Teaching Common Core Poetry: A Moment of Clarity

Robert Frost, American poet
Who knew Robert Frost wrote concrete poems? My students know this, and they figured it out on their own!

I have been teaching a poetry unit now since September and my students are working in groups to find meaning in poetry using several close analysis methods.

The methods I have used so far have been:


T-title:  The meaning of the title without reference to the poem.

P-paraphrase:  Put the poem, line by line, in your own words.  DO NOT READ INTO THE POEM.  Only read on surface level.

C-connotation: looking for deeper meaning.  Find several examples of literary devices in the poem and explain how they support the main claim about the poem

A-attitude: Looking for the author’s tone.  How is the writer speaking?

S-shifts: Looking for shifts in tone, action, and rhythm.  Don’t just write the number.  Discuss how the shift(s) affects the poem.

T-title: reevaluate the title as it pertains to the poem.

T-theme: What does the poem mean? What is it saying?  How does it relate to life?

2.  KWL – A method where students write down all the things they know about a poem after a cold reading, then they place check marks beside lines they understand and question marks beside lines they do not understand, write questions that might help their understanding of the “question marked” lines, then after discussion with a group, write what they learned about the poem.

3.  ART WARS – Best explained by the following video:

Today, however, as I was standing in the midst of a group of students who were still only seeing the literal meaning of the poems I had assigned, my addled brain came up with this handy sentence that caused light bulbs to switch on over every head:


Students were utterly stunned by this statement, many of them saying things like “Why didn’t my teacher tell me that in the first place?” and “I get that!”  (It’s one of those moments as a teacher where you can’t believe you just said something that helped your students so much).  Afterward, the proof was in the analysis.  Students who never had anything poignant to say about anything spoke loudly in their groups, noting how, for instance, Robert Frost’s “Out, Out —” is actually a concrete poem that looks like a saw blade with one solitary line that breaks the shape only to reveal the sound of the saw (I had never noticed that).  Others noted the rhythm of “Nothing Gold Can Stay“, commenting that the rhythm is standard until the last two lines which heightens the message that life is fleeting and will eventually decay and fade away (I had never noticed this either).

If you are a struggling English teacher, trying to get your students over the hump of the literal, trying to give them power in your classroom, trying to help them see that you do not have all the answers and that you want them to find their own solutions, try saying this statement to them.  Write it on the board.  Make a poster out of it.  Post it on your blog.

Who knows what you might help a student discover?

Published by Roger Colby, Novelist, Editor

Roger Colby is a novelist and teacher who has taught English for nearly two decades. He is also an avid reader of science fiction who feels, like many other sci-fi readers, that he has read everything. He writes science fiction for the reader who is looking for the next best thing, something to excite them into reading again. This blog is his journey as a writer and his musings about writing. He also edits manuscripts for a fee and is an expert at helping you reach your full potential as a writer.

One thought on “Teaching Common Core Poetry: A Moment of Clarity

  1. I remember “Nothing Gold can Stay” was mentioned in The Outsiders, and a bunch of friends of mine who would never have anything to do with poetry (“friends of mine” could be code for “I”) thought it was deep. We were in high school, you know.

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