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A health news article from NPR really got me thinking about poetry in the classroom. The report from NPR is about research comparing active regions of the brain while jazz musicians and rappers perform memorized and free-style pieces.

While studying for my undergraduate degree in psychology, I found the brain to be particularly fascinating. I haven't given up that sense of wonder yet. How is it possible for that gray, squiggly blob to do all the things it does? Each area of the brain has specific functions and directs certain skills for its human.

This image shows cross-sections of the brain doing different jobs: in a rapper’s brain, the orange represents areas active during improvisational rap; the blue represents areas working hardest during memorized pieces.

That, all on its own, is fascinating to me. Looking at it more closely, I realized that these skills together are firing across the brain, exciting an expansive area.

So, now I get why I needed to memorize 10 sections of verse from various works during that English Lit. class in high school -- and why my AP English teacher required all of us to write our own poetry so much. (I had that same teacher in 10th grade literature and remember a heavy poetry focus then, too.) Those lines of verse, whether we created them ourselves or were reciting well-worn and famous verses, had to be performed in front the teacher and our peers. These homework assignments weren’t only for the purpose of exposing me to culture for its own sake. That type of activity was actually good for still-developing frontal lobe.

I realize I’m making generalized application from this study, but it does seem related. Whether or not he realized it at the time, our Literature teacher was expanding our capacities for learning by engaging us in memorizing and creating poetry.

Check out more poetry resources in the GPB Education Resource page.