Sunday, March 29, 2020

2020 Post #15 -- A Simple Poem to Explore Text Complexity

by Don Kemball
One of my favourite poems to use early in the year with students is the Roger Stevens poem, “I did not eat the goldfish”.

We use the SWIFT format (Structure, Word Choice, Imagery, Figurative Language, Tone/Theme) when reading our poems to break down the various elements we see. What I love about this poem is that the truth of its meaning does not come out until students begin to share the imagery the poem creates for them -- the movie they see in their heads.

Many students struggle to find meaning beyond the literal, but when their colleagues begin sharing the idea of a cat in a tree who clearly ate the goldfish, they begin to see that a poem can say one thing, but mean another -- even the direct opposite of what it says.

We springboard from here to discussions of other times people will say one thing but mean another. We connect to real life events as often as possible. This usually leads to a conversation about politics and important world issues. We then bring it back to our independent reading and talk about the difference between literal, figurative, and implied meaning in our texts.

While this may sound simplistic for secondary learners, I still struggled with these ideas in my upper high school years. It wasn’t until Ms. Patterson used a similar poetic text in class that I was able to see the importance of reading for different kinds of meaning. That made all the difference for me and is one of the reasons I use a Poem of the Day strategy in my class.
Further Reading:

Don Kemball is an elementary teacher in the York Region District School Board, just North of Toronto, in Ontario, Canada. He has been teaching a variety of subjects in various situations for more than 15 years. He can be found at @dkemball on Twitter and Don Kemball #GridPal on Flipgrid

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