In the lower grades, my poetry lessons focused on having students read and write lots of different forms of poetry. When I moved up to fourth grade, the poetry unit looked pretty different. Now, it was all about teaching poetry comprehension skills so that students could read and analyze poems on a deeper level.
Here are some of the skills you might teach during an upper elementary poetry unit and some suggestions for teaching students to understand and analyze poems.
Poetry Standards and Skills
Many of the skills and stategies we teach during a fiction unit can also apply to poetry. Here are a few:
- identify the speaker of the poem
- summarize events in the plot
- identify the conflict and resolution
- draw conclusions and make inferences, using evidence from the text
- identify cause and effect relationships
- make and revise predictions
- identify the theme
- explain how a character develops throughout the poem
- identify figurative and sensory language and explain how it contributes to the poem
- describe how the choice of language, characters, and setting contributes to the poem
- identify the mood
- identify poetic elements (rhyme, repetition, alliteration, structure)
- ask and answer questions
- use context clues to determine the meaning of new words and phrases
Scaffolding Poetry Comprehension
Even though students have probably read plenty of poetry by the time they get to me, I still like to explicitly model how to read and analyze poems. I do this with a variety of forms including narrative, rhymed, free verse, and more. Choosing a poem with enough “meat” to analyze is key!
I find shared reading to be one of the best ways to model poetry reading skills. And bonus, students hear the poems being read out loud, as they should be! I project each poem so that the whole class can see it and we mark it up together as we discuss it. We reread it several times – not just one and done.
I always teach poetry after fiction, so my students are already familiar with most of the skills I plan to cover. They just need practice applying them to poetry. As we read the poem, I like to tackle one skill at a time so we can understand what’s happening in the poem and why the poet made the choices he/she did. You’ll want to have plenty of highlighters and sticky notes on hand!
It helps to create a poetry anchor chart as you go. For example, you could list questions to ask yourself as you read a poem.
After the “we do” phase, I have students practice in pairs or small groups. You can create questions specific to each poem or use more general poetry question stems. To keep both partners active, you can assign them roles. For example, Partner 1 can identify a sensory word and Partner 2 can explain what sense it appeals to and why the poet included it. Guided reading groups are also a great place to work in some poetry practice!
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Last, I have students tackle it on their own. If you use a reader’s notebook with your students, that’s a good place to store mini anchor charts and for students to practice these skills. I assign short poems with comprehension questions for practice and assessment. They can annotate the poem and then answer related questions. Self-checking poetry activities can make this step even easier.
As you can see, there is quite a lot to cover in an upper elementary poetry unit! I hope this scaffolding method helps you teach the different poetry comprehension strategies to grades 3, 4, and 5 students.