Strategies in Teaching Poetry: How to Teach the Meaning of Poetry?

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Teaching Under Pressure

It was my first year teaching and Mr. Nobreaks sat in the back of the room writing my teacher evaluation. Things were going well until Susan Angst in the fifth row spoke. “Mr. Nochance,” she asked, “These are great poems and I realize you know strategies for teaching poetry and know the meaning of poetry, but when will I ever use this?”

I could have said that knowing the meaning of poetry increases reading comprehension and enables students to develop critical thinking skills, and that they should listen to me because I know strategies for teaching poetry really well. Instead, I blacked out, fell down, cracked my head on a desk, and spouted blood all over the chalk board. Mr Nobreaks fired me on the spot and my Meaning of Poetry Lesson Plan has remained dormant ever since. Until now…

Key Strategies

  1. Pay attention to form. The form of a poem is the physical arrangement of the words on a page. This includes the way lines are placed, their grouping, and their length.
    • Look at the poem before you read it.
    • Examine whether the lines and stanzas form a regular pattern. If not, determine why.
    • Listen for rhythm as you read the poem aloud.
    • Pause where punctuation marks appear, not where the line ends. Stopping at appropriate spots helps clarify meaning.
  2. Pay attention to sound devices. Skilled poets use sound devices for a reason, usually to draw attention to major points.
    • Read the poem aloud several times.
    • Identify the sound devices and determine why the poet chose them.
    • Determine the rhyme scheme.
    • Look for near rhyme. Poets often use near rhyme to make the reader focus on an important word.
    • Determine the purpose of the sound.
  3. Look for figurative language. Because poets have fewer words with which to work, they must use them sparingly. Figurative language allows them to cover much with little.
    • Visualize figurative language.
    • Analyze the meaning of each metaphor or simile.
  4. Look at the title. Determine if the title contributes any special meaning to the poem.
  5. Make connections. Personalizing poetry makes it meaningful.
  6. Summarize the poem’s meaning.


  1. Copy and discuss the above information.
  2. Read a poem.
  3. As a class, do the suggestions above. It’s very important that you model how to determine the meaning of a poem.
  4. Read a poem. One with which students are familiar will encourage them to dig deeper to find meaning.
  5. Write a paragraph analysis of the poem using the suggestions above.

This post is part of the series: Poetry Lesson Plans

This is a series of free online poetry lesson plans to use in the high school English classroom.

  1. Poetry Lesson Plan: Understanding Central Purpose in Mixed-Message Poetry
  2. Poetry Lesson Plan: Teaching Richard Cory
  3. Poetry Lesson Plan Using Examples of Imagery: Draw Your Own Imagery
  4. Lesson Plan: Strategies for Teaching Poetry
  5. Poetry Lesson Plan: Reading and Listening Without Bias