Thursday, January 19, 2017

Help Students Analyze Poetry and Enjoy It! {Grades 4-5}

Hi teacher friends!  April's poetry month is a short hop and a skip away.

You have to teach poetry to fourth and fifth graders but you may not have the time to prepare for dissecting poems.  There are 9 exemplar poems on the CCSS Poetry Exemplar List.  Yikes, that's a LOT and your prep time is limited.  Maybe you don't even LIKE poetry, let alone have to TEACH it.  Here's some hints that I hope help.

First you will want to learn about the POET:
  • Research everything about the poet.
  • What background can you learn about the poet?
  • Who is he or she?
  • Where is s/he from?
  • What was s/he known for?
  • What other poems has s/he written?
  • What is the audience for the poems?
  • What was his/her style?
  • During what time period was this poem written?
  • What elements of poetry does the poet emphasize?  Why?
  • What may have caused the poet to write this particular poem?
  • Has s/he written other similar poems?
  • Dig deep! Take notes.
Now you need to learn about the poem:
  • Start by first quickly reading the poem.
  • Now re-read the poem, this time  read it for understanding.
  • Then read the poem again, thinking about what the poet was (really) trying to say. 
  • What is the meaning of the poem?
  • What is the poem about?
  • Where does it take place?
  • Think through your teacher lens and make sense of the poem and consider what you would tell students.
  • What is the message and theme?
  • What is the poem's stanza structure? 
  • Does the poet choose to use rhyming structure or not?  
  • Why did the poet choose that structure?
  • What about the rhyme scheme?
  • How about the poet's use of alliteration, metaphors and similes?
  • What other types of figurative language are used?  
  • What other types of literary devices are used?
  • What words are used and what do they mean?
  • How does the poet use words to help convey mood and emotion?
  • Look for vivid verbs and colorful adjectives to point out to your students.
  • What emotion does the poem cause you to feel? 
  • Do you enjoy the poem?  
  • What makes you like or dislike it?
  • How will you teach this to students?
  • How will you assess student understanding?
There's SO much to teaching poetry but you have to do it right or your students won't enjoy it and that's just not okay!  {Quick Story!}  Here's a quick story about the importance of a teacher's love of their subject matter.  Did you have a teacher or professor in college that you loved?  If you did, it's likely because the teacher or prof had a passion and genuine interest in their subject matter.  I enjoyed  my high school French class, not so much because I loved French, but our teacher made it come to life.  He told us stories.  He made us laugh.  He made the subject matter come to life.  He didn't read slides or notes.  He talked to us.  He knew his stuff and he just talked to us and told stories connected to what we were learning.  Learning was fun in his class.  I actually went on to take French for a whole year in college and got a Bachelor of Arts (instead of a Bachelor of Science) because my teacher helped me love the subject matter.  I never dreamed I would do that but the inspiration from his class spurred me on.  YOU can be the storyteller that helps students understand why poets write and help them understand the deeper meaning of poems.  It's like a puzzle that needs solving!

Trust me on this; the more you know about the poet and the poem, the more you will be able to help students learn to read poetry and understand the (literal) words and the (figurative) word play.  I know it's not easy!  Some poems are hard to understand for adults.  Some of the poems on the 4th and 5th grade CCSS list are tough to interpret and I wondered how someone decided which poems were appropriate and understandable by 10 and 11 year olds?  Holy cow!  Think what those deep poems sound like to a student!  If they're tough for you to understand, you can empathize with your students as they struggle to grasp meaning.  You have to understand so you can help your students.  Don't short cut the steps of building your own background knowledge and understanding.  Read as many poems by the same author as you can so you get the poet's style and themes.

If you're STILL stressing about teaching poetry, and maybe don't have the time to devote to it, I suggest starting with one poet and poem. Then teach your socks off!

If you don't have time with the hectic year, don't worry.  I've got you covered!  I love teaching poetry and did all of the hard work for you!  If you're interested, I created 9 Poetry Analysis Task Card Sets for 4th & 5th Graders.  I bundled the task cards to save you money by including 2 free sets. (#everyonelovesadeal)  If you have teaching partners, additional licenses are a reduced price.  You can use one poem task card set each week and have a 9-week unit.  Or you can set up the task cards as a literature station.  Or you can use the tasks cards as direction instruction lesson starters then let students work in discussion groups or with partners to fill out the response booklet.   The choice is yours!  BUT whatever you do . . .  make learning poetry FUN!

Teaching poetry is one of my favorite ELA units of the year and it can be your students' favorite, too.

Here's a 30 second video that gives you a quick peek a the set. 
The bundled poetry analysis set includes everything you will need to teach all 9 poems.  The task card sets include a short poet biography summary.  I wrote task card questions and included sample response answers for each task card.  There's even a cool recording booklet that I designed to save paper for students to use.  It prints back to back and simply folds in half.  Website links are included so you can show students the videos, biographies, online versions of the poems and more.

Take the stress out of teaching poetry and start LOVING teaching poetry!


  1. I LOVE this post! You're so right about the importance of making learning fun! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks, Jen, for stopping in! Keep the learning fun!


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