Interpret poetry

The structure and language of poetry requires the reader to question and consider the writer's intent to develop an understanding and knowledge of this form of text.

Activity 1: the three step strategy

The use of a three step strategy can assist students to begin to deconstruct and explore the text in a strategic way. Reading poetry aloud assists students to hear the language and sound patterns within the text.

The three step strategy requires the reader to:

  1. Look at the poem
    • How many stanzas (verses) does it have?
    • How is it set out on the page?
  2. Listen to the poem
    • Pay attention to its sound qualities created by rhythm, rhyme, alliteration (repetition of consonant sounds) and assonance (repetition of vowel sounds).
  3. Think about the poem:
    • Has the poet used repetition, rhetorical questions, unusual syntax, imagery, metaphors, similes, personification?
    • How do these add to the impact of the poem?

Before reading the poem discuss the title, the context and all unfamiliar words and concepts that will be found.

  1. Look at the poem noting the number of stanzas and how the poem is set out on the page.
    • Are all the lines of equal length?
    • Is punctuation included?
    • Why is punctuation included or excluded? (Dependent on the poem the students are working with).
    • Student findings can be recorded on a sheet of paper or in an exercise book. Discuss observations.
  2. Listen – the poem is read aloud to the class. It is important that the poem is read by an accomplished reader to enable the students to hear the sounds and patterns of the text.
    • Discuss the sounds and patterns the students may have heard during the reading.
  3. Think – pair or group students to re-read the poem and note specific language or structural features, such as punctuation.

For example, read the poem ‘Clouds’ by Christina G. Rossetti without telling students the title.

White Sheep, white sheep
On a blue hill,
When the wind stops
You all stand still.
When the wind blows
You walk away slow.
White sheep, white sheep
Where do you go?

Sheep are metaphors for fluffy white clouds in this poem. See if students can still get the metaphor without the title.

Students need to be familiar with figurative language and understand how its use can add to the meaning of the text. Explicit teaching of figurative language, using authentic texts, is the key to the readers deep understanding of text.

Explore examples of figurative language and have students identify the language features used and consider why they have been included.

Some questions that can be posed:

  • How does this assist the reader?
  • Does it make it easier to understand the poem? How?
  • Why did the author use a particular word or phrase?

Discuss the students' responses and explanations. This can be done as a whole class feedback session or may be undertaken during the activity with the teacher giving feedback to the pairs or groups as they are working with the text. The student responses can be used to assess students' understanding of language features and the text.

Conclude the activity by discussing the message the poem conveyed and the feelings it evoked.

Activity 2: combining story sharing, land links, symbols and images (metaphors)

Consider the following 8 Ways of Learning for Aboriginal students.

  • Story sharing: approaching learning through narrative.
  • Learning maps: explicitly mapping/visualising processes.
  • Non–verbal: applying intrapersonal and kinaesthetic skills to thinking and learning.
  • Symbols and images: using images and metaphors to understand concepts and content.
  • Land links: place–based learning, linking content to local land and place.
  • Non-linear: producing innovations and understanding by thinking laterally or combining systems.
  • Deconstruct/reconstruct: modelling and scaffolding, working from wholes to parts (watch then do).
  • Community links: centring local viewpoints, applying learning for community benefit.

Consult with community Elders and if possible visit places with special cultural significance. Otherwise visit local environments that are important to students or the school grounds for place-based learning to write stories and poems about the local land. Encourage students to make lateral links the way they do when they see shapes in clouds. After teacher has modelled examples of personification and metaphors, students can use creative visualisation to develop examples of figurative language with a partner. Students then use the figurative language in stories, poems or rap songs to capture the feelings they experience.


For additional teaching ideas and resources please view the links below:


Australian curriculum

ACELT1611: Examining literature: Understand, interpret and experiment with sound devices and imagery, including simile, metaphor and personification, in narratives, shape poetry, songs, anthems and odes.

NSW syllabus

EN3-3A: Understand, interpret and experiment with sound devices and imagery, including simile, metaphor and personification, in narratives, shape poetry, songs, anthems and odes.

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