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This lesson will serve as an introduction to the study of poetry.
- Pencil and paper
- Copies of 4-5 fun, light poems by writers like Jack Prelutsky, Shel Silverstein, Charles E. Carryl, or Robert Frost
- Copies of a poem from your state or district mandated curriculum or one of these suggested poems: “My Papa’s Waltz” by Theodore Roethke, “Ghost House” by Robert Frost, or “We Wear the Mask” by Paul Laurence Dunbar – all of which can be found online and encourage deep classroom discussions and debates.
- Identify the elements of a poem: form, rhyme scheme, author’s purpose, speaker, and mood of the poem.
- Identify author’s purpose in writing a poem.
Step 1: Introduce 4-5 poems to the class, based on your class size, by sharing a brief summary of each. Ask students to choose a poem that seems interesting to them. Then, students will choose their groups by choosing which poem each would like to explore further. Encourage small groups.
Step 2: While in their groups, have each student read the poem aloud. Afterward, distribute the questions and have the group discuss and respond to the following about the poem:
- How are the words organized on the page?
- Do any words rhyme?
- What was the poet's purpose in writing this piece?
- Who is the speaker in the poem?
- What is the mood of the poem?
- What meaning does the poem have for you?
Step 3: Upon completion, have each group share with the whole class all the information they obtained from the poem. As each group shares, encourage students to make connections from one poem to another based on each group’s answers. Accept all responses.
Step 4: With the class, return to the questions and encourage the students to make generalizations about five poetic devices: form, rhyme scheme, author’s purpose, speaker, and mood of the poem. The first question focuses on the form of the poem. After allowing them a few minutes to compare the forms of the different poems, introduce that the form of the poem is the first element of this type of writing. A stanza is to poetry as a paragraph is to prose. Remind students that some poems are not organized into stanzas. Ask: If this is the case, then what might the poet be trying to tell the reader?
Step 5: The second question draws attention to the rhyme scheme of the poem, or the sound of the poem, the next element of poetry. While this makes reading the poem sound more lyrical, the rhyme scheme also adds a certain challenge to poets, as each must choose words more carefully so as not to break up the pattern.
Step 6: The last three questions refer to the amount of imagery and figurative language used in the text of the poem: author’s purpose, speaker of the poem, and mood of the poem. These devices are used to help a reader make meaning of the poem. For author’s purpose, I always use these five options from which students can choose:
The 5 Reasons People Write Poetry
- Convey a thought or idea
- Tell a story
- Express feelings or mood
- Describe a scene
- Reveal a character
Help students identify the poet’s purpose in writing the poem. Once the students choose the purpose, they can more easily identify the speaker and the mood of the poem, as both are contingent upon why the poet initially wrote the piece.
Step 7: Briefly discuss the varying responses to question 6, emphasizing that poetry is personal and has different meanings for different people.
Step 8: Now that the basic elements of poetry have been introduced, give another poem to all the groups and have them answer the same set of questions. A poem that is more controversial may allow multiple interpretations; this would encourage a literary discussion in which the students would have to apply their learning and use the aforementioned devices to defend their opinions about the poem. I suggest “My Papa’s Waltz” by Theodore Roethke, “Ghost House” by Robert Frost, or “We Wear the Mask” by Paul Laurence Dunbar – all of which can be found online and encourage deep classroom discussions and debates.
Choose a poem that integrates science or social studies topics for the whole class poetry selection and encourage the students to make connections to that subject.
Take anecdotal records and assign the poetry questions along with a new poem as homework for students to complete independently. This will identify misconceptions to be retaught before implementing the next lesson.