Sadness strikes; Comparing Theme in Poetry

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SWBAT use text details to compare and contrast poems with similar themes.,

Big Idea

Two poems. Same theme. Yet completely different. How does that happen?


In this cornerstone lesson, a video of the whole class is available. We'll be taking our theme lesson one step further and hitting that CCSS RL5.9 standard where the kiddos have to compare different texts and how they approach the same theme. Finding the theme of a poem is already difficult for some students, so taking it one step further will take some time and scaffolding. 


8 minutes

To start my students off, I'm going to ask them to listen to two songs and compare the meanings of the songs. My students gave me some song titles at the beginning of the unit, so I used these to select songs that meet a similar theme. I chose "Brave" by Sara Bareilles and "Roar" by Katy Perry. The kids know these songs, they can connect with them and the common theme is pretty obvious. 

I want you to listen to two songs for me. While listening, think about what the artist is trying to tell you. Then we'll think about whether or not these songs have a common theme or message.

Once we finish listening to the songs, I use numbered heads to keep their discussion focused:

1's tell 2's your thoughts about a common theme. 2's agree or disagree and add your thoughts. 1's be ready to share out. 

Hopefully the students can hit on the message that we should speak up and let others hear us, or anything along those lines. 

Did both artists sing about the same EXACT things? Were both songs written exactly the same way? So, is it safe to say that songs can have similar themes, yet be completely organized and written differently? Today we are going to look at poems in a similar way. We're going to see if we can find common themes in poems and then analyze how the author's attacked those themes. 

Instruction and Modeling

20 minutes

Before we get into our Love That Dog reading today, we're going to have a quick lesson about comparing two poems and how the authors approach the theme. You're already rock stars when it comes to finding the theme, so now we'll take it up a notch. We're going to learn to use a new graphic organizer to think about the similar themes, but first we'll need to use our finding theme notes to work through the poems. 

Provide students with the poems "Dreams", by Langston Hughes and "Hold Fast Your Dreams" by Louise Driscoll and the comparing theme graphic organizer. I will use these to model finding the theme of each poem and then model how to complete the graphic organizer. Again, this modeling can be seen in my video, but here is an image of my modeling just to give you an idea. 

This is a spot where you may find that you need to slow down depending on your class. If they still need some direct instruction on finding theme, then take the time here to review that process. The small groups in this lesson can always be extended to day 2 if needed. I feel like this is one of the most difficult standards to master in 5th, so there's no harm in spending a little extra time on it. 

Guided Practice

15 minutes

Now that we've spent some time reviewing my expectations, we're going to try this together step by step. In our novel, "Love That Dog" Jack is going to give us a little insight in his next poem. We're going to read this together and then use our theme notes to think about the strongest theme we hear in the poem. When we're finished, you'll break into your small groups and look at some other poems to see if they have a similar theme and how those poets approached those themes. At that point, we'll come back to our graphic organizer to compare/contrast the poem your group receives with Jack's poem. Each group will have a different poem, so hopefully, at the end of today's lesson we'll hear about a lot of poems with similar themes. 

This is the point in the story when we actually find out what happens to the dog and why Jack doesn't want to write about it. This is a huge moment, so I wanted us to be reading together when we got to this point. This also has a harder theme to identify because it will seem like the Jack is just telling a story and the poem is very straightforward. It's Jack's usual use of imagery, but not much figurative language. It's really important that they get the message that loss hurts. It shouldn't be specific to the loss of a pet though. This theme of losing someone or something is one that prevails in many songs and poems, so I'm hoping they'll be able to make some connections here. 

Now that we've read Jack's poem and thought about the theme, we'll break into our groups. 

Small Groups

20 minutes

Each group will now get another poem. Each group has a different poem. Just like fiction, poems can have many themes. Your task today is to read the poem with your group, annotate using the tools for finding theme, and then compare that poem to "My Sky." Use the graphic organizer that you glued next to "My Sky" to complete your analysis. We will share our poems and thoughts in 20 minutes. That gives you 10 minutes to read and annotate your poem and 10 minutes to complete the graphic organizer. If you use your time wisely, you should be good on time. 

Most of the pieces I chose are poems. We will be using, Ghost Of You, Mockingbird, Calm After the Storm, Going away, and Which Lunch Table. It was difficult to find multiple poems that had the common theme of how loss can hurt and had an appropriate topic. I didn't want every poem to be about death because quite a few of my kids lost a pet or grandparent lately. Since a lot of them are starting to form little crushes, I knew that some of the love songs may hit home with them. I also needed the poems to be somewhat rigorous, yet something they could read independently. I had to think about this as I assigned poems to my groups as well. Selecting literature is definitely one of the hardest parts of my planning, but so worth it. 

All but one of my groups will work independent from me. I will work with one small group of students that have had a hard time finding the theme of a poem. I will need to work with them to help them find the theme and use the graphic organizer to show the similarities and differences. I am anticipating that they may run out of time here. Again, this is another spot where you can extend the time needed and even plan some time the next day to let students continue to work on these. 

If you use these poems, one thing I wanted my kids to take away from this is that Jack uses a lot of imagery and tells his story throughout the poem. The song lyrics are the closest to Jack's poem. A poem like Calm After the Storm is a metaphor in itself, so has a very different approach to this theme of loss. There are many things you could want your kids to touch on with these poems, so it helps to have an idea going into the groups. 

When I call poem names, I'd like for your group to share the theme you found and some important parts from your graphic organizer. 

Groups should have a few quick minutes to share their thoughts. If more time is needed to work through these poems, plan an extra day in between this lesson and the workstations to thoroughly complete these and then perhaps hold a socractic seminar.