Standard Lesson

What is Poetry? Contrasting Poetry and Prose

6 - 8
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Four 45-minute sessions
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Studying poetry creates rich opportunities to encourage critical reading and thinking, as students analyze how poetry differs from prose in structure, form, purpose, and language. This lesson begins with a quick-write and a general discussion of the essential question What is poetry? Students are then reminded that different texts require different responses from readers, and to illustrate the differences they explore a poem and a prose selection on the same topic. Students discuss the two texts in cooperative groups, using a list of guiding questions. Each group then develops a list of descriptive statements about poetry, and the groups share their statements during a whole-class discussion that reconsiders the original question.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

  • The literacy needs of adolescents are greater today than in previous generations; therefore, reading instruction must focus on learning to apply reading strategies to a variety of texts.
  • There are many elements differentiating poetry and prose that place greater demands on the reader including differences in language, syntax, and structure.
  • The appreciation of poetry increases when readers have an understanding of the unique conventions of poetry. More experienced readers of poetry have developed schemata for guiding them through poetic texts.

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
  • 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.

Materials and Technology

  • Computers with Internet access and printing capability (one for each group of 3–4 students)
  • LCD projector
  • Chart paper and markers




  1. Make a copy for each student of “The Eagle (poem), "Eagles" (informational article), TP-CASST Poetry Analysis, Four-Column Chart note-taking organizer, and What is Poetry? Contrasting Prose and Poetry sheet.
  2. Familiarize yourself with the poem "Unfolding Bud" by Naoshi Koriyama, and prepare some questions to guide a class discussion of the poem in Session 1.
  3. Review the TP-CASST Poetry Analysis handout, and apply it to Tennyson's poem "The Eagle" in preparation for explaining this process of analysis to students in Session 2.
  4. Familiarize yourself with the informational article "Eagles," and prepare discussion questions that will assist students in finding the main ideas and supporting details.
  5. Determine how you will group students in Session 3, and gather chart paper and markers for each group.
  6. Familiarize yourself with the interactive Venn Diagram tool and bookmark the site on student computers. You will need computers with Internet access for group of students to use this interactive. Note: If computer accessibility is a problem, you can print the Venn Diagram and make copies for each group.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • Develop an understanding of the structure of a poem (i.e. consider the title; understand punctuation, line breaks, stanzas, enjambment, syntax)
  • Develop deeper comprehension skills by doing a close reading of a poem
  • Develop critical thinking skills, understanding how an author’s purpose differs for different texts, by contrasting poetry and prose
  • Understand that reading poetry requires a different stance and set of reading strategies

Session 1: What Is Poetry?

  1. Ask students to quick-write for five minutes in response to the prompt “What is poetry?” Instruct them to brainstorm any words, phrases, feelings, or associations that come to mind when thinking about poetry.
  2. Provide time (15-20 minutes) for discussion, recording students’ responses on chart paper. After completing the lesson, students will have a chance to revisit and revise these responses.

    Note: Many students will have misconceptions about what poetry is. They often associate poetry only with feelings, believe poetry holds hidden meaning evident only to experts, and assume that poems always rhyme.
  3. Remind students that different types of texts need to be approached with different expectations and strategies. Share an example they would be familiar with, such as reading a newspaper article versus reading a novel. Point out that the purposes for reading these texts are different, and therefore, we adjust our reading speed and strategies.
    • For example, when reading a newspaper, we scan the headlines for articles of interest and then skim for the main ideas. We may not read every word, but we are still able to get the gist of the article.
    • On the other hand, when reading a work of fiction for school, we read more critically—asking questions, looking for patterns, rereading for understanding, and marking the text.
  4. Explain that poetry also requires a close reading. In addition, although we use many of the same strategies required when reading any text (i.e. previewing the text, visualizing, setting a purpose, asking questions), reading poetry requires new strategies and expectations. These will become apparent during this lesson and subsequent lessons.
  5. Project the poem “Unfolding Bud” by Naoshi Koriyama. Ask students to consider the title of the poem and make predictions about its content. (Students will likely predict it is a poem about flowers.) Tell them to follow along as you read it aloud to model how to read a poem with attention to punctuation and line breaks.
  6. Using your prepared questions, lead a discussion about the poem that helps students uncover the main idea. It is unlikely that students will “get” the poem upon first reading, but emphasize that this demonstrates the first crucial lesson about reading poetry: Most poetry requires several close, word-for-word readings and deep analysis to unlock meaning.
  7. Tell students they will be spending the next couple sessions exploring the concept of poetry as they look closely at a poem and an informational text on the same subject. Explain that they will work in groups to compare the two texts and draw some conclusions about the genre of poetry.

