How To Teach 'INTERPRETING POEMS' in Form Four With Sample Poems

Welcome to Unit 8:4 

Review: Previously in Unit 8:3, we discussed about how to teach the sub topic ‘Identifying main features of different genres’ in Form Three. In this sub topic, students were introduced to the various techniques of identifying and analysing various features of different genres independently and in literary works selected

In this Unit 8:4, we will learn how to teach the sub topic, Interpreting poems’ in Form Four. In this sub topic, we will again guide students to read and analyse various poems by using best ways possible.


(Also: For Literature in English Subject, Check out my Literature in English Blog. Also check out My Diary for Diary Writing Inspiration and More! )
                                                                    
THE FOLLOWING IS THE COMPREHENSIVE TEACHING GUIDE ON THE SUB TOPIC:

A: INFORMATION OF THE TOPIC:
1. Topic: READING LITERARY WORKS.
2. Sub Topic: Interpreting poems.
3. Periods per sub topic: 16
4: Class: Form Four.
B: HOW TO TEACH THE TOPIC:

GENERAL INTRODUCTION
The student should be able to interpret poems. A teacher needs to get prepared before going to teach poems to the students because what he/she is going to be confronted with from the students is the idea that ‘poems are difficult’. Teacher’s one job then is to make students feel that poems are easy just like other genres of literature. This is done by guiding students to understand that what they should bear in mind is that their focus is based on a single poem on just a single page of the book. And this is different from 100 pages of a play or a novel. Thus, why when we devote ourselves to read and analyse 100 pages we don’t say it is difficult but when we read and analyse a single-page poem we say it is difficult? In the end, the students are going to realise that poems are as simple as any other works of art!

For more on Steps of Analysing Poems, click HERE!
'Download 'Eat More' NOW!
Download 'Your Pain' NOW!

ACTIVITIES AND GAMES TO FACILITATE A LESSON

ACTIVITY 1: BRAINSTORMING AND INTRODUCTION
The teacher introduces the meaning of poetry as a revision so as to engage students in the mood of talking about poetry. Students can discuss about the meaning of poetry and other related terms like types so that to remind them of poetry.
In this part, a teacher can introduce how students should read a poem (See below How to Read a Poem Aloud). After that, students are introduced the methods on how selected poem or poems are going to be analysed.

Introducing the Analysis Method. Students can be told on how the selected poems are going to be analysed after reading. A teacher may either introduce the method or wait until after reading a poem or poems aloud with the class. The method I will share with you today is called ‘WHAT and HOW’ METHOD OF ANALYSING POEMS’. This is the useful way of analysing a poem because what a reader needs is just to ask himself/herself some simple questions. And if he/she answers them correctly that becomes the beginning of the understanding of the poems read.

By definition, these concepts are defined as follows:
‘WHAT’ means what poet says, and
‘HOW’ means how the poet says what he/she has to say.
After this main terms and questions of the method, students are now introduced to the specific questions each term has for the easy analysis of the poem.
By using ‘WHAT and HOW’ METHOD’, students have to read the poem and analyse it by using this method and by answering the specific questions as follows:

Part 1: WHAT: The 'WHAT'  of the poem.
This part deals with the content or subject matter of the poem. Here students are asked the questions about the content of the poem. These guiding questions on poem's content are:
(1)   What is the poem about? (Paraphrase the poem).
(2)   What issues (themes) poet is expressing?
(3)   What is the main conflict in the poem?
(4)   What is the setting of the poem?
(5)   Is the poem relevant to the contemporary societies?
(6)   What is the message of the poem?
(7)   What lesson can be learnt from the poem?
(8)   What is the background of the poet?
(9)   What is the background of the poet?
(10)                       What is the poet's philosophy (viewpoint) on the subject matter of the poem?

Part 2: HOW: The 'HOW' of the poem.

In this part, we deal with techniques (Form) used in the poem by the poet in delivering the content (the issues asked above in the content) to the intended audience.  This part is all about how a poet communicates his/her ideas. All these lead us to the following guiding questions on poetic techniques used:
(1)   Comment on the title of the poem.
(2)   How many stanzas do a poem has?
(3)   How many verses per stanza?
(4)   Comment on the rhyming scheme of the poem.
(5)   Comment on the rhythm of the poem.
(6)   What is the tone of the poet?
(7)   What is the mood of the poem?
(8)   What is the kind of the poem?
(9)   What is the persona of the poem?
(10)                       Who is the addressee of the poem?
(11)                       Comment on the language used in the poem.
(12)                       What are other poetic techniques used in the poem?

