Poetry and the Possibility of Language

2. Modelling the Text: Examining Poetic Structures

Suggested Learning Intentions

  • To demonstrate how poetic structures influence meaning for the reader

Sample Success Criteria

  • I can use lines and stanzas to convey a feeling or a thought
  • I can use words precisely to express and convey feelings and thoughts

This stage explores free verse poetry from two very different social contexts. The humorous work of Michael Rosen is compared to Thanhha Lai’s poems narrating a young girl’s experience escaping war-torn Vietnam by boat. Students experiment with line breaks and stanzas then write a found poem using a familiar narrative text.

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 Michael Rosen performing, The Car Trip with the students.

Invite the students to make a connection to the poem. For example, a personal connection might be remembering a car trip where they bickered with their siblings. A text connection might be recalling a story or experience about a car trip that involved children misbehaving in the back seat. A text to world connection might be the reflection that aeroplane travel to and from Australia was almost completely stopped during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Discuss language from the poem that creates imagery or evokes emotion. For example:

  • ‘Going mad in the back’
  • ‘We start the moaning’ 
  • ‘Mum tries to be exciting … look out the window, there’s a tree.’
  • ‘If you two don’t stop it I’m going to put you out of the car and leave you by the side of the road.’

Facilitate a discussion about how this poem might look on the page. Question prompts include:

  • How might Rosen have decided where to begin and end each line?
  • How you think Rosen might have organised this poem into stanzas?

Model writing a short section of the poem in various ways, discussing how line breaks and punctuation might affect the reading of the poem. 

For example:

And off we go

And then we start the moaning

And off we go

And then we start

the moaning

And off we go

and then 

we start …

the moaning

And off we go and then 

we start …

the moaning

Invite students to read each short passage and discuss the effect of line breaks, punctation and letter sizing. 


Extend students by asking collaborative pairs to interpret how a short passage from the poem might look on the page. Ask them to write and perform a short section of The Car Trip to the class.

Guided Practice

Provide students with a copy of 'Floating' from Lai, Thanhha, 2011, Inside Out and Back Again

Floating is a poem about a very different family journey told from the perspective of a young child. The narrator recounts her experience escaping Vietnam on a ship at the end of the war. If necessary, provide information about the social and political context of the poem. Anh Do’s picture story book, ‘The Little Refugee’, would support student understanding of this period. 

Suggest students read the poem quietly in pairs and discuss their initial responses, how it made them feel, any personal connections they have with the poem, what it made them think about or questions they have. Encourage them to underline words or passages that stand out to them or that they do not fully understand.

Re-read the poem with the students as a whole class or in small close reading groups.  

Annotate the vocabulary and language features in the poem that help to create mood and imagery. For example:

  • the word ‘creeping’ in the first stanza
  • the example of personification in the second stanza
  • the metaphor used by the narrator to compare herself to other girls
  • Discuss the stanzas and line spacing. Ask the students why the poet might have organised her words in this way.  What effect does the spacing have on the reader? Invite students to read stanzas from the poem aloud and discuss the effect of line breaks or lineation.

Extend student understanding of how line breaks and stanzas are used to achieve a particular effect. Ask them to consider how breaking the line can affect the pace, rhythm and sound of a line; and how ideas can either end with a line break or can be carried over to the next line to emphasise a word or theme.

Collaborative Practice

Explain to students that they will be reading another poem by Thanhha Lai to explore the way stanzas, line breaks and pauses are used to convey a feeling or thought or to create emphasis.

Provide each student with a copy of the text from 'S-l-o-w-l-y' from Lai, Thanhha, 2011, Inside Out and Back Again’, without line breaks or punctuation. Explain that they will be rewriting the text as a poem. Therefore, they will have to decide how to organise the ideas using line breaks and stanzas. 

Suggest that students work with a partner and read the text to each other a number of times before they begin organising the text into a poetic form.

Ask students to illustrate their poems, then read their poem aloud to another group. Encourage groups to discuss how they organised the words on the page, and how the organisational structure affected the mood of the poem.

Select two or three samples that highlight the effect of line breaks and stanzas to share with the whole class. Invite students to read the same section of the poem aloud to their peers. Discuss the different ways students organised the text and compare the effect of line breaks and stanzas.

Enable students who may need additional assistance by providing text with punctuation and no line breaks. A copy is available in the Materials and texts section.

Extend student understanding of the way line breaks and stanzas can affect the pace, mood and tone of a poem by having them compare 'S-l-o-w-l-y' with Michael Rosen’s, Chocolate Cake. A downoadable version of this activity is available in the Materials and texts section above. 

Explain that students will now be writing a found poem using words from a narrative text.

A found poem is made up of words, phrases and sometimes even whole passages from other sources. The words used in found poems are visible somewhere; in books, magazines, public signs, menus, anywhere that words appear for us to read.

The purpose of a found poem is to carefully select and rearrange the words, to change the spacing, add or delete lines. The end product is a poem created with found words.

Provide examples of found or black out poetry and model using prose to create a free verse poem. Blackout Poetry Maker is an interactive tool to create black out poetry using supplied or custom text. Teachers are advised to check the suitability of the content before they present it to the students.

Alternately, model using a narrative text as your source. Select an important moment in a story and discuss the need to only select the best or most important words to create a found poem. A found poem, based on Anh Do’s The Littlest Refugee is provided as an example and can be downloaded from the Materials and texts section above. 

Suggest that students use a particularly descriptive passage or a dramatic scene in familiar narrative text.  Ask them to identify significant words and phrases in the passage. Encourage the students to spend time arranging and re-arranging the words and phrases selected to compose a found poem. Provide a range of materials and encourage students to illustrate their work to support the poems meaning. 

Enable students to select significant words from a text by reading short passages with the students and identifying the nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs. Students could be given a word limit to make their text more manageable. 

Provide opportunities for students to read their poetry to their classmates. Encourage the students to identify the mood of each poem, for example, funny, scary or sad. 

You may choose to collect student work for assessment purposes.

Art Journalist, 2018. Found Poetry: Creative Visual Poems in Your Art. [Online]
Available at: https://artjournalist.com/found-poetry/
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Do, A., 2011. The Little Refugee. Crows Nest: Allen and Unwin.

Lai, T., 2011. Inside Out and Back Again. New York: Harper Collins.

New York Times, 2014. Searching for Poetry in Prose. [Online]
Available at: www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/multimedia/blackout-poetry.html
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Readwritethink, n.d. Word Mover. [Online]
Available at: http://www.readwritethink.org/files/resources/interactives/Word_Mover/
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Rosen, M., 2008. The Car Trip, Kids' Poems and Stories with Michael Rosen. [Online]
Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y45ROk22ajI
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Rosen, M., 2011. Chocolate Cake | POEM | Kids' Poems and Stories With Michael Rosen. [Online]
Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?app=desktop&v=7BxQLITdOOc
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Rosen, M., 2015. Going Through the Old Photos. [Online]
Available at: https://childrens.poetryarchive.org/poem/going-through-the-old-photos/
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Winston, E., n.d. Blackout Poetry Maker [Online]
Available at: https://blackoutpoetry.glitch.me
[Accessed 28 June 2022].

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