Poetry Study Guide

My kids are taking their poetry test on Friday and I thought I’d share the study guide I created for them with you, especially for any teachers out there who teach poetry.

The “basic concepts” are all things we discussed in class and they took notes on. But the “critical thinking” sections are meant to push them – we talked about these questions a little bit, but they are open-ended and I want them to consider them as a part of their preparation for the test.

Unit 4 Poetry Study Guide

 Overall Test Goal: ___________________________________________

(Find this in your Table of Contents Unit Goal)


4.1 SWBAT explain the differences between poetry vs. prose.

Basic concepts:

Explain three differences between poetry and prose

What is compressed language? What is expanded language?

What is the difference between writing in lines/stanzas and writing in paragraphs?

What is rhythm? (Do not confuse it with rhyme!)

The three people ALWAYS involved in a poem are….

How are the author and the speaker different from each other?

How to cite a poem the first time and subsequent times.

Critical Thinking: How would you define poetry?

Why is poetry often so difficult to understand at first?

Do poets make their poems difficult on purpose? Why?

4.2 SWBAT apply tone, mood and shifts to poetry.

Basic concepts:

What is tone? What is mood? How are they different?

What is a shift? How do you find one?

How do you create a tone and mood map?

How do you use quote sandwiches to explain tone and/or mood?

Critical Thinking: How can tone and mood help you understand a poem better?

How does tone create mood?

How are tone and mood relevant in everyday conversation?

Ongoing: SWBAT identify and explain literary and poetic devices.

Be able to define and find:

Metaphor, simile, personification, metonymy, synecdoche, assonance, alliteration, apostrophe, hyperbole, understatement, onomatopoeia

4.3 SWBAT apply poetic form and meter to poetry.

Basic concepts:

What is poetic form? What are some examples?

What is meter?

What is a foot?

Identify and define: iamb, trochee, anapest, dactyl, spondee

Be able to scan poetry for stressed and unstressed syllables

Critical Thinking: Why do poets sometimes restrict themselves to a poetic form?

What does writing in a particular form (like the villanelle) teach you about poetry?

What are some advantages and disadvantages of free verse?

Why do poets use iambs, trochees, spondees, etc? How do these feet contribute to rhythm?

How is poetry similar to and different from music?

Why I’m Changing my Mind About Grades – Part II


48.94 % of the people who took my poll on grades said that the primary purpose of grades is to “give feedback to students on their learning.”

Most teachers at my school agree. When I was presented with this question by my principal, I said the same thing.

Strangely, however, the grading policies of many teachers do not reflect that purpose. I came to realize that my own grading policy–teacher approved and administration approved for 4 years–was just as unclear.

I weighted my grades according to category:

30% = Homework, Bell Work, Class work… basically completion grades for practicing concepts. These are not evaluative of learning.

55% = Quizzes, Essays, Tests: Assessment grades. These do attempt to evaluate learning.

15% = Final Exam grade. Also an assessment, and also an attempt to evaluate learning.

So basically I had a 30% non-assessment and 70% assessment breakdown, which is what I learned was appropriate for high school. When I taught in Louisiana, I was advised to adjust this to 35% / 65% or even 40%/60%. In middle school, the assessment value is usually about 40% non-assessment and 60% assessment. In grade school, the weighting is even more even.

Some teachers do not weight grades at all, but work according to a point system where all assignments, assessment and non-assessment, are equally weighted. Usually assessments are assigned a higher point value. If you can calculate ahead of time the number of assignments of any kind you plan to give, you can still maintain control over the assessment / non-assessment percentage breakdown, but that takes a lot of foresight that I don’t usually have.

Following in the footsteps of my own high school experience, if you did not turn in homework, you did not earn any credit for it. Some teachers (the nice ones) accepted late homework for partial credit, and some (the hardcore ones) did not. I am one of the hardcore ones. I mean, in the real world, deadlines matter.

But notice what happens. A student’s grade is now 30% about compliance and turning stuff in on-time — not necessarily about the concepts he learned or did not learn.

So a student who dutifully turns in his homework every day — no matter how riddled with mistakes, or with cheating (I can’t always catch it) — can pass a high school class, even if he fails a majority of his assessments. He may not know the first thing about Algebra, but he did his homework, so he can pass the class and move on to Geometry.

On the other hand, a student who does not do her homework but can pass all the assessments with B’s can end up with a D as an overall grade.

Does that D really reflect her learning? Or just her irresponsible bad habits?

It was really scary to bring all this up to my kids, but I felt like it was the right thing to do. Most of them don’t really understand how their grades work, or how much certain behaviors affect their grades. I can tell you they were very interested in all this, because it was the first time most of them had ever really thought about it.

Should grades be partially about behavior and good working habits? Even though these things do not really measure mastery of the skills and concepts of a class?

Many teachers, students and parents say yes. After all it’s “fair.” A kid who never does his homework should be punished for that. And a kid who always does his homework should be rewarded.

