This collection consists of two sets, each with the Student’s Copy and Teacher’s Notes. The Student’s Copy includes handouts and worksheets for students, while the Teacher’s Notes provides teaching steps and ideas, as well as the suggested answers and resources for teachers’ reference.
This collection is useful for English literature students
Resource Materials on Learning and Teaching of Poetry
The resource materials focus on developing senior secondary students’ poetry analysis
skills and provide guidelines on how to approach a poem and develop critical responses
to it. It is intended for use by Literature in English teachers either as a learning task in the
class or as supplementary materials to promote self-directed learning and extend
students’ learning beyond the classroom.
The materials consist of two sets, each with the Student’s Copy and Teacher’s Notes. The
Student’s Copy includes handouts and worksheets for students, while the Teacher’s
Notes provides teaching steps and ideas, as well as the suggested answers and resources
for teachers’ reference.
focusses on ways to approach a poem and the fundamentals of poetry analysis. It
includes the following parts:
Ten Steps to Analyse a Poem
Key Aspects and Guiding Questions for Poetry Analysis
Writing an Analytical Paragraph
helps students to consolidate the knowledge and skills acquired in Set 1 through
applying them in an integrative manner to analyse a new poem. It includes the following
Reading the Poem – Comprehension and Appreciation
A. Ten Steps to Analyse a Poem
When reading a new poem, it is important to identify the main ideas and the techniques
used to present them. The diagram below shows the ten steps that take a reader to
comprehend and explore the stylistic features of a poem.
Look at the title, form and shape of the poem
Read the poem aloud (or in your mind) to feel the mood, tone, pace and rhythm
Identify the speaker and think about the voice and tone
Think about the setting of the poem
10 Steps to
Identify poetic devices such as similes, metaphors, and imagery and think about how these add to the theme
Work out the subject and theme(s) of the poem from diction and repetition used
Identify the sound effects such as rhymes, assonance and alliteration in the poem
Think again about the feelings, messages and ideas presented in the poem
Think about how the poet communicate these ideas
Develop your personal response to the poem
Key Aspects and Guiding Questions for Poetry Analysis
After forming a general impression of the poem, it is necessary to progress from the
comprehension to the appreciation level. For a more in-depth analysis of a poem, you
should examine the following seven aspects in greater detail. Some guiding questions are
provided below to guide you to notice and identify the features under each aspect.
Content/Subject and Theme(s)
Does the title give you an idea of what the poem may be about?
What is the poem about? What concept and ideas is the poem exploring? What is
the writer’s view on this subject?
Can you summarise the main idea of the poem or paraphrase it in a few sentences?
Are there messages or ideas that are repeatedly stated in the poem to draw the
Are the themes and messages implicitly or explicitly stated in the poem?
How are the ideas organised in the poem? Are they developed in a straightforward
manner to a conclusion? Is there a shift or turning point in its development? If yes,
when and why does the shift take place?
Speaker, Tone and Voice
Who is the speaker of the poem?
Is the speaker the poet or a character/persona the poet takes on?
Who is the speaker speaking to?
What is the tone of voice adopted?
What is the speaker’s attitude towards the subject in the poem?
Does the poem sound happy or sad when you read it aloud?
Can any of the adjectives of feelings and emotions listed below describe the tone
and voice of the speaker?
Setting and Atmosphere
Where and when is the poem set? Does the setting create any prevailing feeling in
Does the setting affect the mood of the speaker?
Can any of the adjectives listed below describe the mood and atmosphere of the
Form and Structure
Does the poem follow a regular poetic form (e.g. sonnets, ballads, haiku) or stanza
form (e.g. quatrains)?
Is the regularity in the form and structure broken in any part of the poem? How and
Do the lines end with a completion of a thought or closed punctuation (i.e.
end-stopped lines) or flow without pause from one to the next (i.e. enjambment,
How do the form and structure contribute to the development of ideas and themes
in the poem?
What sounds are frequently used in the poem?
Is there a rhyming pattern/rhyme scheme in the poem? Are there any examples of
What is the rhythm of the poem? Can you identify the metre of the poem or a
pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables?
Does the poet use any sound devices (e.g. alliteration, assonance, consonance,
What effects do the devices create and how do they help to present the themes of
Does the poet use imagery in the poem? What senses (i.e. sight, hearing, smell,
taste, touch) are appealed to?
Does the poet use poetic techniques such as similes, metaphors, personification,
metonymy or other figurative language such as symbolism in the poem?
