How Do I Find THE MEssage in poetry?

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SWBAT use strategies to determine the theme of a poem

Big Idea

As hard as it is to believe, poets don't just sit around writing down their feelings. They really want to tell YOU something.


10 minutes

For this lesson, students will be learning skills to answer the essential question, "How do we determine the theme of a poem?" The students learned about determining theme (R.L.5.2) in our fiction unit, so this is something with which they are familiar, however trying this with poetry may be a bit more difficult. The students will need to understand the meaning of poetry, how the structure and elements enhance that meaning, and the speaker's viewpoint in order to infer the theme. I've scaffolded the instruction thus far to help them make this transition, but it will take some practice, I'm sure. 

I like to get the kids motivated to learn, so for our activating, I made a  Hot Seat Activating game. Cut apart the poems and the themes and tape them to various seats in the room. I like these poems because they seemed like ones my kids would like or might have some background with. Since we're introducing theme, I wanted the theme to be pretty obvious, just to get the kiddos talking about them. I'm going to put one at each table group and tell the group members that don't have one taped to their seat to help the one that does. The idea is to match the poem with the theme by interacting with peers around the room. This also helps with problem solving because the kids have to work together to find the match. 

Today we're going to play a game called "You're in the Hot Seat!" When I ask you to look, you will all check under your chair to see if you have either a poem or a theme statement. If you don't have one, you'll help the friend at your table that does. Once you have your statement or poem, you need to find the poem or statement that matches. We've worked with theme before, so you do have some background knowledge to help you. I have chosen poems that won't have hidden themes. This means you should be able to infer the theme easily. Ready? Go!

Here are my kids completing this task. 


20 minutes

This year to get my kids ready for finding the theme in poetry, I finally decided to make a notes sheet of all things I do when I find the theme. I focused on 6 steps: looking at the title, paraphrasing when we can, thinking about connotations, author's attitude and feelings, shifts in mood and tone, and finally checking out the title again. This pulls in all of the skills we've been working with so far. 

Do you think it would be so easy to find the theme of "The Pasture" as it was for the poems we looked at in the Hot Seat activity?

Hopefully students realize that it will be more difficult. If they think it's easy, great! This lesson will go much more quickly!

Since finding theme was difficult for us on the pre-assessment, I used my metacognition to create a notes sheet for you. It lays out the steps I used when thinking about the possible theme. We'll glue these into our notebooks and then I'll model using the steps to figure out the theme of "A Poison Tree" by William Blake. I'll be thinking aloud and annotating while I read. This will make it much easier to infer the theme at the end. There are a lot of pieces to put together, but if I take my time, I think I can do it. Will you help me?

At this point I get started with the annotations. Here is a screenshot of my annotations. Some of my students helped me in various places because they were so excited to share their thoughts as I started getting through the poem. They wanted to know if the foe was actually dead; if it was about snow white; and why they would call a tree a pole. They had some great thoughts.  Once we decided on a theme- I let the students help me- we checked it here. Not that this is a credible source, but it certainly made the kids feel like they were right on the dot. I chose a difficult poem to model my thoughts because it's for instructional purpose. I'll scaffold the difficulty throughout the lesson to slowly release them to working on their own. 

Next we'll see if you can try this out with your partners. 

Guided Practice

10 minutes

To dig deep into theme, we're going to first check out a poem that Jack will discuss today. Then we'll read about Jack's reaction to that poem and a poem that Jack writes. To finish up, we'll be discussing possible themes in the two poems. 

In the next part of Love That Dog, Jack reads a poem by Walter Dean Myers and develops a great appreciation for this poet's work. We'll read through this quickly just to see Jack's excitement. 

Now that we've seen how much Jack loves "Love That Boy," we'll take a look at the theme of that poem and Jack's inspired poem. This may seem like an easy task, but we are just starting out on our own. I will be moving you toward the more difficult poems over the next few days. Practice using the steps to infer the theme while you work with your groups. I will see your evidence and annotations written on the poem and on the page adjacent to the poem in your notebook. 

I chose these poems not just because they're next in "Love That Dog", but because they are simple and the kids should see a theme of love pretty quickly. They'll all be able to connect with the poems, so this will be a great first application of the steps. 


10 minutes

In my usual lessons I have small groups at the end. For this lesson, I knew the activating and modeling would take a little longer, so I'll be working with small groups on day 2. To summarize the lesson, however, I will ask the students to try out the steps on a very short poem "Hurt no living thing." I'll just be looking to see that they can annotate the poem using the steps and that they can tell me about the theme of care and kindness for everything.