Teaching Poetry Analysis in the ELA Classroom

Teaching Poetry Analysis in the ELA Classroom

  • Using a think-aloud strategy with students at the start of your poetry analysis unit provides students with the essential skills they need to confidently analyze poems.
  • Incorporating research-based instructional strategies is a proven way to help students learn how to read and analyze poetry.
  • Using SWIFT makes poetry analysis more accessible for all students.
When it comes to teaching poetry, many times both teachers and students take a step back. For a teacher, teaching poetry can be intimidating. As a student, learning how to analyze poetry can also be downright frightening. This is true in both the middle school ELA classroom and the high school English classroom. Heck, I even remember dreading it as a college student! However, it doesn’t have to be this way.

Here are three strategies teachers can use to help make teaching poetry analysis enjoyable, accessible, and effective!

Think Aloud with the Students

As you read and analyze poetry, especially during the beginning of the unit, think aloud for your students. By doing so, you’ll model a thought process that students can then try to implement themselves when they move to individual work. It’s important that students know how to approach poetry analysis.

As I think aloud for my students, I might describe images that I see as I underline words that help contribute to the imagery. I then might explain how the word is descriptive, how the descriptive words helped me form an image, and explain to my students that the image helps me to understand the overall poem.

Use “I Do, We Do, You Do” Teaching Strategies

At the beginning of a poetry unit, whole-group instruction and practice is essential. Since analyzing poetry can be such an intimidating concept for students, using proven research-based instructional strategies is key! When I teach poetry in my classroom, I like to use this comprehensive poetry analysis teaching unit. It includes direct instruction, a whole-class activity, and plenty of practice for students to work on either collaboratively or individually.
Poetry Teaching Unit

At the start of the unit, I like to provide students with brief instruction on poetry terms and show them some examples of the terms being used. Then, using the think-aloud method mentioned above, I like to think aloud with my students to help them make the connection of what the term is, an example of it being used in context, and explain why or how it is effective.

To move on to the “We Do” portion of the strategy, I like to spend at least one class period with a whole-class example. I’ll provide every student a copy of the poem we are analyzing. A good starter poem is “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” by William Wordsworth. As a class, we will work on analyzing the poem step-by-step and stanza-by-stanza, and we will do so together. I’ll ask the students to work with their desk partners, then confirm with their table groups, and then bring it to the whole class where we continue the analysis. In doing so, students gain experience and confidence as they learn a new skill.

As students move on to the “You Do” for this strategy, I like to incorporate choice. Provide students with an assortment of poems to choose from, and have them analyze the poem of their choice with either these annotating poetry task cards or these poetry analysis task cards.

Use SWIFT for Analysis

One way that I like to help make poetry analysis more accessible to all of my students is by using an acronym to break down the poetry analysis process. I use the acronym SWIFT in my classroom: structure, word choice and tone, imagery, figurative language, and theme.

Teaching Poetry Analysis in the ELA Classroom

With each new letter of the acronym, I have my students read the poem again, looking at and analyzing the poem for just that function.

  • S - STRUCTURE: What kind of poem is it? How many stanzas are there? Does the poem follow a rhyming scheme? Does the poet use repetition? Are there any patterns?
  • W - WORD CHOICE AND TONE: What words does the poet use that stand out to you? What words are strong or emotionally charged? Do these words have a positive or negative connotation? What kind of tone do these words convey?
  • I - IMAGERY: What descriptive language does the poet use to paint a picture? What picture does this paint? How does this image enhance your overall understanding of the poem?
  • F - FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE: What figurative language does the poet use? How does figurative language enhance the audience’s understanding of the poem? How does the figurative language contribute to the imagery? Why is the figurative language effective?
  • T - THEME: What is the poet’s overall message of the poem? How does the poet develop and contribute to this message?

By implementing these three strategies into your next poetry analysis teaching unit, you and your students will have a much more enjoyable experience learning to read, analyze, and love poetry.

