask students to begin to brainstorm possible sounds, images, and movements for their own digital poem.

Digital Poetry Planning Guide
Start with a sound, image, or movement to support your brainstorming process.
Background: color or picture
Word: font style or size or motion
Explain your steps:

Session 3: Allow students the opportunity to work within PowerPoint or iMovie software to gain a deeper awareness of how sound, image, and movement of text could enhance mood and meaning. Walk around and give specific suggestions and feedback about the effects the students choose. At the end of the lesson, have students sharing how their poem was based on a sound, image, or movement.

Session 4: Ask students to present their digital poems to the class by explaining their multimodal composition process and reading their poem aloud. Allow time for peers to offer feedback in the form of praise, questions, and recommendations for future media choices.

Building a Bridge
Is poetry instruction still relevant in a time when we are preparing students for high-stakes testing in school while we read and write on cell phones, iPads, and laptops out of school? According to these two studies, the answer is, “Yes.” Digital poetry bridges new literacy skills with traditional poetry instruction in a collaborative environment. Any opportunities educators can build a bridge between out of school and in school literacies could increase student motivation and engagement to learn. The affordances of digital poetry instruction can provide the collaborative digital environment students’ desire while meeting the academic demands of the CCSS.

Common Core State Standards Initiative. (2010). Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects. Washington, DC: National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers. Accessed from:

Curwood, J. and Cowell, L. (2011). iPoetry: Creating Space for New Literacies in the English Curriculum. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy. 55(2), 110 – 120.

Hughes, J. (2008). The “screen-size” art: Using digital media to perform poetry. English in Education. 42(2), 148 – 164.

Hughes, J. and John, A. (2009). From Page to Digital Stage: Creating Digital Performances of Poetry. Voices from the Middle. 16(3), 15 – 22.