A Poet Chooses That Structure On Purpose?

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SWBAT identify a poem's general structure and use that information to infer meaning in a poem.

Big Idea

Poets allow us to hunt for meaning in every aspect of their writing- sometimes it's even hidden in the structure of the poem.


10 minutes

In this lesson, students will tackle the big question of "How does the author use the structure of the poem to support the meaning?" This hits CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.5.5( Explain how a series of stanzas fits together to provide the overall structure of a poem.) In 5th grade we're not going to go too in depth about the different structures of poetry, but touch more on why poets may have made a particular structure choice. Students will dig deep into the meanings of poems and think about how the structure of the poem may connect to that meaning. Students need to be aware that poets have an idea behind the structure they choose, just like authors of prose choose their structures wisely. 

Start students off by showing them a few poems and let them ponder about the structures. Here are two that I chose.

What do you notice about the poems' structures? Are there stanzas? What does the poem look like? Are there paragraphs? How may lines in a stanza? 

The idea here is to discuss just general observations about structure. Students should be able to say that one looks like a tree, the other is grouped into 2 stanzas, four lines per stanza. Some might discuss the rhythm and rhyme of the second poem.  This is just an activation strategy to get them motivated to learn, so there's no need to go too deep into the meanings of the poems. You can totally do so if you have the time though. I like to use it just to get them thinking and then start the guided process of instruction in the next section. 


15 minutes

This is no easy standard to teach, but it is so much fun to watch the kids make inferences about why an author might structure a poem in a certain way. The cool thing about this is that there isn't exactly a right or wrong answer, so the kids can just be allowed to THINK! 

I start off by modeling concepts and thinking for the students whenever I introduce something new. I find it makes it much easier to hand off responsibility to the students as we move throughout the lessons. If I want to move them toward independence, I need to show them my expectations and guide them to mastery. I chose the poem "Red Wheelbarrow" because the students are familiar with this poem from a previous lesson and because it's a perfect poem to really hit this standard. The structure is pretty obvious and a few of my kids actually stumbled upon it when we red the poem earlier in the unit. I asked the kids to hold the thought until later. 

Even though my students have this poem in their notebooks, I'm still going to give them a new one to glue into their notebooks so they can annotate with me as I model my thoughts. 

First, I'll read this poem aloud and refresh my memory about the meaning. (read aloud). I remember that this poem was about something simple like a wheelbarrow having so much meaning for the speaker. We thought maybe this was a farmer and he needed to use the wheelbarrow to take feed to his chickens which produced eggs or a source of livelihood. I also remember that we noticed that there are 4 short stanzas. Each stanza has two sentences that follow a 3 word then 1 word pattern. I'm wondering if William Carlos Williams was trying to connect his structure with the meaning of his poem? It seems like these lines are so simple, yet they pack so much meaning. At first glance the poem seems so small and insignificant, but when I really look at it, it means so much more. I wonder if that was how William felt about his red wheelbarrow?

I absolutely love this poem because at first I HATED it. I completely agreed with Jack in that if that was a poem, then anything could be a poem. Once I really read the poem and connected the structure, I had such a greater appreciation for the poem. I'm honest with my kids about this as well so they can see how even adults struggle with reading sometimes. 

Once I finish modeling my thoughts, I'll let the students have a quick discussion

2s tell 1s if you think I''m on the right track and why, 1s tells 2s if you agree with them and then share your thoughts. 2s will share out in 4 minutes. 

Guided Practice

15 minutes

We'll be reading pages 20-21 of Love That Dog in this section and then digging into "The Pasture" by Robert Frost. Jack really struggles with this poem in the story, so we'll discuss the meaning and then hit the structure in guided practice. 

Usually in guided practice, I let the students read through the selection and annotate with their peers, expecting that they'll come close to the meaning. This poem will be difficult. I want students to attempt to annotate and find meaning of this poem, but I know that many of them will be confused. That's going to be perfect for this lesson. I want them to connect with Jack and feel his confusion before we work through the poem together. 

With your table group, I want you to read and annotate the poem "The Pasture." I'll give you about 5 minutes to do this and then we'll get together to discuss. 

Get kids to share out their thoughts; especially the kiddos that might talk about having no idea what this poem means. 

Can you understand why Jack struggled with this poem? Do you think that maybe thinking about the structure of the poem will help us get closer to the meaning? How many stanzas do you see in this poem? Is there a rhyme scheme? Does the poem have a beat or rhythm? I know that when I see poems like that, sometimes they are written for younger people. The rhyming makes it "child like". Does that add anything to the possible meaning of this poem?

Let students discuss this for a moment. Then call them back together to share their ideas. While I guide and discuss, I like to have the students respond to some of these questions on the notebook page adjacent to the poem. I write these thoughts out with the students. 

 What else do you notice about the poem? (Hopefully, students will say something about the last lines being repeated) Does the repetition sound like someone is trying to calm a person? Maybe a child?

Guide students to think through the meaning of the poem. I don't want to spend too much time digging through the possible metaphor of life with the use of the pasture (open and beautiful, yet intimidating and daunting), but I do want students to understand that the speaker must be a maternal figure who is comforting a worried child. I also want them to see that the authors choose the structure based on the messages they are trying to convey.

Small Groups

15 minutes

Read aloud pages 22 through 24 to get students up to Jack's poem about getting his dog on page 25. At this point, we'll break into groups so students can practice annotating and thinking about why Jack (Sharon Creech really) structures his poem as he does. The students can read the poem on pages 25-27 or they can place a copy of the poem in their notebook. I have the students glue them in their notebooks so they can write all over them to interact with the text. 

As you read Jack's poem, think about what he is telling us and how the structure adds to that meaning. Think about: Does the poem rhyme? Is there rhythm? Is it free verse? How does the structure make Jack sound?

Just by making inferences about the structure, students pull so many standards together. They need to think about what we have done so far with determining meaning, think about characters and how they act, how the words and style let us know the speaker's viewpoint, etc.

While students are reading in groups, I'll pull a small group of students who have been struggling in reading. I look at overall performance and their formatives and quick checks to decide this. I'll probably have a group of 5 with me while the rest of the class works in small groups. Students may work independently if they like. When I pull my group, I will simply be there to guide them through the task. I don't want to provide too much support, but I know I'll need to guide their thinking about why Jack wrote in his free verse "rambling" tone. I want the students to get the idea that Jack was happy then and the excitement in his poem comes out through this chain of thoughts about that day. I'm hoping the students can reference the feelings of the words. I also want to discuss with them why Jack adds the last few lines about the dogs who aren't picked. This is a definite shift in the feeling of the poem, and I want to discuss this with them. 

Once students have finished reading and annotating, let them come up and write their thoughts on the board and explain their thinking. I included my students' responses and an acceptable answer to the structure question posed earlier. 



5 minutes

To wrap up the lesson, I'd like the students to summarize their learning using a quick exit ticket about how the structure can add meaning to a poem. 

I'm looking for students to be able to reference examples from the lesson to explain that an author chooses structures that give us a hint to the meaning. I want them to be able to tell me that authors have a purpose in mind- whether they choose a concrete poem, quatrains, free verse, etc. This exit ticket will tell me how much more I need to hit this over the next few days. I have a socratic seminar planned and workstations, so students will have a decent amount of time to spend with this new standard.