How to teach poetry when your students struggle with reading!

How to teach poetry when students struggle with reading!(1)

How I teach poetry in fifth grade!   Unfortunately, when I teach poetry I can’t get as deep as I want to and do all the fancy projects that I would like.  However, I do have to prepare them for state test which always has some type of poem, so I teach my poetry so that they are able to analyze the poem on a test and to go through and answer the questions to be successful.  First, I start off by introducing our giving background knowledge for whatever poem we are going to use for our lesson.  I used a poem called “The Blacksmith” for my lesson so I show a short YouTube video about what is a blacksmith, so the students can understand some of the imagery used in the poem. I usually teach one poem over several days or do it as a close read.  This means we read the same poem several times for several days.  Depending on the era or the context of the poem, I give them any additional information to ensure they comprehend why the poet is using certain language and imagery.     For example in “The Blacksmith”  we discuss the differences between being a blacksmith today versus back in Colonial Days.  Then, I give them the vocabulary that I feel they may struggle with, we used a paragraph with the vocabulary words and analogies (giving the students an opportunity to see and use the words in context) and any additional information they may not know to help them out for example review the different types of figurative and sensory language.    After I finish with the background and the vocabulary we dig into the elements of a poem.

This is from our second poem
After the first read students had to record the structures they noticed in the poem


First, I let them read it by themselves without taking any notes or writing anything on it (annotating). I want them to read without thinking about questions.  Second, I read it with them while asking and  answering text dependent questions as we go. I help them to pick out any figurative language, sensory details, and/or imagery that they notice. We discuss any word or words that they may not know while we’re reading, that were not part of the vocabulary that I gave them in the beginning. During the second reading we go through and do some strategies we look for the rhyme scheme, we look for poem structure like the stanzas, the lines, we also start looking for poetry elements, and the different language that’s being used, after we have picked out all of these things then we go into doing a gist for each stanza.  We talk about the setup of the poem like a poet is the writer of a poem.  If there is any, we start talking about the sensory images and details that may be in the poem and then we go through and mark up each stanza or section of each stanza and writing a gist for each stanza. Just like we would a reading passage. We do the gist for each stanza. 

After we have thoroughly analyzed our poem, we complete comprehension questions. These questions are set up like our state assessment questions.  Students write out what they noticed in their comprehension about different stanzas and the figurative language that is involved.

Using this method has made my kids more successful on their test. For the last four years there has been poetry on the test. Sometimes it is paired with a another text where they have to do a comparison between that text and a poem, a poem and a drama, and a poem and an expository text so being able to analyze and understand the format and meaning of a poem is a very important standard in fifth grade. So,

Poetry Analysis Square cover
my poetry analysis packet available at my TPT store

I have made an analysis packet that I use with my kids so that they can follow along and analyze a poem, I also added extra poems so they can get some practice.  If you would like to get my Poetry Analysis Packet at my TPT store just click here.

I’m very excited about teaching poetry as a close read because for the past couple years my students have been more successful when they take their state test and it has also helped me to understand poetry a little bit better myself ( I hated it in High School) and being able to analyze a little bit better has helped me to not to dread teaching it.  However, later in the year, when we get closer to the state assessment I revisit poetry to ensure they remember the strategies I taught. The students start having aha moments and seem to develop a love of poetry, Because now they are able to figure out what it’s really talking about.   What are some strategies that you use to teach poetry I am always looking for new ideas?


Published by upperelementaryantics

Elementary Teacher for 15 years, I have taught in all content areas in various grades 4-6, and currently teach 5th grade ELAR/Social Studies, I am looking forward to sharing ideas, tips, and resources.

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