Engaging Young People in Conversation Using Poetry

April is National Poetry Month, and we wanted to take this opportunity to share some favorite poems that young people love and respond to.

If you’re a CASA volunteer visiting with a child over video chat or in person, bringing a poem to read to or with the child and discuss can open up a new world of conversation. You can also text poems to the child as a way to stay in contact and engage their creativity.

Here is a small collection of some of our favorite poems, along with prompting questions to get a conversation going. Tell the child or youth you are advocating for that you’d like to share a poem and talk about it. If they are interested in writing poetry, encourage them to write a poem about how they are feeling or what their life looks like now, and share it with you!

Poems for Tweens & Teens

Where I’m From
By George Ella Lyon

I am from clothespins,
from Clorox and carbon-tetrachloride.
I am from the dirt under the back porch.
(Black, glistening,
it tasted like beets.)
I am from the forsythia bush
the Dutch elm
whose long-gone limbs I remember
as if they were my own.

I’m from fudge and eyeglasses,
from Imogene and Alafair.
I’m from the know-it-alls
and the pass-it-ons,
from Perk up! and Pipe down!
I’m from He restoreth my soul
with a cottonball lamb
and ten verses I can say myself.

I’m from Artemus and Billie’s Branch,
fried corn and strong coffee.
From the finger my grandfather lost
to the auger,
the eye my father shut to keep his sight.

Under my bed was a dress box
spilling old pictures,
a sift of lost faces
to drift beneath my dreams.
I am from those moments–
snapped before I budded —
leaf-fall from the family tree.

Questions to Choose from After Reading “Where I’m From”

What are the most important things about where you are from? If you were from three things, like food, songs or a place, what would they be? What things will you remember the most about where you are now? Tell me about where you go to feel better, in real life or in your imagination.


The Voice
By Shel Silverstein

There is a voice inside you
That whispers all day long
“I feel that this is right for me,
I know that this is wrong.”
No preacher, teacher, parent, friend
Or wise man can decide
What’s right for you–Just listen to
The voice that speaks inside.

Questions to Choose from After Reading “The Voice”

Have you had to do this lately? What does your inner voice say to you? Have you ever had to choose your inner voice over other people? What does your inner voice sound like? Does it yell or whisper?


Poems for Elementary-Aged Children

By Laura Elizabeth Richard

Once there was an elephant,
Who tried to use the telephant—
No! No! I mean an elephone
Who tried to use the telephone—

(Dear me! I am not certain quite
That even now I’ve got it right.)
Howe’er it was, he got his trunk
Entangled in the telephunk;

The more he tried to get it free,
The louder buzzed the telephee—
(I fear I’d better drop the song
Of elephop and telephong!)

Questions to Choose from After Reading “Eletelephony”

What’s your favorite animal? How do you like talking on the telephone? If you could talk to any animal or person, who would it be?


Knoxville, Tennessee
By Nikki Giovanni

I always like summer
you can eat fresh corn
from daddy’s garden
and okra
and greens
and cabbage
and lots of
and buttermilk
and homemade ice-cream
at the church picnic
and listen to
gospel music
at the church
and go to the mountains with
your grandmother
and go barefooted
and be warm
all the time
not only when you go to bed
and sleep

Questions to Choose from After Reading “Knoxville, Tennessee”

What are your favorite things about summer? What is your favorite meal? What do you miss about being at home? Are there any good memories you are making at your foster home? What makes you feel safe right now?

Poetry is a perfect art form for engaging young people, who respond to both playful language and expression of emotional truth. You can browse more poems for teens and poems for children here. Happy National Poetry Month!