Ur a Poet & U Didn't Know It

3. Spotlight on Poetic Language

Suggested Learning Intentions

  • To build understanding of poetic metalanguage
  • To understand the way in which language features shape meaning

Sample Success Criteria

  • I can identify figurative language and imagery
  • I can describe how the language used in a poem affects its meaning

This stage focuses explicitly on poetic language. The stage explores modelling or deconstructing texts to focus explicitly on how language choices shape meaning and supports the development of metalanguage.

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.

1. Collaborative poetry

Introduce a stimulus like ‘The Word Collector’ in video or text format with the intention of exposing students to a rich range of vocabulary. Students select two to four words from the stimulus that appeal to them. Teachers should also choose two to four words that resonate with them. Students can add independently sourced words to the list as well.

Support students to choose words from a variety of word classes to ensure that a rich assortment of verbs, nouns and adjectives are available for the next part of the activity.

Ask students to write their chosen words on strips of paper or post-it notes and to stick them on the whiteboard. Alternatively, use a digital collaboration tool like a Google document that allows for the manipulation of text, and project students’ digital responses so that they are visible to the class.

Choose a few words to discuss from those that have been selected or invite students to talk about why they chose a particular word. Ensure that teacher-selected words are also discussed and clarify definitions as necessary. Teacher-selected words can also be used to model the discussion. For example, “I chose the word ‘bloom’ because it makes me think of flowers and of the way that people blossom when they discover they can write poetry.”

Once a list of words has been generated and displayed, check if there is any pronunciation that needs clarifying, and then point to random words on the board or screen one-after-the-other, asking students to chant the words as you point to them.

For example: Vociferous Kaleidoscope Symphony; Electric shimmer dreams.

The point of this exercise is to encourage students to think about the way in which words can be arranged for poetic impact, and to draw attention to the joy and playfulness that can be found in creative uses of language. The exercise should also invite students into an accessible choral performance of instantaneous ‘found poetry’. It will be most successful if students are given some notice regarding the element of group participation.

Reflect on combinations of words that were satisfying or funny or didn’t ‘work’, focussing on the way in which random words can be arranged to create or shape meaning.

2. Collaborative research

Support students to form pairs and pose the question: What is figurative language?

Allow some time for pairs to investigate the term, ensuring that a broad range of language devices are covered. For example, separate pairs could investigate metaphor, simile, imagery, hyperbole, onomatopoeia, alliteration or idiom (videos are available on ClickView, sign in using your Department credentials).

Invite students to share their findings, including images or videos they have sourced to explain the concepts such as ‘The Art of Metaphor’ or ‘Hit em’ with the onomatopoeia’. Collaborate to make a list of figurative language devices. Record on an anchor chart to support and reflect understandings.

It’s important in this stage to give thought to the way poetry is delivered. It is strongly recommended that a mix of teacher-led and independent, participatory & collaborative student-led readings are used. Encourage students to practise reading a pre-selected or favoured poem prior to a class commencing.

1. Modelling figurative language

Introduce a range of poems that effectively model the craft of figurative language. Red Room Poetry has a wealth of Australian poems available such as Kirli Saunders’ ‘Mother’, Lachlan Brown’s ‘Evensong’ or Kate Fagan’s ‘Workman, Honeyeater’. Alternatively, The Poetry Foundation has a wealth of poems to explore. Use a variety of techniques to read the poems, for example:

  • Dividing the class in half and reading alternating lines, stanzas or parts
  • Inviting individuals, pairs and trios to read
  • Offering whole-class opportunities to participate
  • Inviting students to read the poem aloud in a variety of paces and tones (for example cheerful, annoyed, angry, amused).

Choose one of the poems that has been read and annotate it together as a class, colour-coding examples of figurative language in the text, including effective use of imagery. Consider giving students time to think, pair and share before they respond to a selection of question prompts. 

Suggested prompts:

  • What mood or feeling does the poem create in you as a reader? Can you think of any words or phrases from the poem that might have caused you to feel that way?
  • Which words did you notice first? Why did they stand out from the others?
  • Can you identify any imagery in this poem? What pictures or sounds might the poet have been asking the reader to imagine?
  • Are any words used in an odd way? Why? What might be the purpose?
  • Can you identify any similes in this poem? Are they effective? What could make them effective/ineffective?
  • Are there any metaphors in this poem? Why might a poet use metaphor instead of simile? How might metaphors add additional meaning to the work?
  • Can you detect any alliteration or onomatopoeia in this poem? Why might the poet have used it?
  • Do you think the poet has used any exaggerations or hyperbole? What might the purpose of exaggerating be? For example, I felt a ton of resentment; I’m so hungry I could eat a horse.
  • Has the poet incorporated any idioms into their work? Why might a poet use an idiom or ‘saying’ in a poem instead of just stating what they mean? For example, ‘I’m in a pickle’ rather than ‘I’m in trouble’ or ‘It’s a hard pill to swallow’ rather than ‘This is difficult to accept’.

Ensure that student and teacher responses are linked back to the text, focussing on finding evidence within the poem to support or explore opinions, and on the way in which language is used to shape the meaning of a poem. Consider altering key words in the poem to analyse how different shades of meaning can be achieved by arranging similes according to a semantic gradient.

Enable students to respond to the poem by working closely with pairs to unpack the question prompts. Focus discussion on questions relating to vocabulary and students’ responses to language.

