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  • Objectives
  • Estimated Time
  • Subject Matter
  • Materials and Preparation
  • Teaching Procedure
  • Assessment Recommendations
  • Extension/Adaptation Ideas
  • Relevant National Standards
  • References/Resources
  • About the Author
    By Ann Willmott Andersson

    Grade Level: 9-10

    Can easily be adapted for older or younger children (see Extension/Adaptation Ideas.)

    In this lesson, students experiment with the use of factual information as a tool that a poet can use to communicate a message, idea, or thought. The students create a "classroom zoo", each choosing an animal and researching facts about that animal to include in their poem. To help the students understand the technique, you first read and analyze such a poem with them. They do have to use appropriate grammar, spelling and punctuation in the final draft of their poem, but the emphasis is on communicating, rather than on perfecting style.
    "The not to produce thirty full-blown lifelong poets but to touch the kids with poetry, with a feeling for art that may grow from specifics outward for many years and affect many of their responses to daily things, that their lives may be open a touch more to inner and outer vividness."

    from How I Teach Poetry in the Schools, by Jack Collum.


    Students will:
    • Read and comprehend a poem by a well-known author.

    • Analyze the tools the poet uses to communicate her message.

    • Write a poem based on a piece of factual information they have researched.

    • Participate in a group critique of the poems, focusing on how the poem communicates its message.

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    Estimated Time

    2 standard periods, 40-45 minutes each.

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    Subject Matter

    Language Arts, Poetry

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    Materials and Preparation

    Animal Poems

    Choose a poem for analysis by the class. The poem must use factual information as a major device in the poem. In this lesson, facts about nature are emphasized, but you can also find poems that integrate concepts from physics, mathematics, or other branches of knowledge. Following are some suggestions for poems that you can get online.

    A GREEN CRAB'S SHELL by Mark Doty


    THE FISH by Elizabeth Bishop

    BABY TORTOISE by D.H. Lawrence

    Print copies of the story for each member of the class. (Note any copyright restrictions posted on the site where the story is found.)

    Resources for Animal Facts

    In this lesson, students will research facts about animals for use in their poems. They can use the library, magazines such as NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, an encyclopedia, or a trusted online source. Here are some suggested web sites. (If the research is to be done in class, rather than as homework, then you'll want to have these sites bookmarked.)

    Friends of the National Zoo

    Indianapolis Zoo

    Chaffee Zoological Gardens

    Woodland Park Zoo

    Zoo Atlanta


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    Teaching Procedure

    Day 1: Read and Analyze

  • Step 1: Have class read the poem you've chosen aloud. The poem is one which integrates factual information about nature in its message. It will help to read it more than once, and to have printed copies for each of the students to refer to in the discussion.

  • Step 2: Discuss the poem. What is the main point of the poem? Let students share different points of view and make guesses. Let an overall vision of the poem's message emerge. You might also want to review any unusual vocabulary words.

  • Step 3: Review some of the basics tools a poet might use to communicate (simile, metaphor, allusion, repetition, etc.) You can refer to a reference such as the Glossary of Poetic Terms, at Explain that using factual information can be a powerful tool in the poet's toolkit, one of many ways he or she might choose to communicate an essential idea. Some of the ways poets might use information about animals in a poem include:
    • Imagining they are the animal, not only being in the same situation, but seeing through the animal's eyes, living in it's environment, eating it's food, etc.

    • Comparing their own behavior to animal behavior or characteristics. (For instance, how an animal's fur helps it blend in to its environment might be compared to clothes humans wear.)

    • Creating a character out of the animal. (For instance, creating a story about how a hibernating bear survived the winter, knowing that bears don't really "sleep" during hibernation.)

  • Step 4: Continue class discussion of the poem, focusing on the nature facts and how the poet is using those to communicate. What are the facts that the poet mentions in the poem? How do those facts contribute to the message of the poem? How do the specific words used anchor the poem in fact? Has the poet used personal observation or not?

  • Step 5: After making sure students understand the idea of using information about animals in a poem, give them a homework assignment. They are to research a fact about an animal of their choice, and write the first draft of a free verse poem incorporating that information. For the next class period, they should bring in their animal fact (including a citation of the source), and their poem draft. You may want to exclude household pets as a subject, but ask them to research animals commonly found in zoos or on other continents.

    Remind them that a first draft is where they just sketch out their idea. They don't have to worry about spelling, line breaks, or editing in the first draft. They should just try to write down everything they can think of about the topic they have chosen. Here are some samples of animal facts and poem ideas you can give them to get them thinking:
    • The Grizzly Bear has sharp claws that are dangerous weapons if the bear is provoked, but it also uses those claws as silverware, digging insects out of rotting logs. Idea: the bear is very powerful and dangerous, but he can also be delicate when he is eating his favorite food. Write a poem about the dual nature of the Grizzly Bear.