Diction/Word Choice/Use of language
How would you characterise the language and diction in the poem? Is there a
tendency to use a particular kind of language (e.g. colloquial/formal/slangy/archaic
expressions, polysyllabic/mono-syllabic words, foreign terms or indigenised varieties of English)?
Is there any unusual use of language (e.g. inverted order of words, coined words)
that breaks the conventions and rules?
Are there any lines or words that stand out in the poem (e.g. repeatedly used or
incongruous with the rest of the poem)?
Is there any significance to the capitalisation and spelling of words?
What effects does the choice of language create?
Writing an analytical paragraph on different aspects of a poem
Upon identifying the themes and stylistic features through underlining certain parts and
scribbling some notes on the poem, you may need to write a critical analysis in the form
of an essay or answer some short questions on the poem. It is important to present your
observations and explain your views in a clearly structured paragraph.
An effective analytical paragraph on an aspect of a poem need not be long, but it should
contain the following parts:
A statement/main point
Textual support and evidence (quoting directly or paraphrasing the poem)
Elaboration and explanation
Examples on each of the seven aspects are provided below:
Example 1: Content/Subject and Theme(s)
Explain what the poem is about and identify the major ideas and themes.
To a Poor Old Woman
William Carlos Williams
munching a plum on the street a paper bag of them in her hand They taste good to her They taste good to her. They taste good to her You can see it by the way she gives herself to the one half sucked out in her hand Comforted a solace of ripe plums seeming to fill the air They taste good to her
Source: William Carlos Williams’
Collected Poems: 1939-1962
, Volume II
The poem explores the theme of poverty and deprivation through the vivid portrayal of
an old woman eating plums eagerly on the street. The exceptional gratification and
pleasure the plums offer her suggests the hunger the woman must be suffering. “They
taste good to her” has been repeated four times in the poem. The exaggerated
descriptions of how the old woman relishes every bite of the plum (e.g. sucking out one
half) and the tremendous comfort the plum offers her (e.g. solace of the ripe plum
filling the air) help to highlight the plight of the old woman and arouse the reader’s
Example 2: Speaker, Tone and Voice
Comment on the tone and voice of the speaker in the poem.
“This Is Just To Say”
I have eaten
the plums that were in the icebox and which you were probably saving for breakfast Forgive me they were delicious so sweet and so cold
Source: William Carlos Williams's
Spring and All
In the poem “This is Just to Say”, the speaker adopts a first-person voice and seems to
be apologising to somebody whose plums he has eaten. However, his tone is more
playful and mischievous than apologetic and regretful. The title “this is just to say”
reinforces the unapologetic tone found throughout the poem. While the speaker admits in Stanza 2 that he knows the plums belong to “you” and are reserved for
breakfast, he expresses how he takes pleasure in his impulsive eating in Stanza 3
because the plums are too tempting and irresistible. He only feels obligated to
apologise to “you” for placing his desire over his/her ownership but he does not regret
eating the delicious, sweet and cool plums.
Example 3: Setting and Atmosphere
Where and when is the poem set? What mood and atmosphere does the setting
The Darkling Thrush
I leant upon a coppice gate When Frost was spectre-grey, And Winter's dregs made desolate The weakening eye of day. The tangled bine-stems scored the sky Like strings of broken lyres, And all mankind that haunted nigh Had sought their household fires. The land's sharp features seemed to be The Century's corpse outleant, His crypt the cloudy canopy, The wind his death-lament. The ancient pulse of germ and birth Was shrunken hard and dry, And every spirit upon earth Seemed fervourless as I. At once a voice arose among The bleak twigs overhead In a full-hearted evensong Of joy illimited; An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small, In blast-beruffled plume, Had chosen thus to fling his soul Upon the growing gloom.
So little cause for carolings Of such ecstatic sound Was written on terrestrial things Afar or nigh around, That I could think there trembled through His happy good-night air Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew And I was unaware.
Source: Thomas Hardy’s
Poems of the Past and Present
The poem “The Darkling Thrush” is set at in the twilight on the last day of the
nineteenth century. The speaker is leaning on a wooden gate looking at the darkening
countryside. The setting creates a bleak, gloomy and depressing mood, making the
speaker “fervourless”. The poet compares the setting sun to “a weakening eye” as night
falls and he describes a “desolate” scene with frost taking over the land like a “corpse”
and stems of trees standing “like strings of broken lyres (harps)”. The time setting of the
poem imparts a sense of loss and sorrow as the day, year and century are ending at
once and it seems to suggest also the end of life and the world. The desolate winter
landscape with no life growing, only the frost shrouding the ground and the wind
making funeral music in the trees, is also eerie, spooky and ghostly. Both the time and
place convey a sense of hopelessness and lifelessness.
