Line Breaks, White Space, and Analyzing Free Verse Poetry for Comprehension

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SWBAT identify line breaks and white space in poems and be able to identify the literary techniques the author uses in order to comprehend the poems.

Big Idea

Reading comprehension is not just for stories - today we analyze and comprehend free verse poems.

Teacher Background Knowledge and Preparation

After completing some straightforward lessons on literary devices, my class was prepped to dive into poetry.  There were several goals I wanted to accomplish with my class when reading free verse poetry.  One was to show students that not all poetry needs to rhyme.  Another was to show students how poetry contains figurative language.  I wanted to make sure I had high quality poetry in our lesson, so I went and found so exemplar poems in Appendix B of the Common Core Standards.  You will find several poems in this unit from Appendix B. 

Another thing I wanted to mention is why I wrote some of the poems in this free verse part of the unit.  I have this book in my teacher resource files.  It is fabulous and contains many poems written by students.  I didn't want to break copyright law when making this unit so I wrote poems myself that were echoed the children's poems in the book.  I also wanted to show students that we all can be poets, and modeling this by writing and presenting my own poetry allowed me to share my creative side, which will hopefully give students the impression that creating poetry is fun and something they don't need to shy away from themselves.

I also wanted to recommend a resource for you that was very helpful when creating this unit.  Amy Ludwig VanderWater is a poet that has this amazing website. It is a great poetry resource for you to use.  Some of the poems in today's lesson were written by her. The Smartboard website contains many great poems, but if you have other resources, I would encourage you to read as many poems as you'd like to your students.

For today's lesson you'll need either the Smartboard Poetry Unit.notebook or Activboard Poetry Unit.flipchart lesson, and you'll need to make enough Student Response Packets - Poetry.pdf for each child in your classroom.  Finally, this lesson actually took me about 3 sessions to get through.  It was the end of the year and my students had been testing in the morning, so if you need more than one session to do this lesson you certainly can.

Analyzing Whispering Wind

20 minutes

I turned to slide 2 on the Smartboard lesson.  The explanations for what line breaks and white space are on that slide so I read that to my students.  I then read slide 3 of the lesson where Amy Ludwig VanderWater tells students how to read free verse poetry with a thinking mind and how line breaks and white space help with that.

I turned to slide 4 and showed the students more about what I meant about line breaks and white space using the poem "Whispering Wind" poem by Terry Allen.  I showed the students how to read this poem by utilizing the line breaks and white space.  Then we read the poem one more time.  After reading the poem I handed out the student packets and we began to analyze "Whispering Wind."  I said, "Just like we go back into the story to look for evidence we are going to do the same thing with this poem.  You will have to look back into the poem for evidence." We answered the questions on page 1 and the question at the top of page 2.  After we read a question I called on volunteers who thought they could find evidence for each question and then they would highlight what they thought the evidence was on the Smartboard.  Once we talked about it and determined that the information that the volunteer was correct, the students could then use that information to answer their questions.

You can see this sequence by watching this video here: Analyzing Whispering Wind.mp4.  Play close attention to what they think the poem is about.  They didn't understand what the poem was about at all!  So, based on student answers, I knew I had to adjust my teaching so my students could gain understanding.

Analyzing our Poems and Inferring From Text Evidence

50 minutes

We continued to read and analyze our poems. The first 3 poems, "Bridge," "Spinach," and "Recital," made up the guided practice. Students were able to talk to each other and discuss their inferences. Then they recorded what they thought on their work packet. 

In the poem "Bridge," I asked the students, "Why did the author choose to write her lines like that?  What did she do with white space?  What kind of feeling does that give you?"  It took a while with my questions, but we eventually came up with the idea that the words are like the rocks and they are creating a bridge with rocks so they could get to the other side of the creek.

In the poem "Spinach" that I wrote, we inferred how I felt about spinach.  The students said that I hated it because I pinched my nose and swallowed quickly.  I also called it a pile of smelly, slimy, seaweed.  We also talked about how I used my line breaks to show how the spinach went down after I swallowed it.

In the poem "Recital," I used a simile to describe how the spotlight was like a blazing sun on me.  Students had to infer that I was nervous because butterflies were dancing in my stomach and I used personification because the bow sang against the strings.

The next 3 poems, "Thunderstorm," "Which World?" and "Baseball," were their independent practice.  Students had to continue to identify which literary techniques I used to create a certain feeling in the reader and also had to use inferring skills.  The students finished the rest of the questions on the student work packet.

You can see my students answering their questions here in this video: Analyzing Our Poems and Inferring From Text Evidence.mp4.

Our Closure

5 minutes

Today I decided to ask some more open-ended questions for our closure because it was our first day diving into real poetry, and I wanted to get a general sense of how my students were feeling about it.  I asked my students "What did you learn about free verse poetry? What can free verse poetry be about?  How do you write free verse poetry? "  I called on several students and listened to what they had taken away from the lesson.

Then I said, "Tomorrow you are going to take what we learned today and use those skills to write your own free verse poem."