4 Simple Steps for Pre-Reading Poetry

Truth be told, I sometimes struggle to understand  what some poetry bloggers want me (us) to understand.  It’s frustrating that I don’t always get it.  I happened to find this article written by a high school ELA teacher that I think will help me interpret your poetry.  I know it’s not rocket science, but poetry has always been a challenge to sort out, keep straight and follow the meaning of each line in respect to the over-all idea.  I post this article because it might help another struggling poetry reader to get it, finally.

Students can find reading poetry challenging, but with these four steps, students can make ANY poem knowable. #poem #poetry #literature #closereading #annotation # teacher #teaching #moore-english #highschoolenglish

“Everyone loves TPCASTT. It’s a good acronym to guide students through the process of reading a poem, but oftentimes my students are so intimidated by a poem that they can’t even get started. So I teach my students these four steps before reading a poem. Each one of these steps is designed to help students break down a poem so it becomes less intimidating. These steps work for ANY poem and empower students to take ownership of a text. In addition, each step sets students up for quality annotations and helps them see the inner workings of a poem.”

1. Number the lines.

This seems obvious, but numbering the lines helps students make the text knowable.

Additionally, numbering the lines puts all my students on the same page so when they’re discussing a text, they don’t have to stop, count, and then offer a piece of evidence.

2. Determine the rhyme scheme.

For my freshmen and sophomores, determining the rhyme scheme is a new skill, so all they have to do is label and begin to draw inferences based on the rhyme scheme. For example, if a text begins and ends with the same rhyme scheme, readers might infer that the poem comes full circle. But if the poem ends with a broken rhyme, readers might infer that the poem ends in disharmony.

My juniors build on this skill set by considering the basic meter of the poem, including making inferences about breaks in meters. In particular, junior year is when my students and I begin to discuss what meter and rhyme reveal about an author’s historical context.  When the writer breaks the meter, what might he or she be trying to communicate? What kinds of emotional content would cause a metrical break?

Finally, my seniors move into full-on scansion, counting the feet, identifying the meter by its name, making determinations about where and how a writer uses iambs, dactyls, and trochees, etc. As my students become more sophisticated with scansion, they are able to have more robust discussions about the writer’s choices.

3. Circle any notable punctuation (final punctuation, dashes, parentheses, semicolons, colons)

Punctuation can reveal a tremendous amount about a poem. For example, the use of dashes is almost always essential and noteworthy. Before even reading the poem, students can begin to make inferences about where the turn or shift is going to occur. Different types of punctuation can have different effects on a poem, so I created this handout to help my students decide the meaning of a piece of punctuation.

4. Go back to the title.

Before we begin reading and fully annotating the text, students return to the poem’s title and make inferences about the poem’s content, speaker, and theme. My students all have to make a predication about where the poem is going to turn. We usually make this with a star and a question mark. If their prediction about the turn’s location is correct, they erase the question mark.

After a semester of using these four steps, my students feel confident approaching most poetry. They feel like they can explain the process of annotating poetry to other students. If you’re interested in using these strategies in your classroom, check out this set of Poetry Pre-Reading handouts, worksheets, and bookmarks. What strategies do you use to help your students annotate poetry? Leave your suggestions in the comments!


Author: Dennis Hickey

There are no limits to success to those who never stop learning. Learning will nourish your personal growth. I hope you enjoy this website and visit often so you too keep learning and growing.

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