Example 4: Form and Structure
Comment on the form and structure of Thomas Hardy’s “The Darkling Thrush” and
discuss how they help to convey the ideas of the poem.
The poem “The Darkling Thrush” follows a regular form and structure, with four stanzas
of eight lines each. The lines are even in length with a set rhyme scheme (i.e. every
second line rhymes). The regularity mimics the pattern of seasons in nature. While the
poet structures the words into sentences that can run on and take up to four lines, each
stanza is closed with a full stop. The sense of closure matches the theme of death
expressed in the poem, where the speaker laments the loss of life and ending of the
day, the year and the century.
Example 5: Sound Effects
Identify the sound effects and devices in Thomas Hardy’s “The Darkling Thrush” and
discuss how they help to present the theme.
In the poem “The Darkling Thrush”, the regular rhyme and sound effects such as
assonance, alliteration and sibilance are used to present the themes of death and
rebirth of hope. The regular rhyme in every second line suggests a sense of stagnancy
which matches the speaker’s “fervourless” feeling that everything is speeding towards
death. In Stanza 1 the assonance of long “e” sounds in various words such as
“spectre-grey”, “dregs” and “weakening eye” builds the eerie mood of the
surroundings. The use of alliteration of the hard “k” sound in words such as “corpse”,
“crypt” and “cloudy canopy” in Stanza 2 further evokes the tread of a funeral march,
creating a sad tone that matches the gloomy feelings of the speaker. In contrast, the
alliteration of plosive sounds (i.e. “b” and “p” sounds) in Stanza 3 (e.g. “blast-beruffled
plume”) shows the strength and energy of the bird against the strong wind. The
sibilance used to describe the thrush’s lively singing in “cause for carolings of such
ecstatic sounds” creates a soft music that differs from the harsh sounds used to portray
the bleak wintry setting. The switch from using harsh sounds to soft sounds
corresponds with the change in the speaker’s feelings from sorrow to happiness,
bringing out the contrast of the loss and rebirth of hope.
Example 6: Poetic Devices
Comment on the poetic devices used in the first two stanzas of in Thomas Hardy’s “The
Darkling Thrush” and discuss the effects they create.
In the poem “The Darkling Thrush”, imagery and comparison (i.e. similes and
metaphors) are extensively used to build the desolate setting and depressing mood. In
Stanza 1, the frost is compared to a grey ghost at dusk that shrouds the land, which
creates a ghostly winter scene associated with death. The setting sun is described as a
“weakening eye” and the metaphor of “dregs” is used to suggest the fading light of dusk. A simile is used when the poet likens the leafless stems and bare trunks to a
broken lyre/harp, showing the barrenness and inability to produce life and music. In
Stanza 2, metaphors are used to compare the landscape to a corpse and the darkening
sky to a tomb, which further accentuates the spooky mood. The rich visual, auditory
and tactile imagery in the poem appeals to readers’ sense of sight, hearing and touch,
creating a vivid picture of the haunted countryside in a darkening dusk, which helps to
present the theme of death and ending.
Example 7: Diction/Word Choice/Use of Language
Comment on diction of Thomas Hardy’s “The Darkling Thrush” and discuss the effects
the use of language creates.
In the poem “The Darkling Thrush”, archaic language (e.g. coppice [group of trees],
spectre [ghost], darkling [in the dark], lyre [harp], crypt [tomb], illimited [free from
limitations], nigh [near]) and some unusual combinations of words (e.g. death-lament”
and “outleant”) can be identified in various places. The use of archaism reflects the
poet’s Keatsian lyrical style and the Romantic literary tradition he belongs to.
In addition to the use of archaism, the poet uses a lot of single adjectives before nouns.
A lot of negative adjectives (e.g. desolate, weakening, tangled, broken, haunted, cloudy,
shrunken, hard, dry and fervourless) are used in Stanzas 1 and 2 to express the dark
feelings and dejected mood of the speaker. In contrast, positive adjectives (e.g.
full-hearted, illimited, growing, ecstatic, happy, blessed) and feelings words (e.g. joy,
Hope) are used in Stanzas 3 and 4 to show the uplifted spirit of the speaker after
listening to the joyful singing of the aged thrush.