Poetry Activities in the Secondary ELA Classroom

Once your students have a good understanding of poetry and poetry analysis, it is time to incorporate some fun and engaging poetry activities into your classroom. My students always enjoy writing an epistolary poem, and it is an easy way for them to open up. Another fun activity is having students create blackout poetry! I am also a really big fan of group analysis poster presentations. You can read more about how I use the SWIFT method with collaborative poetry analysis presentations.
How to Teach Blackout Poetry

Helpful links and resources:

3 Strategies to Motivate Students

 how to motivate students

I'm seeing it everywhere: teachers are tired and frustrated. And one of the biggest problems they are facing (among many) is the seemingly insurmountable task of motivating apathetic teens. If you are one of those teachers, read on for 3 strategies to motivate students.

I wish I had a one-size-fits-all approach that will work every time for every single student. I don't. But, I've got more than three decades of experience that taught me what gets students excited about being in school. I learned the most about this in the last five years because there is no question that it's getting harder to motivate students.

And we can blame all the factors that have lead to this - social media, parents, video games, lockdowns, etc. - or we can dig in and deal with the problem that is sitting in our classroom everyday. Because, as we know, that's what teachers do.

So let's get to it. How can you motivate students to learn? Read on and I'll give you strategies to:

✅ Start with a hook that makes students want to show up

✅ Chunk your lessons in a way that holds student attention

✅ Motivate your students by making the teaching and learning more visible

1. Carefully plan your hook

I realize that the concept of a hook is pretty basic Teacher - 101 stuff. But it's basic because it's super important. And I'm not talking about something complicated, highly entertaining, or time-consuming to prepare. Instead, you can motivate students with a regular pattern for how you begin your classes.

A good hook gets class started on time, is short but engaging, and is (usually) focused on the learning for the class.  Despite what they might show you, humans - even the teenage variety - crave routine. Also, when students know you always start at the bell, they will be much more likely to show up on time - especially when there's a hook that they look forward to.

The hook doesn't have to be long: it could just be one single question that gets students thinking & talking, or a quick story you tell that relates to your topic. It could be just a fun riddle to get their minds working.

Or, it can be something fun that gets students brains engaged in a skill you want to work on. When I start persuasive writing, for example, I start with an activity where students have to persuade each other to do things like wear the same outfit every day for a week or shaving their head. My students always loved this exercise  and it was a wonderful way to hook and motivate them. Check it out here and grab the activity for free.

bell ringer

If you want even more ways to hook your students, click here to grab a resource full of ideas, including ongoing group challenges you can use.

👉🏻 And don't forget to close your class in a way that's both meaningful and engaging. Check out these strategies.

2. Chunk Your Lessons to Keep Students Motivated

According to John Merino of Brain Rules, we don't pay attention to boring things.

Now wait. I'm not suggesting that YOU are boring.

But let's get real for a minute. Most of your students are in your class because they have to be. They didn't select you on a menu because they thought I'd really like to spend an hour learning about Writing/Shakespeare/ Rhetoric today. So we need to face the fact that no matter how engaging we are, no matter how active our lesson might be, students may not be into it.

The other reality we have to face is that these students are different than we are. Let me take you down a quick walk down memory lane to show you what I mean:

When I graduated from high school in 1985 the only access I had to information was the five year old Encyclopedia Brittanica in my house, the card catalogue and the microfiche in the library, and the three channels on our tv. If I wanted a book, I could choose from the selection that our book store had - there was no Amazon.

My youngest graduated in 2018. He had the world in his back pocket, as my father says of the cell phone. He had access to soooo much more information than I did and he consumed it in very different ways than I did.

In fact, I consume information very differently than seventeen year old Jackie did. When I read online, I jump from news story to social media platform to video and back again. I cannot focus they way I once could.

Technology has changed our attention spans, but our practices in school have largely remained the same. Students won't sit and listen to a long lecture or participate in long activities unless there's some chunking.

What does that look like?

First of all, aim to keep your lectures and lessons short and focused. In Focus: Elevating the essentials to radically improve student learning, Michael Schmoker recommends time limits between sections of a lecture; he says that the teacher should, "talk for 'no more than five minutes' before giving students an opportunity to process the new information—by writing or by interacting with their peers about the stated learning goal."