Then students are also reminded of the patterns/structures to be used when they will be analysing poems. These patterns are introduced at this stage because later, there will be only analysis of the selected poems, so the chance of talking about these patterns is minimal. These patterns are:
  • The title of the poem symbolises…..
  • The poet says…
  • The poem is about…..
  • The theme of the poem is ….
  • The message of the poem is…..
  • The poet uses…….to …….
  • The poet’s tone is……..
Also vocabulary items used when analysing poems are also worth discussing at the stage. Students should understand them even before analysing the poems.
Some of the vocabularies are; Line, Stanza, verse, simile, metaphor, personification, theme, message, tone, mood, and the like.

ACTIVITY 2: READING A SELECTED POEM ALOUD.
The students and teacher at this stage, they discuss the guidelines on the better reading of the poem. The following are the stages on How to Read a Poem and understand it:
(1)   Read with a pencil.
When you are reading a poem with a pencil, you can react to it instantly. You can mark some important points or sections. You can even draw the lines to show connected ideas.
So that to mark your poem well, you should read both silently and aloud with careful listening of the sound and rhythm of the words.
(2)   Examine the basic subject of the poem.
In this aspect, the reader of the poem considers the following aspects:
Title: What does it tell you about the content of the poem? What tone does it create?

Subject: What is the poem about? This is the basic question to ask oneself you read a poem.

Persona and Situation: Here the reader asks himself/herself several questions like:
  • Who is talking?
  • To whom is he talking to?
  • Under what circumstances?
  • Where are they?
  • What do they talk about?
  • Why do they talk about that?

Paraphrasing a poem: The reader should also be able to paraphrase a poem in words and in written form. That means a students should be able to summarise a poem in either spoken or written form.

Comparison: As the reader reads the poem it is also important to find out if the poem is in comparison with other things like other works of art or situations.

Attitude of the author: What is the author’s attitude toward his/her subject? Is it serious, ironic, satiric, humorous, witty, or hostile?

The Mood of the poem towards the reader. Does the poem appeals to the reader’s mind, emotions or feelings?

(3)   Consider the context of the poem.
Here the reader should ask himself/herself questions like: Is the poem connected to any allusions or to other literary or historical events? If that is the case, how do these connections add to the meaning of the poem and how are they appropriate? For example, If the reader knows that ‘Your Pain’ is a poem connected to the history of Mozambique he/she can easily connect the content of the poem and the appropriate historical event (but the poem should be analysed as a literary work).
Another question is: What do you know about the poet? This question is also important because it helps the reader to know the history and life of the poet, hence is able to connect the poem with the life and the content of the poem. For example, the reader of ‘Your Pain’ comes to understand that the writer of the poem was a freedom activist.

(4)   Study the form of the poem.
Here the reader should consider the sound and rhythm of the poem.

He/she should find out if the poem has been composed in metrical patterns (meter); if the poem has rhymes; if the poem has alliteration, assonance, and onomatopoeia; and how these aspects affect the meaning of the poem.

Division of the poem: How the poem is divided. Are there any stanzas, rhymes, and how many verses per stanza?

Organisation of the ideas in the poem: The reader should also consider this aspect. It helps him to know whether the ideas of the poem are organised from simple to complex; from outer to inner; from past to present; from one place to another; or from a certain point to another?

The type of the poem: In this aspect, the reader discusses the type or genre of the poem and what are expected from such kind of a poem.

(5)   Look at the word choice of the poem.
It is not bad for the reader to take a dictionary with him. At this part, the reader is advised to list all verbs in the poem and find out what actions they tell about the poem.

And if there are any difficult or confusing words, the reader should take a dictionary and look up for the specific words.
Mood of the poem: The choice of words creates the mood of the poem. So it is good to observe the words/vocabularies used in the poem in order to tell about the mood of the poem.

Consider the symbolism used. Here the reader should study carefully the used symbols in the poem in order to know what they stand for or what they represent in the poem and in the real life situations.

Identify figurative language. This is the language full of figures of speech. The reader as he/she reads should also consider the figures of speech used in order to understand their effect in delivering the message of the poem. The reader should consider the following; similes, metaphors, hyperbole, oxymoron, paradox, personification and others.

(6)   Conclude reading a poem.
The reader should conclude reading the poem by asking himself/herself questions such as ‘What is the purpose of this poem’? Is it relevant to the contemporary societies?. These are the crucial questions because they give the glimpse on the purpose of the poem and its relevance to the societies in question.

ACTIVITY 3:  READING AND ANALYSING THE POEM
READING THE POEM
A teacher needs to put students in attention before he reads the selected poem. Then, the teacher reads the poem aloud once. The poem I am going to use as an example is ‘Your Pain’ by Armando Guebuza.

Your Pain
By Armando Guebuza

Your pain
Yet more my pain
Shall suffocate oppression

Your eyes
Yet more my eyes
Shall be speaking of revolt?