It is also worth noting that words with religious meanings (e.g. evensong, soul,
carolings, blessed) are often used in the description of the bird. This religious
association is accentuated with the capitalisation of the word “Hope” towards the end
of the poem. The thrush seems to symbolise a spiritual force in nature and represent a
harbinger of hope.
Read “The Wild Swans at Coole” by W. B. Yeats carefully.
The Wild Swans at Coole
William Butler Yeats
The trees are in their autumn beauty, The woodland paths are dry, Under the October twilight the water Mirrors a still sky; Upon the brimming water among the stones Are nine-and-fifty swans. The nineteenth autumn has come upon me Since I first made my count; I saw, before I had well finished, All suddenly mount And scatter wheeling in great broken rings Upon their clamorous wings. I have looked upon those brilliant creatures, And now my heart is sore. All's changed since I, hearing at twilight, The first time on this shore, The bell-beat of their wings above my head, Trod with a lighter tread. Unwearied still, lover by lover, They paddle in the cold Companionable streams or climb the air; Their hearts have not grown old; Passion or conquest, wander where they will, Attend upon them still. But now they drift on the still water, Mysterious, beautiful; Among what rushes will they build, By what lake's edge or pool Delight men's eyes when I awake some day To find they have flown away?
The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats
Choose three of the following aspects to focus on and write an analytical paragraph on each:
Content/subject and theme(s)
Speaker, tone and voice
Setting and atmosphere
Form and structure
Diction/word Choice/use of language
Refer to the sample paragraphs provided and include the following elements in each analytical paragraph:
Elaboration and explanation
Show and identify the different elements of your analytical paragraphs with colour-coding.
Ten Steps to Analyse a Poem
In addition to introducing the ten steps for analysing a poem, it might be useful to introduce some websites, online resources and reference materials to facilitate students’ self-learning. Below are some examples:
GCSE English: Analysing an Unseen Poem https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ey49S3Eb8E
The short clip suggests three simple guiding questions to help students to approach an unseen poem.
manageable for even the less advanced students.
How to Approach the Unseen Poem https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eVMN3EKFdVQ
Six stages are suggested for students to practise deciphering a poem in five minutes before attempting to answer questions and writing an analysis on it.
How to read an unseen poem https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aQ8baj8O8Bo
The clip suggests a three-read system (the first for an overview, second for details, third for interpretation) when dealing with an unseen poem.
Sample Poetry Analysis https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0HKiRvgi5-c
The clip illustrates different elements of poetry analysis with Emily Dickinson’s “I am no body” as an example.
For concepts which may be hard for students to grasp with verbal explanation only (e.g. rhythm, tone, sound effects), teachers may use some online resources and reference materials with audio-visual or multi-sensory input to illustrate them. The following clips could be introduced to students:
Studying Form, Rhythm and Meter, and Rhyme https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QPkURJhd24c
The clip provides a clear explanation of the concepts of rhythm, foot and metre, which are challenging to students. It
patterns in classical poems with a regular form and structure.
Tone and Mood https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-mW2VTUOSWs
The clip explains the difference between tone and mood with some
The Vocabulary of Sound Devices in Poetry https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=su54Qn77TP8&spfreload=1
The clip goes through the literary terms used to analyse and discuss sound effects (e.g. rhyme, consonance, sibilance, alliteration, onomatopoeia) in poetry, using Edgar Allan Poe's poem “The Raven” as an example.
Poetic Devices https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e0jepXp8qdc
The clip provides a clear explanation of commonly used poetic
accessible to even the weaker students.
How to Analyse a Poem – Vanier College https://www.vaniercollege.qc.ca/tlc/tipsheets/reading-and-analyzing/how-to-analyze-a-poem.pdf Student Guidelines for Poetry Analysis – Melbourne High School http://resources.mhs.vic.edu.au/english/students/poetry.htm
These sites provide a quick guide on how to read, annotate and analyse poems effectively.
Glossary of Poetic Terms http://highered.mheducation.com/sites/0072405228/student_view0/poetic_glossary.html Glossary of Poetic Terms : Learning Lab : The Poetry Foundation http://www.poetryfoundation.org/learning/glossary-terms
These sites provide definitions and explanations on a range of poetic
In addition to the websites introduced above, glossaries of commonly used poetic terms are also available in the resource packages on
The Learning and Teaching of Poetry
published in 2002 and
The Learning and Teaching of Poetry (Senior
published in 2005.
