Preparing for Poetry: A Reader's First Steps

Students are often gleeful to discover that their reading homework involves only a few short poems. Yet the attentive student realizes that carefully reading a poem involves as much work as reading a short story, article, or passage from a novel. Reading through a poem once might count for the letter of the assignment, but certainly not the spirit. A careful review of a poem involves diligent attention to form, language, and technique—all items students are often unprepared to examine on their own. This EDSITEment lesson teaches students how to read a poem so that they are prepared, rather than simply present, for class discussion.

This lesson will begin with a discussion on differentiating literal and figurative language, showing how students will determine denotation and connotation in language. With an emphasis on creating arguments using evidence from the poem, they will next learn how to annotate and paraphrase a poem. They will decipher who the speaker is and how tone and setting establish tension and dramatic context. Finally, students will explore the poem's structure, with attention to rhyme, use of line, and form. Through these exercises, which center on William Shakespeare's Sonnet 130, "My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun," students will learn how to create a thesis about the poem rooted in textual evidence.

Guiding Questions

What basic strategies are involved when first reading a poetic work?

How do you create a thesis about a poem?

Learning Objectives

Distinguish between literal and figurative language.

Establish methods for paraphrasing and annotating poems.

Decipher the speaker of the poem, and his or her role.

Recognize the context of a poem.

Understand basic poetic structure and its relationship to a poem's content.

Comprehend the poem's theme.

Begin to create a thesis about a poem based on textual evidence.