I agree, it is “fair” in a certain sense. But I was starting to think that using grades as punishment for non-compliance was not really reflecting their true purpose.

More to come!

Why I’m Changing My Mind About Grades – Part I

Why I’m Changing my mind about Grades, Part I

In my previous post, I asked any of you who have ever been involved in school to take a brief survey. What do you think is the primary purpose of grades?

This is, in fact, the same survey that my principal sent out to his entire staff. And after reading and mulling over some of the research he presented to us, I realized that a lot of my grading policies were not reflecting the primary purpose of grades. In fact, I found myself really rethinking some of the grading practices I have always taken for granted.

It’s kind of a scary thing when you realize you might have to admit you were wrong about some things — especially if those things are integral to your profession.

Nevertheless I am really grateful to my principal for challenging me and my colleagues to rethink grading practices and to try to better align our individual classroom policies with the true purpose of grades.

Most of you said — correctly — that the primary purpose of grades is “to give feedback to students on their learning.”

The other options are important, but they are secondary.

Take this report card sample I showed my kids, for example:


Many of the kids began by answering, “The college would know this is a hardworking student.” Or “the college would know this student is good at theology, geometry, and computer programming, but is not quite as good as English or Biology.” Or “the college would see this student is really smart.”


“Good at subject, less good at subject”



So I pushed them on their answers. “How many of you have taken a class where it is easy to get an A? Where you basically had to just be a nice person and the teacher would reward you? How many of you have taken a class where you had to work really hard even to earn a C? Or a class where you earned a grade that you don’t think you deserved — whether it was too high or too low?”

They all had had these experiences.

“How do you know that the A+ in Old Testament on this student’s report card was the result of his hard work? Or because the teacher was easy? Or because the teacher was really hard but the student is a genius? Or because the student turned in all the assignments? Or because he turned in a lot of tissues and markers for extra credit?”

The students acknowledged that, from the report card alone, it is impossible to tell which factors influenced the grades.

Then we began a discussion of what grades should show. The most frequent answer I got, from my kids, was “how hard you worked.”

Interestingly, both struggling and strong students gave this answer.

“But what if you are really talented in Math, and you don’t have to work very hard to learn the concepts? Should I give you a C because you don’t need to work hard?”

They acknowledged this would not be fair.

“What about the student who always tries her best in English, but by the time of the test still doesn’t know what a thesis statement is or how to write one? Should she earn an A or a B just because she works hard — even though she doesn’t know the main idea?”

Some of them looked uncomfortable here, but again they agreed this would not be fair, either.

“So,” I said. “What should grades be about?”

“Grades should show you what you have learned,” someone ventured.

There were murmurs of agreement.

“Okay,” I said. “I agree with you. Now, we’re going to be spending the next few days exploring this question — and I really need your help and input on this. If grades should be about showing what you have learned, what grading practices should we change in our class to help your grades better reflect that?”

And so the real discussion began.

Back to School Again!

source: pintrest

I hope everyone had a very Merry Christmas!

School starts again tomorrow, and for the last few days I have been thinking about what went well last semester and what things I can improve upon.

I’m going to be reteaching key procedures from last semester and introducing some new ones for the next two days.

Procedures to Re-Teach:

1. Strong Start / Entry Procedure – I’ll be having them line up outside the classroom. I will give them a seating chart since they have all new seats and I will remind them that they enter my classroom silently without talking and get started on the bell work right away. Then I will let them in a couple of kids at a time so I can make sure they are following directions. If not (e.g.: if they whisper or giggle etc) I will ask them to come back to the door and try it again.

2. Attention Procedure – “I need your attention in 3, 2, 1. Thank you.” We need to practice this a couple of times because they tend to forget a lot of things over break.

3. Talking in pairs procedure

4. Getting into groups procedure

New Procedures to Introduce:

1. I’m going to try an implement my own version of “Participation Protocol” for my high school kids – but I got the idea here at TeachingChannel:


2. I have changed my seating arrangement from desks being in single rows to being in double rows, since it frees up more space for me to move around the room and makes Pair Shares more fluid.

Single rows! (not my room) eatwriteteach.com
double rows! (mrtylerslessons.com)


I have to teach them what to do when we need to separate the desks for quizzes and tests. The even rows will move their desks away from their partners to the left, the odd rows will stay put. Even at the high school level this might take a little practice, believe it or not.

3. I need to work on improving student engagement. One great idea, also from Teaching Channel, is to make a silent signal with the kids so that they can indicate when they agree or disagree with the speaker. This 5th grade teacher explains her “Talk Moves” strategy and I’m going to adapt it for the high school level, probably with a lot of my students’ input because it will be more meaningful to them that way:



And here is a PDF of the bell work assignment I created for tomorrow. It’s a survey that hopefully will help my kids reflect on their first semester and think about specific ways they can improve:


Feel free to use it!