How to Teach "Interpreting Poems" in Form One

How to Teach "Interpreting Poems" in Form One

Welcome to UNIT 20.1

PREVIOUSLY: In Unit 19.0, we covered the following sub topics: "Intensive Reading"  in Form One; "Interpreting Simple Stories" in Form One; "Reading and obtaining specific information"  in Form Two; and "Writing letters of application for jobs"  in Form Four.

IN THIS UNIT 20.0, we will cover these sub topics: "Interpreting poems" in Form One; "Analysing information from the media" in Form One; "Interpreting simple stories" in Form Two; and "Interpreting poems" in Form Two.

IN THIS UNIT 20.1, we will start with the sub topic "Interpreting poems" that is taught in Form One.

Sub Topic: Interpreting poems
Periods per sub topic: 8
Class: Form One

Poems are not difficult. This is the truth. Instead, students use this old notion and some notions from some teachers who erroneously claim that poems are difficult. In most cases, difficulty of the poems comes to our minds only for this wrong perception. The main poetic aspect that convinces us to say poems are difficult is the aspect of language. Of course, poetry uses different language but not difficult one because if we master this poetic language, poems cannot no longer be difficult. Because English language is our instructional language then should master it. By mastering English language we put ourselves in a good position to understand poems effortlessly.
Teaching How to Read, Interpret  and Write Poems  is simple, and if mastered well, poems have strong foundations for students. We all know that poets are good linguists, poets are wise, and poets are great thinkers. Thus, for someone to have this knowledge it is the greatest foundation for him or her.

In this sub topic/lesson, the student should be able to answer questions on a poem read. 

This stage is about the preparation of the teacher before undertaking the lessons of the particular sub topic. These are all activities, procedures, materials, teaching aids, and games prepared by the teacher for teaching a sub topic:

  1. Putting heads together: Introducing the topic/lesson properly. Organising how students will be able to get to know what is the topic/lesson about. It is where teacher makes sure that students are going to be in his/her train. It includes brainstorming and familiarisation of the topic/lesson with the students.
This makes students stay together with the teacher. It is at this stage students can understand what is going to be discussed in the particular topic.
In this sub topic/lesson, the teacher will lead the students on the discussion on brainstorming about the poetry terms like poet, poem, verse, stanza, and other poetic terms.
At this stage, the teacher is expected to share with students the issues like:
·         Meaning of a poet and examples of local and international poets,
·         The meaning of Verse/Line and how to identify it in a poem (preferably a teacher should have a sample poem at hand)
·         The meaning of Stanza and how it looks like and what it comprises as well as variations of stanzas.
·         The meaning of Poem and its example

The teacher should also share the meaning and how to identify the following poetic terms with students:
·         Title
·         Persona
·         Audience/Addressee
And other important poetic terms like:
·         Rhythm
·         Metaphor
·         Rhyme
·         Theme
·         Message, and
·         Lesson
These terms are few but important for the level of students. Form I or Form II students need to be introduced to the simple aspects of poetry and simple poems as well which will be or can be covered under this article.

All these poetic terms can be accessed under the following links:

  1. Preparation of Materials. A teacher has to decide on the teaching/learning materials and teaching aids he/she is going to use.
In this sub topic/lesson, the teacher will have to prepare some selected poems from various approved texts. These sample poems should be simple and relevant to their level of understanding and age. In this context, some known poems are abridged to meet the simplicity required, but also there are some poems that can be referred.
In this article, my used poems will come from the book of poems (Anthology) called 'Status' written by Charles Mloka as sample poems to fit the level of Form I students.

  1. Target Practice. Showing and Guiding students to the practice of the grammatical and contextual functions of the sub topic. A teacher has to show or guide students to the target practice of the grammatical functions of the sub topic.
In this sub topic/lesson, the teacher will guide students to practice how to answer questions on a poem read. To do this properly, the teacher will guide students to practice using the following appropriate expressions as they read and analyse selected poems:
·         The poet says.....
·         The poem is about....
·         The title of the poem is....
·         The person speaking in the poem is...
·         Neither.....nor.....
·         The themes of the poem are:
·         The message of the poem is..
·         The poem teaches us that...