    • The Sugar Glider has thin membranes that he can spread out when he jumps, allowing him to soar like a paper airplane. Idea: imagine yourself living the life of a Sugar Glider. Write a poem where you describe how you feel when you glide, incorporating in the poem the Sugar Glider's appearance, its natural habitat, its enemies in the wild. Put yourself inside the life of this animal for a day.

    • When there is no rain, African Bullfrogs make a moisture-saving cocoon they can live in for several weeks. Idea: think of a time when things weren't going well, or when something important was lacking. Compare how the African Bullfrog acts to how you might act in such as situation. This poem could also be about a character, someone other than yourself, in a situation of scarcity.

    • Sun Bears have a favorite delicacy: the tips of coconut palms. Eating them kills the palms, and leads to Sun Bears being shot by plantation owners. Idea: imagine yourself being hunted for doing something you liked and didn't know was "wrong". Try to see the plantation owners' side of the story too. How can Sun Bears and plantation owners work out their problem? Can they do it peacefully or not? Where else do you see this kind of conflict?

    Day 2: Communicating the Idea

    • Step 1: Review the assignment and yesterday's discussion, briefly.

    • Step 2: Students gather in groups of three. In the groups, each student will read his or her poem out loud. After reading the poem, the students will discuss the poem, focusing not on style but on the message, and how the factual information helps the writer convey his message. If the message is unclear, the students can ask questions to help the writer which parts of the poem were understood by others and which need more work. Circulate among the groups to keep the discussions on track.

    • Step 3: In-class revision of the poem. If needed, the revision can be done as a homework assignment. During revision, students should edit the poem down and make it concise, communicating what they want to say with the fewest and most well-chosen words and ideas. They should also edit for grammar, punctuation, spelling, and vocabulary. A poem is a great place to stretch one's vocabulary!

    • Step 4: When all student poems have been turned in, collect them in a book which can be sent home to parents. Or publish the poems on a web page, including pictures of each animal and links to sites about that animal. You could even invite community members for a poetry reading.

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  • Assessment Recommendations

    You can assess students based on these elements:
    • Participation in classroom discussion and group work.

    • Understanding of basic elements of poetic composition, based on classroom discussion.

    • Age-appropriate grammar, vocabulary, and punctuation in the written story.

    • Creativity and imagination displayed in the writing of the poem.

    • Ability to research a particular piece of information and cite the source.

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    Extension/Adaptation Ideas

    This lesson can easily be adapted upward for older students. You would require more advanced research and a more complex poem.

    You could also adapt it for younger children, giving specific directions and providing the animal facts on randomly chosen index cards. For instance, the assignment might be to pretend they are the animal on the card and write about one day in that animal's life.

    You could also extend or change this lesson to deal with poetry based on facts from other disciplines: physics, astronomy, history, government, etc.

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    Relevant National Standards

    The following Literary Arts standards are from


    Editing and Publishing: Uses a variety of strategies to edit and publish written work

    Drafting and Revising: Uses a variety of strategies to draft and revise written work.

    Evaluates own and others' writing (e.g., accumulates a body of written work to determine strengths and weaknesses as a writer, makes suggestions to improve writing, responds productively to reviews of own work)

    Writes descriptive compositions (e.g., uses concrete details to provide a perspective on the subject being described; uses supporting detail [concrete images, shifting perspectives and vantage points, sensory detail, and factual descriptions of appearance])

    Writes reflective compositions (e.g., uses personal experience as a basis for reflection on some aspect of life, draws abstract comparisons between specific incidents and abstract concepts, maintains a balance between describing incidents and relating them to more general abstract ideas that illustrate personal beliefs, moves from specific examples to generalizations about life)

    Uses conventions of spelling and punctuation in written compositions.


    Uses a variety of print and electronic sources to gather information for research topics.

    Uses a variety of criteria to evaluate the validity and reliability of primary and secondary source information (e.g., the motives, credibility, and perspectives of the author; date of publication; use of logic, propaganda, bias, and language; comprehensiveness of evidence)


    Makes connections between his or her own life and the characters, events, motives, and causes of conflict in texts

    Relates personal response or interpretation of the text with that seemingly intended by the author

    Uses discussions with peers as a way of understanding information

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    References/Resources, from the Academy of American Poets

    Online Poetry Classroom
    Resources for teachers from the Academy of American Poets.

    Glossary of Poetic Terms
    A good place to brush up on poetic devices.

    Writer's Resource Center

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    About the Author

    Ann Willmott Andersson is a free agent producer, writer, and interactive designer living in Northern California. She has more than ten years of experience working on interactive media projects that combine education with entertainment. She was formerly the Director of Interactive & Broadband at Thirteen/WNET New York.

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