Elements of Poetry Analysis

Poetry analysis lessons can allow students to explore the mechanics of poetry, and the emotions evoked.

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Nowadays, when teachers say they are going to start a poetry unit, they might be met with moans and groans. While poetry used to be a popular form of expression, it's not something that students in the 21st century are particularly comfortable with. Some students immediately think that it will be the worst unit known to man. My goal is not to make them love poetry, but to help them understand and appreciate it.

On our first day of poetry analysis, I start with a discussion that sparks prior knowledge and gets students talking. For example, we talk about the misconceptions people have about poetry, including that each poem has to have a structured rhyme and meter. We then transition into what poetry can be—free flowing emotion.  In order to help students grasp this idea, I start with something that all students are familiar with—music.  You can find a popular song that is classroom appropriate and give them the lyrics. You can read and discuss the lyrics with students, and then play the song. You can help students understand that poetry is not composed of just words on a page, but is also what we hear in music and see in art. When choosing your songs, it would be fine to include examples from various genres—Pop, R&B, Rap, etc . . .  Use what you know about your students and community to find a song that relates to them. 

As I move through the unit, I don't load students down with terms. Instead, I help students explore the poem emotionally as well as visually.  We begin by talking about what the poem looks like. For example, we explore where and how the words are arranged on the page.  Then we move to how the poem makes us feel. Specifically, we discuss if the writing provokes some kind of reader response.  After I grab them with the first music lesson, I look for poems that encompass a wide a variety of opinions, and demonstrate alternative structure.  Some examples that I might use would be from poets Langston Hughes, Walt Whitman, Robert Frost and Robert Bly.  You can ease students into poetry analysis by having them work in groups to discuss poems and do some free writing. Once they feel comfortable, you can have them work on individual responses.  Students can then share their impressions with the class.

Poetic terms like iambic pentameter, rhyme, rhythm, metaphor and simile can be very confusing to students. To help them absorb the new concepts, I give them specific poems that illustrate each term. I explain the term to the entire class and then break them up into groups to discuss the concept. It's important to take your time while explaining terms and not to move on until the students have mastered the first. Here are some other poetry lessons that would be great to try in your classroom.

Poetry Lesson Plans:

Interpreting Complex Poetry

This lesson is designed for high school students. The lesson outlines specific learning goals, as well as what activities should take place on each day. I think it would work quite well with students in eleventh or twelfth grades.

What is poetry?

If you need a good introductory lesson, I suggest this one.  It can easily be adapted to whatever poem you choose, while still providing the students with the basics of poetry analysis. There is even a section on how to utilize oral poems.

Listening to Poetry: The Sound of the Sonnet

I think sometimes we forget how important it is to listen to poetry, and not merely read it.  This lesson walks students through a variety of poems starting with the "Jabberwocky" by Lewis Caroll and transitions into some common Shakespearean sonnets. I like this lesson because it incorporates both aspects of poetry analysis--visual and oral.

Poetic Analysis

If you need a final analysis lesson, this might be useful. Essentially, the lesson works as a final project.  With the poem, students use what they have learned about key poetic terms to synthesize some kind of reflection. I would use this as a formal assessment of mastery of skills.