Poetry and the Possibility of Language

3. Modelling the Text: Examining Poetic Language

Suggested Learning Intentions

  • To build understanding of the purpose and power of imagery in poetry
  • To use the poetic devices studied in mentor texts in my own writing

Sample Success Criteria

  • I can identify an example of imagery and suggests its effect
  • I can experiment with language features in my own writing

This stage looks closely at how imagery is developed in a mentor text. Students examine stanzas as a structural poetic feature. They also examine the way poets use words to create images for the reader before experimenting with language features to develop poetic ideas. 

It is strongly recommended that teachers review all suggested stimulus texts prior to their use to ensure their appropriateness and to enable rich, respectful discussion. For guidance on text selection refer to the Teaching and Learning Resources — Selecting Appropriate Materials policy.

Share the video of Emily Zoey Baker performing her poem, I have a hat with tiny woolen ears.  

Explore students’ initial responses. For example, you could ask:

  • What are some of your thoughts about the poem? 
  • What might this poem be about?
  • What are some of the ideas, images, sounds or feelings that the poetic performance prompted? 

Record and display the student responses on an anchor chart. 

Display an enlarged copy of the transcript of the poem, I have a hat with tiny woolen ears. Ask students what they notice about the layout of the poem.  Discussion points might include the irregular stanzas.  

Ensure that students are familiar with the term ‘stanza’. Explain that a stanza comprises lines grouped together to divide a poem. A stanza is similar to a paragraph: both structures usually relate to a similar thought or topic.

Explore the idea that each stanza is a ‘standalone’ unit by reading the first and last one-line stanzas of the poem.

I have a hat with tiny woolen ears

But this one connects me to the aural secrets of the universe.

Discuss the meaning of the word ‘aural’ (of or relating to the ear or the sense of hearing) and the ideas and images created by combining the two lines.

Read the poem to students. Use a think aloud strategy to elaborate on the imagery used in the poem and the sounds and pictures that you imagine. Invite students to find similes and examples of personification and repetition. Support each term with illustrations from the text. Model how to annotate the poem, identifying these language features and elaborate on the imaginative response, the images and emotions the words create in the reader’s mind. Develop a class anchor chart with favoured examples of each of the language features. 

The series, Mini Clips: Poetic Devices, available on ClickView (sign in using your department credentials), may be a useful resource to consolidate and extend student understanding of poetic devices. 

1. Reader’s Response

Distribute a copy of ‘I have a hat with tiny woolen ears’ and invite students to work in collaborative pairs to read and interpret one stanza from the poem.

Allocate a stanza to each pair or invite students to select a stanza that appeals to them. 

Students read and respond to the text by:

  • Identifying one of the ‘aural secrets of the universe’ that Baker is referring to. Students could elaborate on this ‘secret’ by writing a short account of what they see, hear and/or feel when thinking about the language used.
  • Illustrating the stanza to demonstrate their imaginative and emotional interpretation of its meaning.
  • Collaboratively present the stanza to their peers as performance poetry. Encourage students to include dramatic techniques, such as use of voice and tone, gestures and facial expressions. 

Students’ responses could be used to create a class display highlighting the visual imagery, vocabulary and poetic devices used in the mentor text.

Following collaborative investigations, bring the class together to discuss the visual and auditory imagery Baker uses to ‘paint a picture’ for the reader. Ask students to:

  • suggest lines in the poem that create a visual image in their mind
  • suggest lines in the poem that prompt them to imagine a sound.

Discuss the mood or emotions that these images reflect. Invite students to find an example of pleasant imagery, for example, ‘I hear snow land like sock footsteps’; and harsh imagery, for example, ‘heartbreak, a glass crashing to the floor.'

Provide opportunities for students to explore language devices and imagery in poems further. Suggested poems include, Harlem, by Langston Hughes,  Bushfire, by Jackie Kay and Sky in the Pie, by Roger McGough. There are also collections of poems available online, including a selection of poems by Kit Wright.

