Pieces of Meaning in Free Verse Poetry

5 teachers like this lesson
Print Lesson


SWBAT describe how words, phrases, and illustrations add meaning to a story.

Big Idea

Read the poem, look at the picture, consider your feelings-What helps us understand the poem better?



I chose this book because it has great illustrations and multiple examples of free verse poetry. The poems were short and my kids really loved the different kinds of fish featured. You could use another poetry book that has good pictures, but this one was available and at the 2nd grade reading level.

Let's Get Excited!

5 minutes

Underlined words below are lesson vocabulary words that are emphasized and written on sentence strips for my Reading & Writing word wall. I pull off the words off the wall for each lesson, helping students understand this key 'reading and writing' vocabulary can be generalized across texts and topics.  The focus on acquiring and using these words is part of a shift in the Common Core Standards towards building students’ academic vocabulary.  My words are color coded ‘pink’ for literature/’blue’ for reading strategies/’orange’ for informational text/'yellow' for writing/’green’ for all other words.


Common starting point

  • "Today we are talking about a kind of poem called 'free verse'." (Here's our poetry tree before we added the ideas - Write 'free verse' on the trunk of the poetry tree)
  • "Any ideas what 'free verse' means?" Take ideas - one of my student mentioned there were verses in music - good connection!
  • "This kind of poem may have rhyme or rhythm repeating words. It may or may not have sentences or phrases or just words. 'Free verse' is the kind of poetry with no rules - it can be written any way that the author wants." This is how I explained explained free verse poetry.
  • "We read these poems help us to 'read fluently' or smoothly".  Write that on the leaves of the tree." 


This is one of the later lessons in my poetry unit. I used the 'poetry tree' in all of my lessons in this unit to create a tool that pulled together all of the ideas and kinds of poetry. The kinds of poem are listed down the trunk and the ways that poetry help us are listed on the leaves. I discussed repetition, rhyming and repeated words in my other lessons, including Poetry: What Is It?Dogs and Haikus: What's the Plot?Poetry Takes ShapeSynonym Adjective Verb-Put Them In A Cinquain and Reading Acrostics: Poetry of LettersDon't Worry: Alliteration and Onomatopoeia Help Us and Long Vowels and Limericks: Looking at Poetry.  If you have not discussed these poetry features with your students, spend a few moments talking about these important parts of poems.

Teacher's Turn

15 minutes

Give the purpose of the lesson

  • "Today we will read some 'free verse' poems and talk about how we get meaning from different features of poetry - from the title, words and phrases, feelings, and illustrations."
  •  "Then you can describe why you like the poem and how it makes you feel."
  • Take a few moments to go over the vocabulary (repeated words, rhyme, etc) on the whiteboard. Here was my explanation of the organizer and review of the vocabulary.


Introduce strategy - teacher models

  • The first poem I'll read is called 'the Catfish'. I'll write that on the puzzle piece on the whiteboard."
  • "Listen to this poem as I read it." Read the poem, emphasizing rhythm and rhyme.
  • "I hear rhyme that makes it fun to read and rhythm, which makes me read smoothly and fluently.  I'll write on the puzzle piece."
  • The illustration shows me the 2 kinds of 'catfish' so it helps me to understand the topic." Write that next to 'illustration'.
  • "I like this poem because its funny and I like that it has a 'play on words' - cat-fish.  I'll write that on the last puzzle piece." 
  • "Now let me put them all together. Each way that I look at a poem, the title, the illustrations, the words and phrases and my feelings about the poem help me to understand it better."
  • This is how I reviewed the model and what the whiteboard looked like then I was done.


Practice strategy - guided practice

  • "Let's try one together - I'll read 'The Salmon'." Write that on my puzzle piece as the title.
  • Read it. "What words and phrases do you hear that give it meaning?" Take ideas - rhyme, short phrases, repeating words. "I'll add that to the puzzle piece on the board."
  • "What about the illustration? What do you see?" Take ideas - a fish jumping wildly, waterfall, lots of fish. "I understand that the salmon must jump upstream to lay their eggs. The text was confusing, but the illustration makes that easy to see." Write that on the pieces. Here were some ideas that my students had.
  • "How does this poem make you feel? Why do you like it?"  Take ideas - it has shape that shows words/fish going up. It also has short phrases, like the fish just jumping short little ways. These were my kids' ideas of why they liked the poem.
  • Here is a peek into one of my student's perceptions of the practice and a look another example that I put on the whiteboard.

Students Take a Turn

20 minutes

Assign Task

  • "I'm passing out puzzle piece paper - it has the features of poetry that give it meaning - words and phrases, feelings, title, and illustrations."
  • "I want you to take a picture of 2 favorite 'free-verse' poems with the iPad. (or kids can share books if you have enough)." 
  • "Let's take a moment to talk about Ipad Rules.
  • I did give some tips for taking pictures with the ipad.
  • "While you're waiting to pick your poems, cut your puzzle pieces."
  • "Read your poem on the ipad, look a the picture and think about how each piece of the puzzle adds meaning - illustration, words/phrases, and their feeling/emotions about that poem."
  • This is what it sounded like when I set the task.


Guide students as they work

  • Guide students to pick poems and share books or take pictures with the iPads.
  • Check on their cutting - remind them that the pieces need to fit together.
  • This is what it looked like when they were filling out the pieces.
  • Use this time as a kind of formative assessment. Here's a video of me asking a student about what she thinks.
  • I also had to remind them to use the resources on the whiteboard for spelling and ideas.


It's really very difficult to find enough books for a class set, so I often use the iPads as document cameras. The kids take pictures of their favorite page to work on individually. This way, they are all working simultaneously, even though I only have one book.

Put it together and share

15 minutes

Put it together and share

  • I had the kids come up and present their ideas about their poem, reading it, showing the picture and sharing their ideas from the puzzle. Here's an example of how I discussed a poem with a student before she presented to the class.
  • Here's an example of a completed project.
  • It was great to hear each student's ideas about their poetry. They had very specific opinions about what they liked. One student really liked the repeating words.


The true goal in this lesson is not the creation of a puzzle - it's the realization by the students that meaning is added to poetry from different sources (illustrations, words/phrases, feelings, and the title) - these poetry features. Students need to consider how the illustrations bring meaning to the plot, characters and setting (RL.2.7). They are also reflecting how the words and phrases specific to poetry (rhythm, rhyming, repeating words) bring so much more meaning. (RL2.4)  The Common Core Standards emphasize that the students attend to these text features and the intentional wording so they become active participants in their reading and the teacher becomes more of a facilitator to the learning process.


Scaffolding and Special Education: This lesson could be scaffolded up or down, depending on student ability.

I would pair students with academic challenges with other students. The vocabulary and reading level is upper second grade (2.9) and it will be difficult for those with reading problems to digest the poem. However, they should have lots of good ideas to share with the group about the illustrations and perhaps the rhyming or rhythm.

Those with more academic abilities should be able to condense their answers into thought provoking ideas and go beyond - 'it makes me feel good' to statements like 'it reminds me of a time when I went fishing' or 'the shape of the poem shows the direction that the fish migrate.'