Poetry Props: Strategies for Student Understanding

TP-CASTT, SOAPStone, and DIDLS have been long-time methods of teaching students how to unpack and understand poetry. These have their place in the classroom and offer students a structured approach to poetry. In the past few years, however, class discussions and the teaching of poetry has become more organic and student-driven. With that in mind, here are some simple activities to use in the classroom when teaching poetry:

The Goldilocks Test (thanks to Ruth Arseneault for reminding me of this) –

Remember the story of Goldilocks? She stumbles upon the bears’ home and tries out their things.  The first bowl of porridge was too cold, the second too hot, but the third was just right. The first chair was too big, the second too small, but the third was just right. Goldilocks’ judging scale offers teachers a quick assessment for the understanding of poetry. At the beginning of the year, have students choose and submit three poems with one being too hard, one being too easy, and one is just right. This automatically gives the teacher an understanding of a student’s comfort level with poetry. This can also be used for either  an initial  reading or a post-study check of a poem. Students can rate the poem as too easy, too hard, or just right with a ticket-out-the-door or a simple show of hands for each category.

3x? From Matt Brown

Have students read a poem either to themselves or aloud as a class before discussing. After each reading, students will rate their level of understanding on a scale of 1-10 and write one pressing question. After the three readings and reflection times, students share questions and discuss as a class. I love this activity so much because the class discussion is based on student questions. This also allows students to formulate their own questions about a poem before hearing what others think and shows students that a poem generates new questions and thoughts the more times it is read.

Notice and Note from Jori Krulder

Have students read through a poem individually then read the poem as a class. Ask students what they noticed in the first reading. Now have students mark the poem. Students can mark poetic devices, write questions in the margin, or define words. The markings should be whatever they feel will help them understand the poem better. Finally, have students write two or three statements (small detail or big picture) about the poem. I love this activity because it demonstrates to students that annotating poetry is not a formulaic process but rather an individual one.

“It’s Poetry to Me” by Jill Massey

Jill’s method uses Post-it Notes to help students generate questions and ideas about poems. I love this because it gets students moving around the room, talking to classmates, and taking ownership of the poem.

Literal and Figurative Annotations

To help my students delve into deeper meanings of a poem, I encourage them to make notes about the literal meaning of a poem on the left side of the text and notes about the figurative meaning on the right side. This helps them to quickly scan down the right side and notice emerging themes or patterns in deeper meanings.

Reading Poetry as Prose

Before I am excommunicated from the English teacher community, hear me out. Poetry is beautiful because it adheres to its own set of rules (or lack of) in regards to structure, form, rhythm, and rhyme; this is what makes poetry different from prose. However, many students lack the reading maturity to make meaning of poetry when it is read as intended. I often demonstrate this by reading “Thanatopsis” by Bryant. Because students stop at the end of each line while reading, they often assume that each line is its own entity. When they go back and bracket each sentence in the poem and read it sentence by sentence, students’ comprehension immediately increases. We can then discuss blank verse and the benefits of structure and form of a poem.

Need more ideas? Check out these resources:

Spotting Patterns from Teaching Channel – This 6-minute video is well worth your time if you teach poetry!

“Reading a Poem: 20 Strategies” from The Atlantic

“The Ten Commandments for Teaching Poetry” from AP Lit Help

One thought on “Poetry Props: Strategies for Student Understanding

Comments are closed.