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

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