Grade level:


Approximate Lesson Duration:

60 minutes

Unit/Lesson New Jersey Student Learning Standards (NJSLS):

R.1, R.2, R.4, R.5, R.6

Depending on poems selected: RL9-10.6, RL9-10.9

Brief Summary of Cultural Competencies Related to the Unit/Lesson:

With a few exceptions, literary canon included in high school English classes is often primarily made up of heterosexual white male authors. If a writer is LGBTQ+, it is rarely addressed in class discussions of a text. By selecting poems to analyze that are explicitly discussing some aspect of queer identities and experiences or by queer writers, teachers provide the opportunity for students to understand the impact of the LGBTQ+ community on literary history.

This lesson can be used to begin a poetry unit or as an opportunity to include supplemental texts in larger units of study, such as a novel or play. Some poems listed as options, for instance, include Sappho discussing Helen of Troy, which could be included in a unit studying Greek mythology, the Odyssey, or the Iliad to provide different points of view on figures in literature often discussed through the eyes of Homer or Ovid. By providing these different ways of looking at a theme, or by including queer voices in a poetry unit, teachers have the opportunity to help students better relate to people like and unlike them.

Lesson Overview:

Essential Question(s)
  • How do poetic devices contribute to the theme and overall meaning of a poem?
  • How does the culture and background of a writer impact the execution of a theme in their poetry?
Enduring Understanding(s)
  • Poetic devices, allusions, in particular, help readers understand the feelings of the speaker in a poem regarding their topic
  • Understanding the literature, pop culture, and religious influences of a time period better help us analyze poems
Potential Misconceptions

Learning plan, experiences, intstruction and learning activities:

What is Expected?
  • List the intentional learning objectives on the board.

Students will be able to:


  • Annotate a poem and identify its theme
  • Explain how literary devices and language in the text contributes to the overall theme both through discussion and in writing


What is expected?
How will we hook (Introduce this to) the students?
  • Activate thinking
  • Consider the language you will use to introduce the lesson (See example in the table)

Link to Engagement

Today, we’re going to use a specific reading strategy to break down a poem and analyze its deeper meaning*. Turn and talk to a partner about the following question: What do you typically look for when reading a poem?

*If using this activity to analyze a supplemental text for a larger unit, teachers can hook with something like “Recently we have been exploring the idea that _____ in our novel. Today, we’re going to see how a different writer explores that idea.”

What equipment, resources, or materials are needed?

Projector, copies of the poem, writing implements

Option: If school is a 1:1 district, copies of the poem can be on a Google Doc and annotations can be done using the comments feature, such as what is on this model.

How will we rethink or revise our thinking throughout the lesson?
  • What learning is confirmed?
  • What misconceptions are uncovered?
  • What is your new thinking?
  • Students may have had misconceptions about what groups can and cannot write works considered “worth” studying in language arts classes, or that all writers in the literary canon conform to certain groups in society
  • Students will learn a way to break down poetry and make it more accessible and easy to understand
How will students self-evaluate and reflect on their learning?

Students will be able to assess the quality of their own annotations while conferencing with teachers and demonstrate their understanding of the poem through a short analysis prompt at the end of the class.

How will we tailor learning to varied needs, interests, and learning styles?

This lesson will include a mixture of independent and discussion-based activities to help students that are inter- and intra-personal learners. In addition, modifications can be made to the lesson to include resources for students such as graphic organizers (like double journals) and easy access to dictionaries (hard copy or on an app).

How will we organize the sequence of learning during the lesson?

Scaffold the Instruction

Activity Model, Guided Practice, Independent Practice, or Other?
  • Distribute copies of the poem(s) selected for the lesson. Explain to students that they will be annotating the poem to help better understand it.

If applicable, give background information on the poet, or how the poem connects to a text currently being studied in class. (Example, “We’ve been hearing a lot from _____’s point of view. Here is a poem that discusses the same idea, but from a different perspective.”)

  • Model annotating the first stanza, numbered set of lines, or section of the poem. Project it on a board and use dry erase markers or SMART board features to demonstrate writing definitions to words, identifying literary devices, summarizing lines in your own words, putting questions you have about what the speaker means in a line, and explaining any allusions or references made in the poem.

Throughout this step, share your thoughts aloud as you are annotating to model thinking analytically to students. Students should also copy your annotations onto their own copy of the poem.

  • Have students contribute to annotating the next section of the poem. This can be done with guiding questions, such as “Can anyone look up the meaning of this word?” or “This is an allusion–can anyone explain what it’s referencing?”

Invite students to suggest their own annotations and provide feedback on them during this step. They may summarize main ideas, or point out words that they didn’t recognize and need definitions for while doing so. Students should copy down annotations made during guided practice on their own copy of the poem during this step.

Guided Practice
  • Have students independently annotate the remainder of the poem. As they do, circulate the room and conference with students. Point out to them if their annotation helps break down the poem’s meaning, or if it isn’t helpful (for example, they may put down a question mark by an unfamiliar word instead of looking it up and adding a definition). If they need clarification on a line in the poem, this is a chance to discuss it with them individually.
Independent Practice
  • Have students turn and share their annotations with a partner. Then, discuss as a class what annotations were made. Add them on the board as students share them.
  • Ask students to write in their notebooks or on the copy of the poem what they believe the theme of the poem is. Have them write one line of the poem that they think supports this idea. 
  • Then, have students turn and talk to a partner about their analysis. After the pair share, discuss the analysis of the poem altogether as a class. 

(If the poem is being used as a supplemental text, this section of the lesson can be used to link the text to the themes of a larger unit of study)

Independent AND Guided Practice 

(initial thoughts followed by teacher guided discussion)

  • As an exit ticket, have students write a one paragraph explanation of the theme of the poem that includes one piece of evidence and elaboration on why the evidence supports their analysis.

(If using this lesson and poem for a supplemental text in a larger unit of study, the exit ticket could also be modified to have students link the poem to a theme or character being focused on in the larger unit of study)

Independent Practice


Check for understanding:

(Formative evidence such as conferencing, group Q/A, teacher observation, exit-slip, etc.)
  • Annotations made my students
  • Contributions to class discussion
  • Conferencing during independent practice
  • Exit slip (see this sample)
Quiz/Test (optional):
(attach copy of assessment)

Performance Task/Project:
(attach rubric)


Here is a list of poems to consider using for this lesson. Teachers can select one poem to do all steps of the lesson with, or one to model and use for guided practice and a shorter second poem to use for independent practice.

Supplemental Resources:

Download Lesson Plan PDF:


Using Annotations to Analyze Poetry 87.73 KB 5 downloads

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