So, look at your lessons and devise a plan to chunk them into smaller bites. Pause around five minutes (obviously it may take more or less sometimes) and build in a chance for students to not only process but to switch things up. You can do this with:

• A quick reflection about what they have learned

• A chance to practice a skill you've just taught them

• Turn and talks (or stand-and-talks) where they discuss a question you pose or share their learning (and confusions)

• A short video that relates to the topic

Instead of your class structure looking like this: 20 - 30 minutes of teacher-centered time followed by 2o minutes of students working, consider ways you could chunk this: five minutes introducing one part of the lesson followed by a reflection. Another five minutes of the lesson followed by a turn-and-talk,  a chance to try a skill, etc.

Give students a break: it's also ok - and very effective - to give students a break part way through class. It was probably one of the best things I ever did to increase engagement in my classes. Click here to open the link to a blog post that explains why, so you can read it when you finish here.

3. Engage Students with More Visual Learning

If you follow me, you know that I am a HUGE proponent of making teaching and learning visible. It's actually my number one strategy to motivate students. That's because when we find ways to model our own processes and create opportunities for students to "see" how learning works, they will engage and be more motivated to learn.

Trust me; it works.

Activities that keep students active - mentally and physically - will also keep them more motivated to learn. Conversely, passive learning - the type that has students sitting and listening, doing lower level thinking activities - can do a lot to sink them into apathy.

I've had some of my greatest successes with active learning and visible thinking activities and I'm going to share one that it is always a hit. Students learn about the power of brainstorming, the importance of adding detail that shows rather than tells, and the effect of perspective on a subject - all with a gummy worm. Grab it here and try it and see how motivated your students will be!

Brainstorming with candy

Find more ideas and inspiration by going to the blog posts linked below.

⭐️ Get theories and ideas for visible learning

⭐️ Find out why hexagonal learning is the BEST - and grab a template to use

⭐️ Get more visible thinking activities here and here and here.

Another aspect of visual learning is the way we present information to our students.

Let's go back to they way that we consume information now. It's very visual and very interactive. Your students read a lot online. They engage with all kinds of information and learning every day.

We can tap into this natural curiosity, but we may need to consider how we deliver our content if we want to capture their attention.

When I was in high school, we read text, lots of it. There were no links to videos or audio because the technology to do so did not exist. I - and most of my classmates - were ok with reading long handouts because that was how it was done. There was no alternative.

Fast forward thirty years, and my son who recently graduated from high school, was getting handouts that looked just like the ones I got. There was nothing wrong with them, but my son - by the very fact that he grew up in the 21st century - is a very different consumer of information than I was at his age.

Visual learning

Our students are used to snazzy visuals and quick sound bites. They consume A LOT of information, but they like to do it quickly.

Is it any wonder their eyes glaze over in class?

In my experience, when I made material more interactive or visual, but adding images and embedded videos, more students read and absorbed it. I have some examples if you'd like to learn more, click below:

Another way to make learning more visual - and to get students to think about the material, is by using sketch notes. This video gives a very good explanation of how and why to use them.

There are also tools on Google Slides that can help students create their own graphic organizers. Get a great list on Ditch That Text Book.

So, there you have it: 3 strategies to motivate students. I really hope you found something that can help you in your classroom. Don't hesitate to reach out if you have any questions - or leave a comment here and I'll answer as soon as I can. 

And, if you'd like to work on your classroom management skills, I've got a course you can take (for PD hours). Find out more here.

Check out other strategies for motivating students:

Presto Plans: Figurative language escape room

The Daring English Teacher: 8 ways to get students moving

Jackie, ROOM 213

Bulletin Board Ideas for English Language Arts

Can high school teachers have colorful and engaging bulletin boards in their classrooms? Absolutely! In fact, something I have noticed over the years is that not only do bulletin boards add a pop of creativity, but students genuinely enjoy the change. I am sharing a few ways that you can easily add a burst of color to your classroom, while at the same time, making the content meaningful and engaging. 

1. Interesting Words

A fun way to get your students thinking is by using one of your bulletin boards to display words that are not common in their everyday vocabulary. It's fun to watch the students pronounce and then read about each word on this particular bulletin board. Displaying absurd words are a great way to get your upper elementary, middle or high school students engaged. 

Click HERE to take a closer look at other ways you can use this idea with your class. 

2. Career Education 

Career education is becoming a more common occurrence in English classes. I created this bulletin board to go along with one of my Career Exploration Project. This activity requires students to explore a career of interest. So, for my bulletin board, I printed out "Hello My Name Is..." name tags (found online), then I typed in the name of each of my students and the career that they were interested in learning more about. It was a nice way to see the various careers everyone in the class was interested in.