Your scars
Yet more my scars
Will be remembering the whip?

My hands
Yet more your hands
Will be lifted fully armed?

My strength
Yet more your strength
Shall overcome imperialism?

My blood
Yet more your blood
Shall irrigate our victory.

Students to read the poem silently and with the guide of the teacher to answer comprehension questions intended to guide them in interpreting the poem.

ANALYSIS OF THE POEM
The teacher and students to discuss the answers to the comprehension questions and the teacher to write the answers on the board.
Here WHAT and HOW’ METHOD OF ANALYSING POEMS’ may be applied:

Part 1: WHAT: The 'WHAT'  of the poem.

This part deals with the content or subject matter of the poem. Here students are asked the questions about the content of the poem. These guiding questions on poem's content are:
(1)   What is the poem about? (Paraphrase the poem). The poem is about the tribulation and sufferings of the people who are tortured, oppressed, and humiliated. The poem also implies that these people are under oppressive foreign domination and the persona urges his fellows to unite and fight together against the colonial imperialism.
(2)   What issues(themes) poet is expressing?. Themes. The possible themes of the poem are:
·         Colonialism. The people of this society are protesting against the colonialists who are mistreating them on their own land.
·         Oppression. The people of this society are also oppressed by the oppressive colonialists.
·         Torture. The members of this society are tortured through various means like whipping and other forms of torture.
·         Sacrifice. Stanza six of the poem shows that the poet is urging his fellow people to fight for their freedom by sacrificing what they have.
·         Exploitation. It also shows that the people are exploited. They do not own the major means of production in their own country. This also leads to their fight against the exploiters.
·         Awareness.  The poet is trying to make the audience aware of the evils that are prevailing in the society. He wants his fellow countrymen to wake up and fight for the oppressors.
·         Unity. The persona shows that there is a need for the unity for them to succeed. He encourages them to come together and reclaim their lost freedom.
·         Humiliation. The Africans in Mozambique and other dominated countries are being humiliated by the colonialists or the oppressors.
·         Classes. The whites and other big people belong to the upper class while the poor Africans belong to the lower class.
·         Injustice. People are mistreated by the oppressors. They are not given their rights. Even when they demand for the rights, the big people own everything in the country, so they have nowhere to go.
(3)   What is the main conflict in the poem? The main conflict in this poem is between the African people and the colonialists.
(4)   What is the setting of the poem? The setting of the poem is Mozambique, an African country struggling for the independence. The poem is also relevant to the African settings or societies where people are still oppressed.
(5)   Is the poem relevant to the contemporary societies? Yes, it is relevant because until today there are some parts of the African continent and the world where these vices are conducted. The people in such areas such as civil wars are struggling for the freedom. The poem is also relevant to the people who were under colonial domination, to those who are currently under certain domination like cultural domination, and to any society that experiences any sort of oppression like the oppression in the child labor.
(6)   What is the message of the poem?. Message of the poem. The message of the poem is that the oppressors are unacceptable members of any society. They cause harm to others. They violate human rights that govern the basic foundations of people in the world.
(7)   What lesson can be learnt from the poem?. Lesson/teachings of the poem. Various lessons can be deducted from the poem. First, the poem teaches us that colonialism or any domination is a bad system of life and should be abolished by any means necessary. Second, unity is an essential thing to have in order to triumph against and kind of injustice. Also political awareness is vital for the oppressed people to overcome their miseries.
(8)   What is the background of the poet? Armando Guebuza was born in 1942. He was a FRELIMO militant from the early stages of the liberation struggle. Since independence he has been one of the leaders in Mozambique. In June a leading Frelimo Party official, Armando Guebuza, political commissar for the armed forces, visited Great Britain to warn about the prospects for confrontation with South Africa, and to argue against Western European support for the apparent U.S. tilt toward closer relations with the South African government. In June, Machel dismissed three cabinet ministers, including Politburo members Armando Guebuza, the minister of the interior, and Mariano Matsinhe, the minister of security, reportedly because of continuing discipline problems in the country's security forces. Frelimo dominated December 2004 elections, winning almost two-thirds of the seats in the legislature. Frelimo secretary general Armando Guebuza was elected to succeed Chissano as president.
(9)   What is the poet's philosophy (viewpoint) on the subject matter of the poem?. The poet’s viewpoint of the colonial domination is that this kind of domination is not allowed to the people who have their land are free to decide where to live and what to work for a living. The colonialists should not oppress them or force them against their will because this is not white men’s land but African land.

Part 2: HOW: The 'HOW' of the poem.

