Like any form of art, poetry with teens helps them make sense of their life, relationships and encourages growth.
As youth walk through the world, they face several difficult things to navigate, including heartbreak, sexual development, friendship, drug and alcohol use, family dynamics, and decisions about the future.
Being a mentor for youth, God has placed you in a unique position to help them make sense of it all. And art, with its many applications, is a great way to do so.
Do you incorporate poetry with teens in your ministry? We’d love to know how in the comments below!
Just a Starting Point
There are countless ways to help teens process what’s going on in their lives. Art with teens is a helpful avenue with endless possibilities. We’ve put together a list of just five ideas in this blog series: art journaling, sculpture, painting, poetry, and photography.
No matter our age, we connect to our Creator as we live into our creativity. God creates us and the world, and we’re a part of that collaborative process. Poetry with teens is a cool way to experience this metaphor.
We hope these poetry-writing ideas are a starting point that leads to a deeper connection with God and self and that they help your youth make sense of their world. If any of your students are interested in the art of spoken word poetry, check out Youth Speaks.
Laying the Foundation for the Process
All of us, especially teens, develop through a process of trial and error. Art can be the same way as we create through play. We try a thing and see what happens, becoming familiar with the medium and adjusting along the way.
When making art as a form of spiritual formation, there is no specific goal except to listen internally. Each of your youth has a unique story and perspective. As you teach them to listen to the voice within, you facilitate their process of connection with God. So, assure them that there is no wrong way to write poetry.
When doing art with teens, help them trust their intuition, because it is the wisdom guiding them in their process of exploration and growth. As youth learn to trust this, they uncover who God has created and is creating them to be.
For further reading, recommend to your youth who are interested, Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg and Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert.
A Note on Lowering Anxiety
Many youth feel self-conscious and insecure when doing art. Art-making can build confidence, self-worth, and identity. But, anxiety can hinder this growth. So, help ease it with a few simple tactics.
First, when writing poetry with teens try starting by explaining that they have all they need within and around them. Also, assure them that they won’t be required to share any of their writing. Remind them that poetry-writing as a spiritual practice is about the process of connecting with God and themselves. It isn’t about the final product.
Second, as a warm-up exercise, invite your students to write for three minutes their stream of consciousness. They will write down whatever thoughts come to mind without interpreting or critiquing them. No one will see these.
These tactics help the kids feel that talent isn’t as much a factor in their process and outcome. Now, let’s dive into a few ideas!
Everyday Something Poem
We often assume that poetry needs to be about something profound and deep. But, what if that isn’t true? What if the potential for the poetic lies in our routine lives? With this exercise, you’ll invite your youth to bring awareness to their everyday lives. It’s an excellent practice for finding the sacred in the ordinary!
First, hand out paper and pen to each student. Writing rather than typing is a way to level the playing field, and it takes students back to a time when they were younger, which is helpful in encouraging freedom and creativity.
Second, give them a simple prompt like “Using short phrases, describe your lunch today. Consider including sights, sounds, foods, tastes, conversations, gratitude, feelings you experienced.” This prompt can be used for anything that’s an everyday something: their ride/walk to school, brushing their teeth, going to sleep, walking their dog, a family gathering.
Third, invite them to share their writing if they’d like to. Then, ask them to discuss what the process was like, how it felt, the challenges they overcame, and how they imagine this kind of writing may relate to discovering the Divine in their lives.
Nature Walk Poem
Use this type of writing when away with your students on retreat or take a walk around your church if in a more rural setting.
First, invite your students to walk together silently noticing the nature around them. Encourage them to listen to the sounds and look for things they hadn’t before noticed.
Next, stop after a few minutes and tell them that in the next few minutes they will search silently for a piece of nature they feel drawn to. They will take this back with them to write about.
Next, once all have an item, walk back to a common space where they can begin to write. Invite them to describe in detail what the object looks like, perhaps why they felt drawn to it, how they may see God at work in this item’s life cycle, how it may teach them about their own life.
Lastly, discuss together what the experience of being in nature silently was like. Ask them to share their writing if they’d like and what the process was like for them.
In this exercise, your students will imagine and reflect on what they’ve learned of God through experience and spiritual formation.
First, give your students paper and pen.
Next, invite them to reflect on their experiences of the Divine, what they have learned, and what they imagine God to be like. Give them a few minutes to brainstorm on their paper in list form, reminding them that they won’t have to share these.
After that, invite them to write at the top of a blank page “God is…” After every three lines, they will begin again with “God is…” Once they’ve written 12 lines, they will finish with what they imagine God hopes for the world.
To end, invite them to discuss their writing if they’d like and what the process was like. Ask how this may have impacted their ideas about God and how they may want to help God’s hope for the world become a reality.
We hope these ideas have inspired you to think of writing poetry with teens as a spiritual practice. Have you seen the power of poetry with your youth? Don’t forget to tell us about it in the comments below!
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