Common Core Connections: The Power of Poetry

Poetry Connection 3: Text Complexity and Range of Reading

As with other literature, the standards call for us to help students read poems of increasing complexity. At face value, because they are short, poems may not seem complex. But you will need to look at the poems with a critical eye, asking yourself the same questions that you asked about other texts. Is there more than one level of meaning in the poem? Does the poem employ more complex devices such as metaphor? Do students need to make inferences in order to understand it? Is the language familiar and conversational (less complex) or archaic (more complex)? Is there a single theme or event or perspective (less complex) or multiple themes and events and perspectives (more complex)? Do students have the context (cultural, historical) necessary to fully understand the poem? Does it have a regular rhythm, beat, and end rhyme (less complex)? Do not shy away from the reading of poems with unfamiliar language or irregular patterns. Your delivery of (and enthusiasm for!) a poem can go a long way in students' willingness to tackle poems of a complex nature.

Complex poems offer opportunities to practice close reading. You might try Georgia Heard's technique of “living with” a poem for a week. Choose a poem that is worthy of multiple readings and then spend three, four, or five days having students read and re-read the poem, attending to different aspects of it each time, providing evidence from the text to support their thinking. Heard suggests a process that begins with the “look” (physical structure) and the “gist” of a poem on Day One, with subsequent days devoted to what the poem really says (5 W's and H), how it says it (craft and poetic devices), how it is built (structure), learning about the poet, and finally reflection. How do students feel about the poem at the end of the week, compared to the beginning? What have been their biggest new understandings? How did each reading deepen understanding of the poem? What questions do students still have? Would they want to read other poems by this same writer?

Additional information about close reading can be found in Going Deep with Award Winning Books: Close reading and text-dependent questions.

IntroductionWhy Poetry?Giving Poetry a Place
1: Key Ideas & Details2: Craft & Structure
3: Text Complexity & Range of Reading4: FluencyResources