Focus Poem


This is an activity that helps students to deeply study many aspects of a single poem, and to consider how the many pieces of a poem work together to create meaning. Deep and prolonged study of individual poems helps students to understand them in a rich way, and to develop engagement with, and a sense of ownership of, poetry.


Catherine Ullman-Shade

Learning Strategies 

  • Connecting
  • Determining Importance
  • Synthesizing
Analyzing Poetry, Making Meaning

Lesson Plan Stages 

  • Investigation
  • Synthesis

Content Areas 

  • ELA
  • Social Studies

Common Core Instructional Shifts 

  • Metacognition
  • Staircase of Complexity
  • Text-Based Answers


Select a single poem that will be challenging to students but also engaging. Prepare to present the poem by copying it onto chart paper or putting it on a slide or interactive whiteboard. Choose the aspects of the poem you want students to analyze each day of the week, and perform the analysis yourself so that you can effectively guide them.

Activity Steps 
  1. Day 1: Teacher presents the poem to the students. Teacher reads poem aloud and then conducts a general group discussion about what the poem means.

    Focus poems are special, and should be presented as an “unveiling” or “unwrapping”—almost like a gift to the students. The conversation this first day can be pretty open-ended. Allow students to engage with the content and consider what the poem is about.

  2. Day 2: Teacher reads the focus poem aloud again. Student(s) may also read the poem aloud or silently. Class identifies challenging vocabulary. Class performs activities to learn and use these challenging or interesting words.

    Consider using the book Bringing Words to Life (by Isabel Beck, Margaret McKeown, and Linda Kucan) to identify target words, and to create brief but useful activities for students to study the meaning of these words. Discuss multiple meanings of words (polysemy), as well as alternate forms of the words, and related words, and make sure students understand the multiple ways each word can be used in sentences.

  3. Day 3: Teacher reads poem aloud, and students read poem aloud in groups. Together, class analyzes the meaning of the poem. Line by line, class discusses the developing meaning of the poem, making inferences and connections as needed.

    Depending on students’ skill level, you may need to provide a mini-lesson on inferences before this day of instruction. Help students to understand which lines can be interpreted directly, and which require the interpretation of implication.

  4. Day 4: Teacher and students take turns reading poem aloud. Together, going line by line, class analyzes the form of the poem: line breaks, patterns of capitalization and punctuation, rhyme, alliteration, onomatopoeia, etc.

    You may need to provide a mini-lesson on some of these formal elements.

  5. Day 5: Teacher and students read poem aloud one more time. Class reviews what they accomplished the previous days: word study, and study of both form and meaning. Together, class synthesizes this information to arrive at an interpretation of the meaning o

    You will likely need to model how to synthesize this type of information into a cohesive interpretation of the poem. This activity is best performed repeatedly, with a different focus poem each week, and students will get better and better at the skills required.

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