What Counts as a Poem?

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SWBAT analyze the poems "This Is Just To Say" and "In a Station of the Metro."

Big Idea

Is this even a poem?

Reading and Reaction

5 minutes

I have been gradually preparing my students to analyze poetry independently, and today is another step in that direction.  Instead of working with the whole class or a group of 4 to 5, today students will be working with a partner to analyze a poem.

I chose the poem This Is Just To Say by William Carlos Williams because students tend to like to argue about its validity as a piece of poetry.    

I'll start by having the students choose a partner.  I like to give my sixth graders choice, because if they can handle working with a friend, they are usually much happier! 

I'll ask one partner to read the poem aloud to the other partner then switch.  I think that it is important for students to hear poetry and practice reading it so that they catch any sound devices the author has used.  

Now, I'll ask them to share their reactions.  What do you think of this poem?

In the past students have called this poem stupid or not a poem at all.  It's pointless.  He's rude.  I can't believe he ate someone's food!  

Usually my students are pretty annoyed with this poem before we begin, but many do come around to appreciate eventually!


15 minutes

I have created some guiding questions that will help my students understand the intricacies of this poem.  

They include:

1.  What is the relationship between the narrator and the person who ate the plums?

2.  How do you think the narrator knew the plums were probably being saved for breakfast?

3.  Why did the narrator say that the plums "were delicious, so sweet and so cold" after askingfor forgiveness?

4.  Do you think that the narrator was truly sorry?  Why or why not?

5.  Should this be considered a poem?  Why or why not?  

I am going to ask the students to answer these questions with their partner, but I will be circulating and prompting students as needed.  I anticipate that students will have trouble establishing the relationship between the speaker and the plum eater.  I'll help them come to the conclusion that the two probably live under the same roof since the narrator knows what this person will likely eat for breakfast.  

Here are some of my students' thoughts on these questions.  



Is it a poem?

10 minutes

After we've gone through this poem, I will have an whole group discussion about question 5:  Should this be considered a poem?

I will ask my students to share their ideas and support them with specific details from the poem. 

As a extension, I will now give my students a copy of another unconventional example of poetry, "In a Station of the Metro."  I will have them analyze this poem on their own using the guided questions I have created.

Once they are finished with this activity, we will discuss the two poems.  Both are unusual examples of poetry.  

Should "In a Station of the Metro" be considered a poem?  Why or why not?

Which poem do you like best?  Why?  

I will use this opportunity to have a little discussion about the characteristics of a poem.  What does a poem have to have to be considered a poem?  Does it have to rhyme?  Does it have to contain similes?  Does it have to be about a certain topic or be a certain length?

I will use the data that I collect from the "In a Station of the Metro" handout to decide how much more support my students need in analyzing poetry.  I need to know if they are proficient (a.k.a. reading for state testing in 3 weeks...), or if I need to do further work with them on this topic.