  1. Context-Based Practice. A teacher leads students to the discussion on how the target grammatical functions practised earlier can be applied or integrated relevantly into the contexts and situations. The students are guided by the teacher to apply the learnt skills in relevant contexts and situations like school and library.
In this sub topic/lesson, the teacher will guide students to practice more exercises on the relevant situations like school, and home. In these real contexts/situations, students will practice and connect what is found in the poems with the real experiences in their contemporary societies.

  1. Vocabulary Building Practice. At this time, teacher discusses with the students on the vocabularies and phrases to apply in the already mentioned contexts and situations. These are the vocabulary items that relevant to the topic and social settings of the particular matters.
In this sub topic/lesson: The most commonly applied vocabularies are: vocabulary and phrases from a poem to the level of the class.

Guide the students to the full sub topic/ lesson procedures, activities and games for better understanding of the sub topic by following these activities:

ACTIVITY ONE: Brainstorming. The teacher has to brainstorm with the students on the sub topic/lesson's aspects through oral questions with answers, pair works, and group discussions of all important concepts to get students on track.

In this activity, the teacher will make use of his/her prepared materials that are in Preparation of Materials Stage above to brainstorm with the students on various key concepts about the poems of their level of understanding and age. At this initial stage, the teacher can ask students to recall and sing some of the nursery poems and primary school poems. After singing these songs or poems, the teacher can now take the students to another stage.
Also at this stage, the teacher is expected to share with students on the:
  • Meaning of a poet and examples of local and international poets
  • Verse
  • Stanza
  • Poem
  • Title
  • Persona
  • Audience/Addressee

And other important poetic terms like:
  • Rhythm
  • Metaphor
  • Rhyme
  • Theme
  • Message, and
  • Lesson

These terms are few but important for the level of students. Form I or Form II students need to be introduced to the simple aspects of poetry and simple poems as well which will be or can be covered under this article.
All these poetic terms can be accessed under the following links:

ACTIVITY TWO: Teacher's Demonstration. The teacher applies his/models or examples so as to bring the topic/lesson and the students into the real or common sense of the topic/lesson.

In this activity, the teacher will read a poem of his/her selection aloud to the students and then guide them on how to read poems. The reading done by the teacher will serve as an example to the students. The teacher should then allow students to read after him/her. The teacher himself/herself should read/recite a poem appropriately by observing stress, rhythm and other poem reading rules. The students should take a look and ponder on how the poem is read. This reading/recitation should observe the speed and voice appropriate to students in order to help students capture the meaning of the poem read.
For example, the teacher can read aloud the following poem to students:

If you want to educate yourself,
You are not late!

If you want to build a house
It is possible!

If you want a degree,
The door is open!

If you want to be a medical doctor,
Why not!

If you want to do business,
You can!

If others do,
Why cant you?

What a human being does,
Dont say you cant!

The next Stage after Reading Stage is How to interpret a poem.
You can now help students how to analyse the particular poem read. For how to help students analyse, you can check out How to interpret a poem for more assistance.
Here the teacher will discuss with students on how to interpret the poem like that he/she has read aloud before them.  Tell the students that, in order to interpret a poem, they should follow the following aspects approximately:
  • The title of the poem
  • The subject matter/topic of the poem
  • The techniques used in the poem (Mostly metaphor and simile for younger students like Form One Students)
  • The message of the poem
  • The mood of the poet
  • The tone of the poet
  • The lesson we learn from reading the particular poem.
  • The relevance of the poem to our contemporary societies

By following these aspects, guide students to interpret the poem WHAT A HUMAN BEING DOES. Guide them to form groups and use the guiding aspects/questions above to answer the poem. At the end of this discussion, allow each group to read their answers.

ACTIVITY THREE: Students' Demonstration. The teacher guides students how they can apply a model like that of a teacher. The skills demonstrated by the teacher should now be demonstrated/applied by them. Here students need to be guided on how to use given expressions, structures, vocabulary, and phrases or similar ones.

