What Does it Really Mean? Use Poems to Infer Meaning

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SWBAT make inferences based on figurative language in poems.

Big Idea

Poems use imagery that require readers to use background knowledge to make inferences based on meaning.


5 minutes

To start this lesson, I want to make the connection between inferring and poetry. Poetry is all about inferring the meaning behind the words that the poet chooses and understand what message is trying to be conveyed through the poem. 

I tell students that we are going to continue developing our inferring skills by reading poems. To find gauge the students experience with poetry, I give them a chance to share with a partner and I listen in. Very few seem have any experiences with poetry beyond goofy and funny poems that require very little figurative understanding. However, this is not a lesson on poetry or the various types of poetry so I accept what they know for now and move on.

I explain to them that when we read poems we often understand the individual words but we have to look closer at the phrases and placement of words and phrases to look for the bigger message or idea. Just like when we read nonfiction, we have to combine our understanding of the words with what we already know to inferring the bigger meaning of the poem and to see something in a new way.

Model and Guide

20 minutes

This lesson works best with poems that describe a tangible object, place, or event. I chose to two poems, Moon and Secrets both by Myra Cohn Livingston

In order to practice inferring with a poem, I have to read them slowly and give students a chance to really think about each word and phrase. As I model how to do this, I also reinforce the concept of talking back to the text and recording our thinking. I ask questions as I'm reading and mark places that seem to connect within a poem.

The first line of the poem reads, "Moon remembers" so I ask, "What does the moon remember?". I explain to the class that if I hadn't paid closer attention and thought about the text before I read it, I might have even asked if Moon was the name of someone. However, strong reader think about the topic of the text before they start reading. It helps focus their attention as their reading. Later on in the poem, I read, "She thinks back, to the Eagle, to the flight". I stop to think aloud and explain that I notice that "Eagle" is capitalized so that means its a name. I then think about what I already know and remember that the shuttle that landed on the moon was called The Eagle and maybe that is what the poem was referring to. I used my background knowledge and the text to make an inference and understand the poem. I realize that that phrase answers the questions I had at the beginning, so I draw a line between the two.

After modeling, I ask students to work with a partner or in a small group to continue reading the text, writing down their thoughts, and inferring meaning. I ask them to try to make sense of words and phrases that they are not sure of by using their background knowledge or context. They also should be inferring the bigger meaning or message of the poem by making connections throughout the text.

When students are done reading and interpreting the poem, we discuss it as a class. I ask student what the poem means and to use evidence to support their explanation. I remind them that poems make it easier to infer meaning because the author wants the reader to think about their own connections but inferring is a skill that helps us understand the purpose behind any authors words. 

Practice and Share

10 minutes

In this part of the lesson, students receive another poem with a similar topic and are asked to read and interpret the meaning on their own. They should record their thinking, ask questions, make understandings, and make connections while they infer the larger meaning of the poem. 

Once students are done reading and recording their thinking, they share their thoughts with a small group. They try to understand the big idea and give examples from the text to support their ideas.