In this part, we deal with techniques (Form) used in the poem by the poet in delivering the content (the issues asked above in the content) to the intended audience.  This part is all about how a poet communicates his/her ideas. All these lead us to the following guiding questions on poetic techniques used:
(1)   Comment on the title of the poem. Title of the poem.The title reflects the content as the content of the poem itself signify the pains, tortures, and oppressive acts done to the members of this society. The poet, in a nutshell, talks about struggle against the oppression.
(2)   How many stanzas does a poem has?. The poem is divided into six stanzas.
(3)   How many verses per stanza?. Each stanza having three verses each.
(4)   Comment on the rhyming scheme of the poem. The poem has regular rhymes. For example, the first stanza rhyme. Other stanzas have each two first lines rhyme.
(5)   Comment on the rhythm of the poem. The poems have been arranged regularly in stanzas and verses so as to create a rhythm of the poem.
(6)   What is the tone of the poet?. The tone of the poet is serious, angry, and optimistic.
(7)   What is the mood of the poem?. The mood of the poem is seriousness, sadness and anger.
(8)   What is the kind of the poem?. The poem is lyric didactic poem as it is short and it proposes/instruct what is to be done. It gives the instruction to the readers.
(9)   Who is the persona of the poem? The persona is the militant and one of the oppressed members of the society. He is also optimistic fellow who is sure the victory against the oppressors will be won.
(10)                       Who is the addressee of the poem? Addressee. The addressee of the poem or the audience of the poem are the torture and oppressed members of the society. The poet wants them to join force together and drive the oppressor out of their country.
(11)                       Comment on the language used in the poem. The language of the poem is simple, ordinary, clear, and straight forward. The poet, for example, has used several expressions and words so as to express his intended message. He has used the phrase like “Blood irrigating victory” to show sacrifice. He has also used the words like “hands” and “strength” to show unity.
Figures of speech. The following figures of speech have also been identified:
§  Personification. For example, Pain to suffocate oppression. Eyes to speak of revolt. Scars to remember the whip. Blood to irrigate victory.
§  Symbolism. Whip to symbolize torture. Blood to symbolize sacrifice. Scars to symbolize torture.
§  Repetition. The words like “I” and “Your” have been repeated in order to emphasize the point.
(12)                       What are other poetic techniques used in the poem? Here students can identify more styles or techniques the poet has applied in the particular poem.

ACTIVITY 4: WRITING ABOUT THE POEMS USING THE STAGES EXPLAINED
A teacher may give students an assignment of exercise with a poem to read and analyse so that they can use the skills they have learned. Students in groups to write about the poem using the points on the board. The poem I have chosen to give the students is ‘Eat More’ because it is simple and it does not intimidate students:

By using ‘WHAT and HOW’ METHOD’, students have to read the poem and analyse it by using this method.

Part 1: WHAT: The 'WHAT'  of the poem.
This part deals with the content or subject matter of the poem. Here students are asked the questions about the content of the poem. These guiding questions on poem's content are:
(1)   What is the poem about? (Paraphrase the poem).
(2)   What issues (themes) poet is expressing?
(3)   What is the main conflict in the poem?
(4)   What is the setting of the poem?
(5)   Is the poem relevant to the contemporary societies?
(6)   What is the message of the poem?
(7)   What lesson can be learnt from the poem?
(8)   What is the background of the poet?
(9)   What is the poet's philosophy (viewpoint) on the subject matter of the poem?

Part 2: HOW: The 'HOW' of the poem.

In this part, we deal with techniques (Form) used in the poem by the poet in delivering the content (the issues asked above in the content) to the intended audience.  This part is all about how a poet communicates his/her ideas. All these lead us to the following guiding questions on poetic techniques used:
(1)   Comment on the title of the poem.
(2)   How many stanzas do a poem has?
(3)   How many verses per stanza?
(4)   Comment on the rhyming scheme of the poem.
(5)   Comment on the rhythm of the poem.
(6)   What is the tone of the poet?
(7)   What is the persona of the poem?
(8)   What is the addressee of the poem?
(9)   What is the type of the poem?
(10)                       What is the mood of the poem?
(11)                       Comment on the language used in the poem.
(12)                       What are other poetic techniques used in the poem?



6: CONNECTION: Beyond the Sub Topic. This sub topic leads students to the reading and analysis of poems. Most students consider poems as difficult but they are the basic aspects in literature because they introduce them to the simplest forms of literature and give them other ideas before analysing big works of art like novels and plays.

7: NOTE: As a teacher of English language and Literature, I like to start teaching poems to students. I have two reasons for this. First, I start with poems to break the belief that poems are difficult that is why they always come last even in the national examinations. Second, in the world of literature, a poem is the simplest and the shortest form of literature or literary genre. Thus, starting to teach poems will help students to understand more even when you teach them novels and plays later.

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