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Lesson Plan

Discovering Poetic Form and Structure Using Concrete Poems

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Discovering Poetic Form and Structure Using Concrete Poems

Grades 9 – 12
Lesson Plan Type Standard Lesson
Estimated Time Two 50-minute sessions
Lesson Author

Traci Gardner

Traci Gardner

Blacksburg, Virginia


National Council of Teachers of English


Student Objectives

Session One

Session Two


Student Assessment/Reflections



Students will

  • be introduced to the genre of concrete poetry.

  • explore the relationship between the structure and meaning of a poem.

  • draw conclusions about the ways a writer's choices play a role in writing.

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Session One

  1. Just before giving out the poem, explain that there is something unusual about its arrangement on the page. Give students a minute or so to look at its arrangement on the page.

  2. Ask if anyone has figured out how to read the poem so that it makes sense. (It's important to establish the right-to-left reading pattern early, since no further discussion is possible without this simple key.)

  3. Give students time to read the poem to themselves; then read it aloud (or ask a volunteer to do so) while others follow along.

  4. Lead students in a discussion of "Suppose Columbus" and of concrete poetry more generally. The following questions can help build conversation:

    • Explain how the author of the poem "reimagines" Columbus' voyage, and what the results of the new version of the voyage are.

    • Silently reread line four, noticing your eye motion. How is that motion related to what the line says and to Columbus' actual voyage from Spain?

    • Why do the ships' names shift slightly more to the left each time they appear in the poem?

    • Why are only two ships listed in line thirteen? Only one in line fifteen?

    • Are there other instances where the placement of words or phrases—especially at the ends of lines—is related to the events as they occur in the poem?

    • This poem would make sense if read aloud to someone who doesn't have a copy in hand. What would a listener miss, though, from an oral reading?
  5. Explain to the students that this poem is just one example of a certain kind of poetry—concrete poetry. In a concrete poem, the placement of words on the page is related to the meaning of the poem. You might talk about the choice of the word concrete, drawing attention to what it means to use concrete language or a concrete idea.

  6. Experiment in class with simple one- and two-word concrete poems, printing words like uneven, roller coaster, conflict, nervous, and inflammation on the board. Ask students to arrange the words on a sheet of paper in ways that relate to the words' meanings. Emphasize that they can change the sizes, colors, and, to some extent, the shapes of the letters as well as arranging them in different patterns on the page.

  7. If students are working at computers, this is a good opportunity for a minilesson that focuses on how to change font and paragraph settings in a word processor.

  8. Have students share their work with the class or in small groups.

  9. For homework, have students read "r-p-o-p-h-e-s-s-a-g-r," "Easter Wings," "The Altar," or a similar concrete poem from the List of Additional Concrete Poems or your text. Ask them to focus on what they can tell about the relationship between the shape and layout of the poem and its meaning.

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Session Two

  1. No matter which poem your students have read for homework, the goal is to focus on inductive teaching to allow students to draw conclusions about the poem. Begin by reading the poem (aloud or silently); then ask students what they noticed about the poem.

  2. As students share observations, write their comments on the board. This should be a free, brainstorm-style discussion. If necessary, the following general questions can help shape the discussion:

    • How does the poet show what the poem is about?

    • Why is the poem in this particular shape? Are there other shapes that would have worked?

    • What do you notice about the way that words are placed on the page? Take a look at line breaks, stanza breaks, hyphenated words, and so forth.

    • Why did the poet choose this title?
  3. Pull all the ideas together by asking about the issue of choice. Begin by asking students to look at all of the details that have been gathered on the board. You might connect like ideas to organize the information a bit, if necessary.

  4. Ask students what conclusions they can draw about the way this poem was written and what they can tell about the poet's purpose. With little prompting, students should raise the issue of choice. Poets make choices. You might move toward a list of the kinds of things that poets choose (words, rhythms, sounds, images, line breaks, and so forth).

  5. Once they've stated and agree on this basic idea, ask them to think about the reasons for the choices. Ask, simply, why did the poet make these choices in this poem. Here, the idea is to notice that these choices are typically informed choices, choices that are made for specific reasons.

  6. One of the underlying goals of exploring these poems is to demystify poetry, and writing in general. To conclude the activity, have students write reflectively in journals or freewrite on the following prompt:
    Think about something you've written that you remember well. It might be a letter to someone, an essay for school, an article for the school newspaper, or a poem. Think also about the choices that we've discovered poets make when they write a poem. How did you make choices as you were writing? What conclusions can you draw about writers in general from thinking about the way that you and others (including poets) write?
    Students can write in class or for homework, depending upon the time available.

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Invite students to create concrete poems of their own. Share the example concrete poem version of "Humpty Dumpty" from Albert B. Somers' Teaching Poetry in High School to provide a model for students. Discuss the choices that Somers made as he arranged the traditional poem into a concrete poem version. Provide a selection of old nursery rhymes or similar, well-known poems. Alternately, students could choose a prose passage from a book they've read and fashion the sentence(s) into concrete poems. Using nusery rhyme or passage, students shape the structure and form of the content into a concrete poem. Finished poems can be published using the ReadWriteThink Printing Press student interactive.

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As students discuss the sample concrete poems, listen for comments that indicate students see (1) the connection between structure and meaning and (2) the ways that an author's choices play a role in writing. Provide supportive feedback for observations that show students are making connections between the ways that poets and other writers compose—especially connections to their own writing.

The reflective writing that concludes this activity will allow you to see which students are making connections between a writer's choices and the resulting piece of writing. Read the journal entries and comment on the self-reflections, noting important observations that students make and asking provoking questions where they need to think more deeply.

If you're satisfied from both class discussion and students' reflections that they understand how choice affects writing, you can begin the examination of your next piece of literature by connecting to this lesson. Ask specifically what choices students see the author making. If students need more practice to see the connection between choice and a piece of writing, return to the process of asking students what they notice about their reading then asking them to comment on the reasons that they think the particular features are noticeable.

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