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Lesson Plan

How to Read a Poem

Lesson Objectives

In the lessons below you will teach students how to:

  • read poems for the poetic devices defined, illustrated, and explained in the lesson
  • write poems using these poetic devices

Checklist for Reading a Poem Closely

First, poems are an oral art. They are to be heard and not just read. As Robert Frost says, "A reader must read with an ear to the speaking voice" and not just be an..."eye reader--one who gets the meaning by glances." So, the following checklist begins by having students read the poem aloud to themselves so they can hear the nuances in tone shifts.

Second, reading poetry is active reading. Unlike beach reading, poems are meant to be marked up by the reader. They invite questions and personal experience and associative connections between images and phrases.

Third, formalist critics believe that each component of a poem works with the other components to create a coherent, meaningful whole. So, the reader must read with an awareness of the images, connotations, tone shifts, metaphors, and sound devices in order to ascertain how these formal elements influence the creation of meaning.

The following checklist assists students in becoming active and close readers of poems. Each time a poem is assigned for homework, students should annotate the poem accordingly.

  1. Read the poem aloud once, slowly. On the second reading underline key words, phrases, or images. Draw a line and comment on the significance of the phrase to the poem as a whole.
  2. Circle two unknown words, names, or references in the poem and define them in the margins. If you know all of the words, then circle words which have suggestive connotations and list these connotations--the emotional or other associations with the word.
  3. Write at least two questions that you would like to have answered about the poem at the end of the poem.
  4. Write a comment in the margins that connects a word, phrase, image, or passage to another word, phrase, image, or passage in the same poem or in other poems written by the poet or any other poet. Write in the phrase from the other poems and draw a line to connect the similar passages.
  5. Write about any personal experiences in the margins of the poem and draw a line to the word, phrase, image, or passage in the poem OR draw a line from the passage that most affected you and explain why.