Personally, I enjoy teaching poetry, but I know that’s not a sentiment shared by many. Most teachers we talk to don’t like poetry because it can be really challenging to teach a student how to annotate a poem.
I mean, how do you even teach annotating? Well, we have a whole blog post with four steps to teach students how to annotate successfully, but we want to talk specifically about annotating poetry here.
Over the years, I found myself teaching this concept through a pretty methodical process. I would demonstrate how I would annotate a poem, myself, first. I would think out loud, ask myself questions about the text, highlight and look up words I wasn’t familiar with, etc.
And while it worked (I mean, students definitely got the hang of annotating poetry well), it started to get a bit boring for me. I loved annotating poems, but I just needed to liven things up a bit.
So, one day, after an 8th grade class period annotating a Langston Hughes poem, I called Jessica and said, “I need some poetry annotating stations! I want my kids up and moving around and more engaged in this whole annotating process. Let’s create something!”
And that’s exactly what we did.
We created 5 different poetry annotating stations all with different lenses through which students are to read and focus on the poem. Each station includes guidance and pointed questions, so students know exactly what to do when reading through the poem through that particular lens.
Here’s what we included at each station and the reason behind it.
Station One: The Unknown
In this station, students are to uncover “the unknowns” of the poem. For example, they’re looking for words or phrases that they are unfamiliar with, as well as deciphering challenging figurative language. This is a great place to start (although students can start at any station) because uncovering these unknown aspects of a poem provides students with a strong grasp of the basics of the poem before they move into more challenging concepts and questions centered around the poem.
Station Two: The Retelling
Here, students are required to retell the poem in their own words. Students will work stanza by stanza (sometimes line by line, depending on the poem) to summarize the poem. I love this station because students are working on such a great skill – summarizing. This practice is super helpful for them because they need to know how to summarize well for any Response to Literature they might be writing in your class!
Station Three: The Questioning
In station three, students push the envelope a bit and play devil’s advocate by questioning the poet and the poet’s purpose. Students will think outside the box to develop probing questions that will lead to a deeper understanding of the poem, as well as push the boundaries of the poem. An example question might be something like, “What larger social commentary is the poet making here?” or “What might have influenced this poet to write this poem?” This is where we are able to pull back the layers of the onion to uncover what the poem is really about. I love this one!
Station Four: The Theme
In this station, students get to the heart of the poem by identifying the theme. We have students develop a thematic statement and find evidence from the text to support their statement – always bringing in as many CCSS as we can! We also ask students to answer some more challenging questions focused on the theme.
Station Five: The Unnoticed
Lastly, station five requires students to look more closely at the title of the poem, the speaker, as well as tone. For this station, we include a variety of questions to get students thinking more deeply about each element. Think questions like, “Does the poem shed any light on who the speaker might be (i.e., age, personality, point of view, etc.?) or “How does the title relate to the poem, its theme, and its message?”
What I love so much about these stations is that students are up and moving around your classroom, but they’re also able to go deep with a focus at each station. It’s the whole inch wide and a mile deep concept – these stations allow our students to do just that. And it makes annotating poetry a whole lot more fun than just sitting at their desks with different color highlighters and pens (although that does sound like something I’d enjoy doing 😉 )!