Ask students to choose a poem and complete the poetry response handout available from the Materials and texts section. Invite discussion about favourite phrases, lines, similes, metaphors and questions that arise from the poetry response task. Add examples to the class anchor chart.

2. Independent Writing

Explain to students that they will be writing short, free verse poems using carefully chosen and arranged words to create images in the reader’s mind.

Develop a list of possible themes, moods, emotions or subjects with students. Demonstrate brainstorming one of the chosen themes and model developing vocabulary and imagery using one or more of the senses: sight, smell, touch, sound or taste.

For example, if exploring an emotion, the following questions could be used as prompts and to encourage students to choose vocabulary to enhance poetic devices:

  • What might hunger sound like?  Would it sound broken, monotonous, musical or sweet?
  • What might jealousy look like? Would it be green or purple, would it be thick, solid or winding?
  • What might sadness smell like? Would it be a faint smell, a sickly or stale smell?
  • What might sadness taste like? Would it have a mild or overpowering taste? Would it taste sour or bitter?
  • What might it feel like to touch happiness or pride? Would the texture be mushy, rough, pointy, barbed, warm, smooth, or soapy?

Enable students by providing stimulus material to help generate ideas. For example, evocative images of the natural world, a piece of music or an artwork.

Encourage students to spend time developing their ideas and vocabulary choices. Students may prefer to work in pairs and develop cluster diagrams on their chosen theme. 

Remind students that free verse poetry does not have to adhere to any rules. Encourage experimentation with the poetic devices identified in the mentor texts, alliteration, similes, metaphors and personification and the use of dictionaries and thesauruses to extend vocabulary choices.

As students are drafting and revising their poems, ask them to identify at least one poetic device that they will use. Provide materials for students to publish and illustrate their poems.

Encourage students to recite their poems to their peers using voice, facial expressions and gestures.

Provide opportunities for students to provide feedback on each other’s performance. Invite students to comment on one of the language features and imagery used by their classmates. Provide sentence stems for students to use in the peer feedback discussion. For example:

  • The poem reminded me of …
  • I imagined …
  • I could see …
  • I liked the way you described …
  • I would have liked more detail about …
  • I didn’t quite understand …

Collect student work for assessment and/or display. 

Baker, E. Z., 2015. The Red Room Company Presents: Emilie Zoey Baker. [Online]
Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7F4_Npu0TFk&feature=emb_title
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Baker, E. Z., 2020. I have a hat with tiny woolen ears. [Online]
Available at: https://redroomcompany.org/poem/emilie-zoey-baker/i-have-hat-tiny-woolen-ears/
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Centre for Literacy in Primary Education, n.d. Poetry Line: Poems. [Online]
Available at: https://clpe.org.uk/poetry
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

ESL Flow, n.d. Cluster Diagram. [Online]
Available at: https://eslflow.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Visio-brainstorm_worksheet_cluster_diagram.pdf
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Hughes, L., Harlem. 1990. [Online]
Available at: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/46548/harlem
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Kay, J., 2020. Bush fire. [Online]
Available at: https://clpe.org.uk/poetry/poems/bush-fire
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Literary Devices, 2020. Free Verse. [Online]
Available at: https://literarydevices.net/free-verse/
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

McGough, R., 2007. Sky in the Pie. [Online]
Available at: https://greatestpoetry.blogspot.com/2007/06/sky-in-pie.html
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Merriam-Webster, 2020. aural. [Online]
Available at: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/aural
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Red Room Poetry, 2020. Poetry Object ClickView Resources. [Online]
Available at: https://redroomcompany.org/projects/poetry-object-clickview-resources/
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

The Children’s Poetry Archive, n.d. The Children’s Poetry Archive. [Online]
Available at: www.childrens.poetryarchive.org/
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Writing Practice Program, 2018. Sentence Starters for Two Stars and a Wish. [Online]
Available at: https://support.wpponline.com/sites/default/files/2StarsandaWishSentenceStarters6-12.pdf
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

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