In this activity, the teacher will supply the copies of another poem of his/her selection to students and he/she will ask students to read the poem aloud individually. Students should read the poem aloud more than once so as to understand the meaning of the poem.
After understanding the meaning of the poem through reading, the teacher has to ask students some questions on the message and other aspects of the poem.
Below is another simple poem. Supply the copies of this poem to students. Ask them to read aloud by using selected students and allow them to read it individually. After these activities, give them the questions about the poem. (Always get analysing ideas from How to interpret a poem.)

The poem
A human being, as a being,
Is not perfect.

A human being, as a being,
Is fallible.

A human being, by nature,
Cannot satisfy all.

A human being, as a leader,
Forms critics and supporters.

A human being. And his ideas,
Is good here! Bad there!

  1. What is the poem about?
  2. What is the subject matter/topic of the poem?
  3. What is the message of the poet?
  4. What is the main aim of the persona in this poem?
  5. Is the poem relevant to our societies? Give one reason.
  6. What lesson can we learn from this poem? Give one lesson.

ACTIVITY FOUR: Taking/leading students to the real situations or contexts where they can apply what they have mastered. Here speaking, reading or writing activities are involved.
At this point, the teacher will guide students to practice more activities on reading and analysing poems. Because poems are regarded as difficult (but they are not), students have to be given more friendly groups discussions.

ACTIVITY FIVE: Winding up the topic/lesson. Here teachers summarise the topic/lesson by emphasizing the importance of the sub topic/lesson and suggesting other related aspects of the sub topic/lesson.

ADDITIONAL ACTIVITY: As a teacher, what other activity can be applied in this sub topic/lesson? You can always drop your alternative activity or activities to this article so as to improve teaching and learning of O’ Level English Blog! (OLE).

Ask students to reflect on where they hear the poems in their societies. Guide the students to think about the poems they were singing during kindergarten classes or at primary school level. Tell them that the poems they are learning are the continuation of those simple nursery poems and primary school poems.

A teacher should design an evaluation for students by using appropriate assessment tools like oral questions or assignments so that to see if the student is able to answer questions on poems read.

Assessment #01: Group work
In groups, students have to read a selected poem and interpret it by using teachers guiding questions. After the discussion, students should present.

Assessment #02: Pair works
The teacher to ask students to be in pairs and give them copies of a selected poem. In their pairs, students have to interpret the poem and present their answers before the class.

Assessment #03: Individual work
At this assessment, the teacher will give students the task of interpreting of poems individually.

Other Activities:
Select one Swahili Song and play before them. Ask them the questions about the song like rhymes and message.
Select one English song especially reggae song or any English song that students will not get trouble listening to it. Ask them to observe the lyrics, message, rhymes and other issues.

Note: You can give students more individual works, pair works, and group works to facilitate their interaction and understanding of the sub topic or lesson. As English language teacher you have to give students more works to do. Because language is meant to be largely spoken and written, the teacher should rely on written exercises and notes. Instead students have to learn English language by vigorously exercising individually, in pairs, and in groups.

Teacher will tell his/her students the importance of reading and writing poems. He/she discuss with the students on how poems are influential in the society. As a teacher, allow students to explore how poems have influence in the society. For example, tell them that the popular songs they listen to are the sources of poetry as an art. The students should also understand that the poems are sources of employment as exemplified by how music artists make a living through singing.

NOTE: These stages explained above are not necessarily covered in a single lesson of single or double period. Remember that this is the guide for teaching the whole sub topic which has periods ranging from 6 to 20. So, the teacher's task is to divide these stages according to the total number of periods for a particular sub topic.


Title: “Form One English Language Notes with Grammar, Exercises and Key Answers”
Edition: 1st (2022)
Format: PDF
Size: 2.16 MB
Pages: 242
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This article is about how to study and teach "Interpreting poems" in Form One. As a student or teacher, what is your opinion on how to study and teach this sub topic/lesson?
Your opinion is worth and I believe that it can make these materials better for our own consumption.
You are Welcome!

Mloka, C (2009) Status, M.N.B, Dar es Salaam.


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Emmanuel Kachele is a founder and Blogger of KACHELE ONLINE Blog, an educational blog where 'O' Level English - 'OLE', 'A' Level English (ALE) and other related teaching and life skills are shared extensively. This is an online center for all Tanzanian Secondary School English Language students and teachers (Forms I-VI) and all interested English Language learners and teachers worldwide.

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