Extend students by inviting them to focus on the vocabulary choices made by the poet, identifying the way in which word specificity contributes to tone and mood. For example, Kirli Saunder’s choice of the word ‘dance’ or Lachlan Brown’s use of the phrase ‘O to be back’.

2. Experimenting with vocabulary

Ask students to form pairs to write a ‘Dylan Thomas Couplet’ to practise using language to create imagery and to shape meaning. This variation of a couplet invites students to experiment with vocabulary.

Each couplet should attempt to capture the essence or basic nature of its subject, beginning with the phrase ‘Have you ever seen…?’ or 'Have you ever heard...?' and concluding with three hyphenated adjective-noun descriptive word pairs. For example:

Ask students to share their work, and then guide students in a reading of a poem like 'Be Specific', which draws attention to the power of precise language. Encourage students to use synonyms to revise the first ‘draft’ of the hyphenated words in their ‘Dylan Thomas Couplet’ and to keep a record reflecting on the changes they have made to their language.

As an additional activity, pair students to pair together mixed-up lines from the class’ couplets, discussing the impact of using precise language to describe a subject. Encourage students to provide peer feedback on effective language use.

3. Experimenting with simile and metaphor

Invite students to continue exploring the impact of language selection by individually completing an ‘Ezra Pound Couplet’. This variation of a couplet invites students to experiment with simile and metaphor.

Each line in the couplet should attempt to capture the essence or feeling of a person, place or thing. For example:

Clouds drifting across a summer sky

A child’s face lost in thought

A highway lined with towering pines

Like green sentinels standing at attention

Invite students to share their work in small groups, reflecting upon what might make a simile or metaphor effective or ‘successful’. Similes and metaphors that do not conjure a meaningful or evocative comparison between two concepts are often not effective. For example:

Ineffective Simile

Ineffective Metaphor

I’m as tired as a cup

The sky is a cat

I’m as sad as a bike

Her eyes were two dogs


Suggested prompts:

  • Are these similes and metaphors effective? Why or why not?
  • Could these similes or metaphors be developed so that they are more effective? For example, ‘The sky is a cat, writhing and purring’ or ‘I’m as sad as a bike, unridden for years’. Provide the opportunity for students to reflect upon and refine their work with a focus on the way in which the precise use of language can clarify and enhance meaning.

    Depending on which components of the ‘Explore’ phase you have used, reflect on the impact of figurative language, including effective imagery, simile and metaphor.

    Suggested prompts:

    • Why might a poet choose to use figurative language (imagery, simile, metaphor)?
    • Why might a poet alter the language they use depending on their audience? (g. an audience of teenagers versus very young children).
    • How might language shape the meaning of a poem? Use examples from the poetry you have chosen to illustrate this point. For example, in ‘Workman Honeyeater’, Kate Fagan’s use of the word ‘skip’ and the simile ‘like arrows’ implies sleekness and speed rather than clumsiness and torpor.

    Ask students to choose a line from a poem you have used in this class or in previous classes. Invite students to substitute words in three to five different places and to reflect on how the changes affect the meaning, mood or tone of the poem. For example, Kate Fagan’s poem could be altered in the following three ways:

    Alternatively, you could use the technique of ‘poetry corruption’ inviting students to remove a word from a line of poetry and to reflect on how that alters the meaning, mood or tone of the poem.

    Collect student work for assessment and feedback.

    BankstownPoetrySlam, 2018. My Australia – Sara Mansour, Spoken word poetry, Bankstown Poetry Slam. [Online]
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    Botha, M., 2014. Writers Write, Why you should be specific when you write. [Online]
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    Brown, L., n.d. Red Room Poetry, Evensong. [Online]
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    Cahil, M., 2014. Reading Rockets, Semantic Gradients. [Online]
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    Clickview, n.d. Poetic devices – Imagery. [Online]
    Available at: www.online.clickview.com.au/libraries/series/3717765/miniclips/videos/23944957/poetic-devices-imagery
    [Accessed 15 March 2022].

    Clickview, n.d. Poetic devices – Metaphor. [Online]
    Available at: www.online.clickview.com.au/libraries/series/3717765/miniclips/videos/23944957/poetic-devices-metaphor
    [Accessed 15 March 2022].

    Clickview, n.d. Poetic devices – Onomatopoeia. [Online]
    Available at: www.online.clickview.com.au/libraries/series/3717765/miniclips/videos/23944957/poetic-devices-onomatopoeia
    [Accessed 15 March 2022].

    Clickview, n.d. Poetic devices – Simile. [Online]
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    [Accessed 15 March 2022].

    dodmankellir, 2019. The word collector by Peter H Reynolds digital story. [Online]
    Available at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vd5XwEPpAAA
    [Accessed 15 March 2022].

    Fagan, K., n.d. Red Room Poetry, Workman Honeyeater. [Online]
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    [Accessed 15 March 2022].

    Guave Juice, 2017. Guave Juice – Hit em’ with the onomatopoeia (Offical music video). [Online]
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    [Accessed 15 March 2022].

    Mulvahill, E., 2019. Anchor charts 101: Why and how to use them. [Online]
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    Poetry Foundation, 2003. Poetry Foundation. [Online]
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    Saunders, K., n.d. Red Room Poetry, Mother. [Online]
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    State Government of Victoria, (Department of Education and Training), 2018. Doughnut Sharing, Literacy Teaching Toolkit. [Online]
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    State Government of Victoria, (Department of Education and Training), 2019. Higher order language. [Online]
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    TED-Ed, 2012. The art of the metaphor – Jane Hirshfield. [Online]
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    [Accessed 15 March 2022].

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