Content/Subject and Themes
Abstract nouns are often used to talk about the themes and ideas expressed in poems. Some common examples are beauty of nature, motherhood, identity, transience of life, loneliness and solitude, isolation and alienation. Teachers may encourage students to brainstorm some universal and recurrent themes explored in literary texts. The following website may be useful for introducing some common themes in literature: A Huge List of Common Themes http://literarydevices.net/a-huge-list-of-common-themes/
Sound effects can be the most challenging area in poetry analysis for second language learners, who often lack the phonological awareness and sensitivity to identify sound effects correctly. Sometimes, the spelling of words may also be misleading. To help students to identify the use of rhyming words, alliteration and assonance correctly, teachers may introduce some online tools that transcribe texts into phonetic symbols. Below are two examples: Pho Trans Edit http://www.photransedit.com/Online/Text2Phonetics.aspx IPA Phonetic Transcription of English Text - Lingorado http://lingorado.com/ipa/
After students can accurately identify the sound patterns and effects in poems, teachers may consider introducing adjectives that describe different sounds (e.g. nasal, plosive, glottal sounds) for students who are ready for more advanced analysis of the qualities of English sounds. The chart below could be used:
Metre/Foot can be another difficult concept for secondary students. Some poetic forms are characterised by specific metrical patterns (e.g. the use of iambic pentametre in Shakespearean sonnets). The metric pattern affects the rhythm of the poem and metrical variations/irregularities often have implications on themes and ideas in the poem. Teachers may introduce different foot and metre types to students with examples from poems students study or encounter. Common types are listed in the table below:
describe the style
Unstressed + Stressed
da-DUM ( x / )
Stressed + Unstressed
DUM-da ( / x )
Stressed + Stressed
DUM-DUM ( / / )
Unstressed + Unstressed + Stressed
da-da-DUM ( x x / )
Stressed + Unstressed + Unstressed
DUM-da-da ( / x x )
Unstressed + Stressed + Unstressed
da-DUM-da ( x / x )
Unstressed + Unstressed
da-da ( x x )
Number of feet
Students may be guided to identify the metrical and stress patterns in poems through reading aloud and with the use of dictionaries or phonetic transcription tools. After identifying the stress patterns correctly, they can be taught to use terms from the two tables in combination to describe the patterns. For example, if the feet are iambs and there are five feet to a line, it is called an iambic pentametre. If the feet are primarily dactyls and there are six feet to a line, it is a dactylic hexametre.
Before asking students to read William Butler Yeats’ “The Wild Swans at Coole”, teachers should go through the seven sample paragraphs on different aspects of poetry analysis with students and heighten their awareness of the structure and elements in an effective analytical paragraph. Teachers may, where necessary, draw students’ attention to words that help them to explain and discuss the effects created by certain devices they have identified. Here are some common verbs that help to explain the use of poetic techniques and their effects:
a (feeling adjective) mood and
a sense of (feeling
noun) in the poem.
The use of (poetic technique/device/feature) helps to
The use of (poetic technique/device/feature)
The word “…”
Teachers may encourage students to approach the poem as an unseen text to practise the steps of analysis and annotation, instead of relying on secondary sources or online materials before formulating their own interpretation on the poem. Teachers may advise students to take note of the year the poem was written or the year of birth and death or the poet and bring in their understanding of the historical events, literary and social conventions of the era to make sense of the poem. However, analysis must still be based on close reading and evidence. Conclusions cannot be drawn from the biographical and historical information. Textual support should be provided to substantiate and justify points made in the analytical paragraph. The table below suggests some ideas that students may cover in their analytical paragraphs. They are by no means exhaustive and teachers should accept any other reasonable interpretations and answers backed up by textual evidence. Aspects
Beauty of nature (i.e. a peaceful autumn scene at Coole Lake)
The passion and energy of the swans vs. the aging weary soul of the speaker
Passage of time and transience of humans
Permanence and immortality of nature as represented by the ever lively swans
The speaker is an aging man who visited the lake 19 years ago
Calm, serene and placid tone in Stanza 1
Tone gets nostalgic and sentimental in Stanza 2
More melancholic and poignant tone from Stanza 3 onwards as he laments his aging and loss of energy
Envious and admiring tone in Stanza 4
A sense of regret and loss in the tone towards the end of the last stanza
Set in the woodland beside a lake at twilight, on a dry
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