Free Resources for Students and Teachers of English as a Foreign Language in China - by Paul Sparks

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Paul Sparks, Sino-Canadian International College, Guangxi University, Online English Lesson Plans, Lesson Material and Ideas for Semester 2 Reading Lessons...



Reading: Poetry



Types of Poetry:


RHYME: Rhyme is often used at the end of the lines in a poem, although many types of poems don't rhyme at all. Rhyme helps to produce music in a poem which is why most songs rhyme. There are many rhymes in nursery rhymes. Young children enjoy reading and writing rhymes.


BALLAD: A ballad is a simple poem with short verses. It often tells a story about people that you would read about in folk tales. Ballads were told to people long before they were written down. They were about revenge, crime and love. They were often turned into songs.


NARRATIVE POEMS: These tell a story, a particular event or happening and often relate a very long story.


NONSENSE POEMS: These are funny because they are full of strange things that don't usually happen and strange words that have never been seen before the writer invented them.


FREE VERSE:Poetry that doesn't follow any set pattern. It doesn't rhyme and there is no definite beat or rhythm to the sound of the words.


LIMERICKS: These are funny rhyming poems of five lines. An example of a limerick from Edward Lear:

There was an Old Man with a beard,
Who said: "It is just as I feared! -
Two Owls and a Hen,
Four Larks and a Wren,
Have all built their nests in my beard!"

Making Comparisons

Similes: In everyday language, we describe things by comparing them with other things. For example:

She was as brave as a lion.
He was as silly as a headless chook.
His face felt like sandpaper.
She addressed the children like a sergeant-major.


These comparisons are straightforward and are sometimes called open comparisons. The words "as" or "like" tell us comparisons are being made. The technical name for these comparisons is similes.


Metaphors: We can make comparisons without "as" or "like". For example: "Her gaze was icy."

This is a hidden comparison, and the technical name for it is a metaphor.

We distinguish between literal meanings and metaphorical meanings.


The footpath was icy. (literal meaning)
Her gaze was icy. (metaphorical meaning)
He couldn't digest anything the nurse gave him to eat. (literal meaning)
He couldn't digest anything the nurse told him. (metaphorical meaning)


We use metaphors all the time in everyday language. Often we are probably not conscious that they are metaphors.


The whole enterprise had a fishy smell.
Your letter was buried under my papers.
That salesman was a shark.


Many experiences, feelings, and ideas are difficult to express in words. Therefore we try to describe them by using comparisons, such as similes and metaphors.


They are frequently found in poetry:
My love is like a red, red rose
That's newly sprung in June:
My love is like the melodie
That's sweetly played in tune.
By Robert Burns


Personification: An aspect of metaphor is personification (Latin persona: "character", "person").

In personification, the non-human is identified with the human or given human characteristics.

"Cricket has been good to me."
"The New Zealand dollar had a quiet month."
"Life dealt him a heavy blow."

Personification is very common in poetry.

"Slowly, silently, now the moon"
"Walks the night in her silver shoon."
By Walter de la Mare: "Silver

Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for, thou art not so,
For, those whom thou think'st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poor death [...]
John Donne: Holy Sonnets, X


Analogy: An extended comparison is called an analogy.

These are frequently used in academic writing to assist understanding. For example, the relationships between different European languages are very often described in terms of a family tree, with many languages descending from the ancestral language, Indo-European. In this analogy, languages are born and die like people; they have offspring (usually daughters) and close and distant relations.

The analogy is useful, but we have to remember that it is only ever an analogy. In this case, for example, languages are not like people, and the situation is infinitely more complex than this description suggests.

Summary of Terms

simile (open comparison)
literal meaning
metaphorical meaning

Sounds Used for Special Effects: In poetry, sounds can be used deliberately to achieve certain effects. One way is to repeat a vowel or a consonant so that words or phrases are linked together in sound.

The repetition of consonants, especially the initial consonant, is known as alliteration.
The wild wet Wellington wind
Joy Cowley: The Wild Wet Wellington Wind
(Wellington: Department of Education, 1986)

Where a vowel is repeated, it is known as assonance. In this example, the vowels in sights, hill, and plain are repeated:
All of the sights of the hill and the plain
Fly as thick as the driving rain;
And ever again, in the wink of an eye,
Painted stations whistle by.
R. L. Stevenson: "From a Railway Carriage"

In the following example, the vowels in Sam and like are repeated. The words themselves are also repeated. This is sometimes called assonance and sometimes repetition.
That Sam-I-am!
That Sam-I-am!
I do not like
That Sam-I-am!
Dr Seuss: Green Eggs and Ham

The repetition of the last vowel and all the speech sounds following it is called rhyme.

We are very little creatures,
All of different voice and features;
One of us in glass is set,
One of us you'll find in jet.
T'other you may see in tin,
And the fourth a box within.
If the fifth you should pursue,
It can never fly from you.
Jonathan Swift: "AEIOU"

Rhythm: English is a very rhythmical language. Rhythm is not only found in poetry.

The rhythm of English speech is produced through the combination of the stressed and unstressed syllables. This is like a beat and is especially easy to distinguish in rap.

Nursery rhymes sound especially rhythmical.

"Humpty / Dumpty / sat on a / wall."

The rhythm produced by this combination of stressed and unstressed syllables is very characteristic of spoken English


When Reading Poems: Identify themes and language features for specific texts and support ideas with evidence from poems.


Questions to consider: Can you explain what it is about or what you feel after reading/hearing the poem?
What do you think is a main idea in the poem? Can you find an example to support this?
Who is the audience? How can you tell?
Are there any unusual/distinctive words or phrases?
Are there any striking/unusual comparisons? What is the effect of these?
Can you identify any specific language terms - what is the effect of this/these on the poem?
Can you visualize any images - can you imagine the scene, the scent, feeling or sounds that are being described? What words or phrases help with this?
How important is the title in conveying the main idea(s)?

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