Session 2: Close Reading of a Text

  1. Distribute copies of the poem “The Eagle by Lord Alfred Tennyson. Activate students’ prior knowledge and prior experience by asking if anyone has ever seen an eagle in the wild. Some students may share stories of seeing eagles, but most probably have little or no experience with eagles in the wild.
  2. Distribute copies of the TP-CASST Poetry Analysis handout and explain that it is one of many useful strategies for understanding poetry. Read the poem aloud, and work through the process with students, explaining each step. Ask students for their input, using the following questions to elicit deeper responses.
    • What is the situation? Who is the speaker?
    • Where is the eagle?
    • Where is the speaker in relation to the eagle?
    • How do you know the eagle is far away?
    • How does the poem shift in the second stanza?
  3. Discuss why the poet may have written this poem. (I always share my own experiences living on a lake and observing eagles diving for fish. It is a most awe-inspiring sight, worthy of a poem.) This discussion of a specific poem should lead to a more general discussion of what poetry is about.
  4. Introduce the informational article "Eagles" from PBS Nature. Remind students that informational texts demand a different stance from readers. Students will likely already understand the purpose and structure of informational texts, having had more experience with them in school.
  5. Distribute copies of the text (or have students access it online) and preview the text. Distribute the Four-Column Chart and explain that you have chosen this organizer because there are four paragraphs in the article. Read the article aloud to the class. Using an LCD projector, overhead projector, or interactive whiteboard, assist the students in completing the organizer. Label each column (with the main idea in the paragraph), and add details below each heading.
  6. Instruct students to bring all of the printouts from this session to class for the next session to begin group work.

Session 3: Contrasting Poetry and Prose

Note: Set up the classroom for this session by preparing work areas for groups of three to four students with chart paper and copies of the handout What is Poetry? Contrasting Prose and Poetry. Each group should have access to a computer and the interactive Venn Diagram.

  1. As a class, review the printout What is Poetry? Contrasting Prose and Poetry, which describes the process for group work for this assignment. Allow students to spend the rest of the session discussing the guiding questions and then completing and printing the Venn Diagram.
  2. Move from group to group to offer clarification of questions and expectations, ask follow-up questions, and extend students’ thinking.
  3. Remind students to bring their completed Venn diagrams to the next session.

Session 4: Characteristics of Poetry

  1. Have students return to their groups and explain that they are going to work together to draw some conclusions about how poetry differs from prose. Encourage them to review both their Venn Diagrams and the guiding questions on the handout What is Poetry? Contrasting Prose and Poetry.
  2. Instruct the groups to develop at least five statements about the characteristics of poetry based on their discussion. One student in each group will record the statements on chart paper, and each group will share with the whole class.
  3. After all groups have reported, lead a whole-class discussion about their insights into the structure and purpose of poetry.


It is important to follow up this introduction to poetry with additional exploration, for example

  • Poetry Browse: Provide volumes of poetry in the classroom for students to browse through and enjoy. You might also provide a form for students to record favorite poems and their responses to poems.
  • Favorite Poem: Ask students to bring in and read aloud a favorite poem (include song lyrics if age-appropriate).

Student Assessment / Reflections

  • Review the five statements about the characteristics of poetry generated by each group and help clear up any misconceptions students may have. These misconceptions can be addressed in the small groups, but should also later be revisited in a whole-group discussion. Return to the texts and guiding questions if students need further clarification.
  • Conclude the lesson by having students quick-write again to the prompt What is poetry? Collect these responses and compare to their initial responses. Has their understanding of poetry changed and expanded?