2.04 – Analyzing Poetry: Looking at Four Poems (English Lesson)

This lesson moves students from writing poetry, to looking at – and analyzing – poetry. Some teachers start with reading poetry, and then shift to the creation process. I’ve found it’s more helpful to create, and then shift to looking at the works of others. The rationale is that when students see “professional poetry” they begin to doubt the validity of their own writing. However, when they write their own work and look at “professional poetry” they see the similarities and shared expressions that make their work just as meaningful as published pieces.

This lesson focuses on four poems: Evelyn Lau’s I Love You, David Alexander’s Parable of the Eagle, Joseph Dandurand’s The First Day, and Dane Swan’s Coffee Time.

Students will be invited to read the poems, discuss the poems, and use a variety of graphic organizers to synthesize their thoughts and feelings about them.

English Course Pack: Unit Two – Poetry

This assignment is part of the The Full English Course Park. This piece is part of Unit Two: Poetry, which focuses on engaging with literary / poetic devices, reading and appreciating poetry, writing poetry, and creating a unique artifact filled with personal expressions.

If you would like to say thanks, consider buying me a coffee. But that is neither required, nor expected.

2.04 – Reading and Analyzing Poetry

Step One: Reading the Four Poems

The best place to begin, is in the beginning. Presenting students with the poems is a great way to begin. You can read them to the class, and then have the class read them to you if you’d like. Or, have the class read them to you, and then read them to the class.

Whatever you choose, I do recommend that you read them to the class. So much of poetry is in how it is communicated. The words read in a choppy, disconnected voice may fall flat, while emphasis and emotion may allow a piece to come to life.

Build off of the understanding presented when looking at Spoken Word Poetry to start forming these connections.

Four Groups

Grouping the desks in your classroom can be an effective way to introduce these poems. Each group will have one poem that they will look at and discuss. You might also just randomly hand out one of the four poems to each student, if your class is set up in rows. After providing some time to read them, students can be directed to connect with other people that share their poem (using coloured photocopier paper is an effective strategy, however that takes time – and that’s something few of us have these days).

Once students have read their poems to each other, and discussed them, you can read each one to the class. Pause after each poem, and let the lead-group take the floor and discuss their thoughts and feelings about it, before opening up the discussion to the rest of the class.

Once each of the four poems has been read, and considered you can move on to the next phase.

Students should make brief notations in the Reflecting on the Poems sheet that can be found in WhatBinder.com 2.04a The Four Poems (2021).

Step Two: Four Corners

Now that students have made reflections on each of the four poems, encourage them to circle, or star their favourite of the four poems.

Once students have made a decision, assign each of the four corners to one of the poems. Ask students to stand up, and head over to that corner to form new groups.

Don’t worry if some groups have dozens of students, and other groups have only three or four, or none. This is a self-selection activity, and it’s important to honour student choice.

In their new groups, students should be encouraged to talk about:

  • What the poems is about
  • How they know what it’s about
  • Key “plot points” (what happens) in the poem
  • The most important line of them poem (in their opinion)
  • One thing that surprised them in the poem
  • A personal connection they can make with them poem
  • A question they have about the poem

Allow this discussion to continue for as long as it is productive, and then use a class-discussion model to debrief each of the groups, when they return to their seats.

Step Three: The Graphic Organizer

Hand out a copy of the Poetry Thought Collection Graphic Organizer to each student. They will find the questions there instantly recognizable.

Let them know that they should choose one of the four poems, and fill out that sheet to organize their thoughts, feelings, and ideas.

You can return to this sheet an infinite amount of times, if you wish to present them with additional poems, as it scaffolds their thoughts, and sets a foundation for expressive metacognition.

Once students have finished collecting their thoughts using the graphic organizers, provide an opportunity for them to share their thoughts with the class. As you are looking for personal connections, you may not want to insist that students share.

I set the tone by running through each of the questions using Evelyn Lau’s poem. This also opens the door for a conversation about toxic relationships, which can also be connected back to Alligator River.

Step Four: Optional Visual Extension

If time remains, I like to challenge students to visually represent their poem. They can either hand-draw a scene from, or symbolic representation of the poem. They can then integrate their favourite line from the poem in an engaging fashion.

Not only does this encourage students to rethink what poetry is, and can be, it also links to media expressions.

If students are more comfortable creating with digital tools, you might consider allowing that opportunity as well.

The Impact

Students now have the tools required to analyze poetry. One of the most important pieces is that they have been provided with access to two graphic organizers (one simple, and one more in depth) that will allow them to collect and direct their thoughts.

As you move forward with their students, they may not select to reuse the existing graphic organizer, but they will have an idea of how to sement their thoughts, and how those thoughts connect to a deeper understanding.

Your students will see that analyzing poetry doesn’t have to mean “Why were the drapes purple?” as much as it means looking at “How can I connect my experiences with the purple drapes in a way that allow me to gain a better understanding of myself, or the poem?”.

English – Unit Two: Poetry

English Course Packs: Full Units

Unit One: Literacy Skills
Unit Two: Poetry
Unit Three: Literature Circles (In Progress)
Unit Four: Creative Writing & Choose Our Way Tales (In Progress)
Unit Five: Essay Writing (In Progress)
Unit Six: Culminating Tasks (In Progress)

Written by…

Michael Barltrop has been teaching since 2006, integrating comics, video games, and TTRPGs into his classroom. He has been the head of English, Literacy, Special Education, and Assessment & Evaluation and Universal Design. Feel free to reach out through Twitter @MrBarltrop!

Feel free to support the website hosting by buying him a coffee or sharing this post on facebook, twitter, or whatever social media is trending these days.

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