Teaching Poetry to At-Risk Youth

A young woman writing poetry.

Youth who are homeless, in the juvenile justice system, or aging out of foster care usually have a lot of strong emotions bottled up inside. It’s not uncommon for them to channel these feelings in destructive ways such as disruptive behavior or substance use.

Writing poetry is a healthy way for youth to express their feelings, which is why Richard Gold founded the Pongo Teen Writing Project. Since its founding in 1992, the Seattle-based project has inspired four organizations to adopt its poetry writing model for their youth clients.

Taking a trauma-informed approach, the project trains volunteers to encourage young people’s self-expression. The project’s techniques make poetry writing accessible for all youth, even for those with low levels of literacy.

While the project’s website promotes Gold’s published guide, the site also provides many free resources to help organizations get their own poetry project off the ground. Here are some of the sections that will help you get started:

  • Videos and poetry excerpts. To get a sense of what the poetry writing sessions look like in action, watch some of the project’s videos such as KING5-TV’s Emmy-winning story, or the PBS NewsHour’s segment. Young people’s published poetry demonstrates the power of the medium, with poem titles like, “How Tucked in the Corner,” and, “Things I Would Say to My 14-Year-Old Mom.”
  • Start a project. This section provides support for developing a poetry project that fits your organization’s needs. For example, there’s information for creating a simple project, a classic project, and a classroom-based project. The Pongo Teen Writing Project also offers free phone consultations when developing projects need extra help.
  • Teaching resources. Step-by-step, this section covers the basic building blocks like how to start each session and techniques for working with youth one-on-one and in groups.
  • Writing Activities. Perfect for new poetry projects, this section provides 50 activities that will get your program up and running while your volunteers are still honing their techniques. These Pongo fill-in-the-blank activities focus on themes such as, ‘If God Were Looking at My Life,’ and, ‘I Am Old and New.’

More on Writing Activities for Youth

5 Steps to Engage Young People in Poetry Competitions

What are the Pros and Cons of Engaging Youth in Narrative Writing?

Bright Idea: Use Poetry to Help Youth Sort Out Who They Are

Publications discussed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Clearinghouse on Families and Youth, the Family and Youth Services Bureau, or the Administration for Children and Families.

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