When you want American students to write, start with poetry. (The international students I have taught seemed more comfortable with creative nonfiction or stories.)

If you think they will say they hate poetry, have them tell you their favorite songs. Look some of those up online. Those are poems. Tell them so.

That gets their attention and freaks them out at the same time.

For older students, who are having to learn to read poetry, I have them bring a copy of their favorite lyrics to class. Then I read them and discuss meaning and, if there are any, poetic or rhetorical devices used in the lyrics.

The students often laugh at my “meanings,” as I don’t know what the songs are “really” about. I tell them that is okay. They don’t have to know what the poems are “really” about either. They only have to make a good argument based on the artifact of the words and placement in the poem. That’s all.

Usually that is very freeing. Perhaps not all teachers will agree with me, but even Robert Frost told a newspaper man who asked him whether a critic had been correct about the meaning of a poem that he could very well be. In fact, Frost liked that meaning well.