Poems for Teaching Meter in Poetry

Teaching poetry meter involves identifying meter in poetry and charting the scansion of poems. Here we look at some great examples and how they can be used within the classroom.

Key Points When Teaching Poetry Meter

Poetic picture with link to poetry lesson plans.

Imagine having 11 complete poetry units with handouts and lesson plans completed. You don’t need to imagine. These units are teacher ready and student ready. Just print, make copies, and accept accolades from colleagues and students.

Have the following objectives in mind when teaching poetry meter:

  1. Students should be able to define rhythm, meter, and foot. Meter is the basic scheme of stressed and unstressed syllables. A foot is two or more syllables that make up the smallest unit of meter in a poem. Rhythm is the combination of adherence to and deviation from the standard meter. If poems were basketball teams, the fast break style of offense would be the meter and me dunking the ball in your face on one trip followed by me draining a 3-pointer on the next trip would be the rhythm (I can dream, can’t I?).  The general offensive framework is the same.  How it’s carried out changes.
  2. Students should figure out the scansion of poems and be proficient at identifying meter in poetry. It would be nice if they could do it without whining and asking that traditional teenager entitlement question, “Why do I gots to do this?” but they won’t. Tell them poets are masters of words. Masters of words pay attention to the rhythm and flow of writing and speaking. If they want to be masters of words, they should study how masters of words do this. If that doesn’t suffice, just tell them it will be on the test.
  3. Students should be able to analyze how meter and rhythm affect a poem’s theme. This requires thought. Be careful.
  4. Students should be able to apply their knowledge of meter and use it with purpose in their own writing. This indicates mastery. Any student who can do this should be given an ‘A’.

Mastering Identification

Poetry Lesson Plans with Link

There’ll be no more stammering through 45 minutes of discussing a poem that takes 2 minutes to read. The Poetry Part 2 teaching guide includes a summary and analysis of 13 poems; a ready-to-annotate and analyze copy of each poem; graphic organizers for digging deeper into figurative language, personification, imagery, sound devices, and theme; a guide for annotating and analyzing a poem; and answer keys for everything.

It helps to know the different types of meter. I have provided a near brilliant list of common feet and line lengths in the rhythm and meter in poetry study guide. Read it. It may change your life!

An excellent method for identifying meter in poetry is determining the scansion of poems. Determining the scansion of poems, however, is not an exact science. I recommend, after doing a few easy ones, putting an ambiguously metered line of poetry on the board and letting students argue over it. When students swear at each other, brandish swords, or shoot pistols into the air, stop the argument and let them know they’re both right. I’m sure you and the superintendent will have a nice chuckle over the incident once you explain the lesson. Here’s how to do scansion.

1.  Write a line of poetry on the board. Separate each foot with a straight line. Mark each unstressed syllable with a smile above it; mark each stressed syllable with a line above it. I strongly recommend you do this as a class. Feel free to liven it up with dancing. Before I give you an example of scansion, I need to confess that I do not have the capabilities of writing the smile with this particular program, but if I did, it would look like the symbol above this ‘Š’. Since you all know what a straight line looks like, I won’t show you that. Instead, I’ll italicize the unstressed syllables and embolden the stressed ones in the following line.

  • You blocks! / You stones! / You worse / than sense / less things! (Julius Caesar, Act I, scene i)

2.  After marking the scansion, identify the meter. If you identified the example as iambic pentameter, give yourself a pat on the back. If you missed it, scold yourself mildly.

Poems for Teaching Poetry Meter

If you’re like me, you probably can’t get enough of identifying meter in poetry. Here’s a list of poems and meter types to make this the best English class ever.

Iambic Pentameter: Any sonnet, English or Petrarchan, will do, as will all of Shakespeare’s plays. If you’re the non-sonnet type, try an ottava rima or a rhyme royal.
2. Iambic Tetrameter: Instead of five feet, tetrameter has four. “To His Coy Mistress” by Andrew Marvell is a fine example.
3. Iambic Trimeter: You’ve probably figured out that trimeter has three feet per line as in “My Papa’s Waltz” by Theodore Roethke.
4. Iambic hexameter: This has six lines and is referred to as an Alexandrine. The Spenserian Stanza consists of eight lines of iambic pentameter and one Alexandrine. “There is a Pleasure in the Pathless Woods” by Lord Byron is a fine example.
5. Variations of iambs include the pyrrhic, spondee, trochee, anapest, and dactyl. When you come across scansion examples in class that don’t quite fit the iamb, throw out these words and your entire class will think you’re a genius.

Let me know how your adventures in poetry meter, identifying meter in poetry, and determining the scansion of poems goes.

ELA Standards Covered

Teaching imagery in poems may cover the following ELA Common Core Standards.  This is for your administrator, not your kids.  Kids need student-friendly worded objectives.

  1. RL.9-10.1 Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
  2. RL.9-10.2 Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze in detail its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.
  3. RL.9-10.10 By the end of grade 9, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poems, in the grades 9-10 text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range. By the end of grade 10, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poems, at the high end of the grades 9-10 text complexity band independently and proficiently.
  4. RL.9-10.5 Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure a text, order events within it (e.g., parallel plots), and manipulate time (e.g., pacing, flashbacks) create such effects as mystery, tension, or surprise.

Teaching Literary Elements with Poems

Understanding literary elements is necessary for literary analysis.  These poems will help you teach literary elements.

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