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Analyzing Poetry


When we analyze poetry, we closely examine the different parts of the poem, and then use this close examination to interpret the meaning(s) of the poem.  As with all good writing, the form of a poem complements and contributes to its meaning, so poetry analysis includes examination of formal elements such as structure, punctuation, line breaks, sound patterns, and capitalization, as well as meaning elements such as connotation, tone, allusion, and mood.


While some poems are very simple, clear, and direct, many poems communicate meaning in a less direct way that requires careful interpretation and synthesis of elements of both form and meaning.  Students must be able to use literary analysis in order to understand these poems.  Furthermore, students adept at analysis will have the tools needed to appreciate the richness, complexity, and beauty of this art form—and to create poems of their own.

Content Area Adaptations 

Poetry exists on every subject, and incorporating poetry into content-area instruction can be a great way to get students to think differently and deeply about some of the ideas raised in a science, history, or math class.  Content-area teachers should consider using analysis of content-related poetry occasionally.  For example, at the beginning of a unit on the civil rights movement students could read the poem “Incident” by Countee Cullen, and then do a Quick Write analysis in class, followed by a share-out and a discussion.

Learning Strategies 

  • Connecting
  • Determining Importance
  • Inferring
  • Synthesizing

Common Core Standards 

  • CCRA.R.1
  • CCRA.R.2
  • CCRA.R.3
  • CCRA.R.4
  • CCRA.R.5
  • CCRA.R.6
  • CCRA.R.7
  • CCRA.R.9

Content Areas 

  • ELA

Learning Strands 

  • Reading

Poetry Connection

In this activity, inspired by Burke’s The English Teacher’s Companion (1998), students will bring in a poem that relates to issues or ideas in the unit of study. Students will work in groups to compare and contrast their poems. The purpose of this activity is to push students to examine content in greater detail. When students compare and...

Lesson Plan Stages 

  • Reflection
  • Synthesis

Tone Map

This is an activity that helps students to identify tone in a poem, to track how tone evolves over the course of a poem, and to consider how tone contributes to the overall meaning and message of a poem. They will identify the “emotional journey” of a poem, identifying how emotions can be mixed, and they will gain facility in finding how poems...

Lesson Plan Stages 

  • Investigation
  • Launching Into New Content
  • Synthesis

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.

Lesson Plan Stages 

  • Investigation
  • Synthesis