Click HERE to take a closer look on how you can use this idea with your class!

3. Holiday Activities

When you think of ugly sweaters, you typically think of Christmas. While I typically use this bulletin board around Christmas time, the activity itself does not necessarily need to be used during the month of December. 

In fact, you have have your students create ugly sweaters that they could wear anytime of the year! The focus of the assignment is to make logical connections about the items that a particular character would want on their sweater and then have your students explain those connections.

Click HERE to take a closer look on how you can use this idea with your class!

Can you guess the book or movie each of the sweaters were created for?

4. Exemplars

(I ran out of bulletin board space in my classroom during the time of this photo!) When I completed an essay writing unit with my class, I wanted to be able to show my students exactly what I was looking for. I posted three different essay samples for my students to peruse. I wrote various characteristics around each essay, so students knew exactly what I was looking for. Click HERE for a quick print-and-go download!

For example:

90% sample included: 7-8 sentences per paragraph, engaging topic, strong thesis statement, etc. 

80% sample included: good title, interesting ideas, expanded word choice, etc. 

70% sample included: five sentences per paragraph, basic title, basic word choice, etc.

These are just a few of the fun bulletin board ideas I wanted to share! For more fun ideas for your classroom, check out my Instagram

 For more classroom decor ideas, check out the following links:

5 Early Finisher Ideas for ELA


Picture this scenario. You’ve planned out the perfect lesson, and it’s amazing! You assign it to your students, and they’re engaged, and you feel like you thought of everything. Then, you are surprised when 6 or 7 students finish it earlier than expected. What do you do then? You need to keep these students busy so that they don’t waste time or distract others. 


These are where early finisher activities (or just “early finishers”) come in handy. Early finishers are activities that students can do if they finish their assigned coursework early. It’s a good idea to have high-interest and content-driven early finishers on hand for whenever you need to engage students who complete their work before the rest of the class does. 


Here are 5 effective early finishers that you can bring to your own ELA classroom. 

1. Independent Reading 

Early finishers can be as simple as independent reading. When students finish early, they can visit your classroom library to find something to read while the others finish their work. Having a selection of extremely high-interest short-form reading material works especially well for this. Have a selection of texts that students can easily dive into and work their reading muscles, even if only for a short period of time (i.e., magazines, comic books, Ripley’s Believe It or Not!). 


If your students are reading novels for your class, they can also read those when they finish early. Establish this as a procedure in your classroom by telling students that, in the cases where they might finish early, they should always pull out their novels. To make this more engaging for students, you might consider allowing a flexible seating option during this time. Maybe students who finish early can read out in the hall or somewhere more comfortable. 

2. Word Puzzles, Brainteasers, and Games 

Another option is to use ELA-based brainteasers and games as early finishers. For example, I like to use Word Puzzles where students have to guess phrases based on riddle-like representations of them. For example, you might have the word “Right” with the letter “I” on both sides, and students need to use their problem-solving skills to determine that the phrase is “right between the eyes.” Brainteasers like these are great to help students develop their creative and lateral thinking. 


There are plenty of other early finisher games that can keep your students focused and on-task. For example, you could have them do simple crossword or word search puzzles when they finish early. You can even use language-based board games like Scrabble, Scattergories, and Boggle. 

There are also online games like Quizlet and Flocabulary that are educational and can be adapted specifically for ELA. The point here is to keep students engaged and develop their language skills in a fun and engaging way! 

3. Reading Mystery 

Reading Mysteries can also work well as early finishers in ELA. Although they are typically done as a whole-class activity, you can challenge students who finish early to try and figure one out on their own. You can grab the Mystery of the Missing Garden Gnome reading mystery for free by clicking here. 

The premise is that after returning home one night, Mrs. Henry notices that her beloved garden gnome is missing from her yard, and students need to figure out who did it. As students work to solve the mystery, they will be developing their reading comprehension, close reading, and inference skills at the same time.


4. Watch a TED Talk 

You might also consider having TED Talks videos available to early finishers. You could do this by having a computer with headphones set up in your classroom. Just create a document on the computer called “TED Talks” with links to a selection of videos that students can choose from when they finish their work early. Here are some options that you can keep in your file:

  • The Power of Introverts: Susan Cain (author of the massively successful book Quiet), gives a talk about the extraordinary contributions that introverts bring to the world, which often seems to value being social and outgoing over everything else.
  • Grit - The Power of Passion and Perseverance: The speaker in this video, Angela Duckworth, is informed by her experiences as a seventh-grade teacher. She supports a growth mindset in her claims that grit (over things like IQ and talent) is the leading determinant of success. 
  • The Danger of a Single Story: In this TED Talk, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie talks about the power of finding one’s authentic cultural voice and the importance of hearing more than the story of one person or country.
  • Everyday Leadership: In this funny talk, Drew Dudley discusses the value of everyday acts of kindness and how, though we might not realize it, we have all changed peoples’ lives. 
  • Millennials in the Workplace: In this video, Simon Sinek discusses what he believes are the four issues standing in the way of bringing millennials happiness and fulfillment in life and the workplace: parenting, technology, impatience, and environment. Although this one isn’t a TED Talk, it’s nonetheless an interesting and poignant reflection, and it can easily be turned into a more comprehensive activity.


These range in time between 6 and 20 minutes, so students can choose videos that suit the amount of time they have. You can find more ideas like these on TED Talk’s TED-Ed youth and education initiative, which is directed toward students. Their blog “9 TED Talks recommended by students for students” has great suggestions.

5. Write a Letter / Card 

Finally, you can get students who finish early to write a letter or card to someone with their extra time. Because who doesn’t love receiving one of these? You can encourage students to write a letter to say thank you to someone who recently did something for them or to someone who just makes them laugh! Or they might even write a card for an upcoming holiday. 

This is a good option because it gets students writing and also gives them something physical that they can take outside the classroom. Although this might seem like something that is more for younger students, it is also something that middle and high school students could enjoy as well. 


There you have it! If you are looking for more ideas for early finishers, check out the links below. 

Growing Bundle of Word Find Puzzles by Tracee Orman

Collaborative Trivia Bell-Ringers by Nouvelle ELA

Character Analysis Growth Mindset Activities by The Daring English Teacher

Teaching Recommendations for the Second Semester

Planning for a new semester can be both exhilarating and daunting. It's a fresh start for students and teachers, and it is also a chance to level up instruction and really focus on building and improving students' skills.

Here is a look at our recommended lessons to teach during the second semester!

A Recommendation from Room 213: 

If you’re a secondary English teacher, then you are going to need some mini-lessons for teaching students to analyze author craft - and to use the techniques they learn about in their own writing. Jackie has got you covered with these classroom-tested lessons and activities.

Second Semester Activities for Secondary ELA

A Recommendation from Danielle from Nouvelle ELA:

Need to review classroom expectations with students or introduce a new cohort to your syllabus? This Syllabus Review Game is a mini-escape room game that your students will LOVE.

A Recommendation from The Daring English Teacher:

The start of the second semester is a great time to teach students how to write a research paper! Think about it: you’ve had these students for half of a school year now, and you’ve been working on building their writing skills so far. This research paper writing unit includes everything secondary ELA teachers could possibly need to teach research writing: an instructional presentation, graphic organizers, MLA format information, research writing outlines, a rubric, and more!

A Recommendation from Presto Plans

Have you wanted to bring more high-interest nonfiction into your ELA classroom? The start of a new semester is the perfect time to incorporate the Nonfiction Article of the Week Program. The Nonfiction Article of the Week is a full-year, 40-week nonfiction program for middle and high school English language arts teachers that includes high-interest articles, instruction slides, standards-based reading responses, videos, and creative assignments. Click here to learn more!

A Recommendation from Tracee Orman

Poetry is one of those units that students seem to dread. But there is a way to make it fun and relatable! My Guided Reading & Writing Poetry bundle has students learning more about famous poets, reading poems, and writing fun parody poems! This will last you weeks, and your students will love it!

A Recommendation from Addie Williams:

I love to teach writing by breaking it down into manageable steps for students.  Too often, it can seem overwhelming, but with some planning and organization, students will see they can be confident writers.  Here's a WRITING BUNDLE to get you through the rest of the year (or your new semester!) to help with narrative, descriptive, creative, and expository writing.

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