School Improvement in Maryland

Using the State Curriculum: Reading/ELA, Grade 2

Reading/ELA | Informational | Literary | Writing | Language | Listening | Speaking

Lesson Seeds: The lesson seeds are ideas for the indicator/objective that can be used to build a lesson. Lesson seeds are not meant to be all-inclusive, nor are they substitutes for instruction.

Standard 3.0 Comprehension of Literary Text

Indicator 4. Use elements of poetry to facilitate understanding

Objective b. Analyze the meaning of words, lines and stanzas


Explain that poems are written to express emotions or share ideas in a very few words. Poets choose their words very carefully in order to create a mental image or meaning to the reader. Use this poem by Nikki Grimes from A Pocketful of Poems to open the discussion about meaning of poems:

What is a good poem?
A good poem is a slip-of-a-thing
that celebrates language, that takes
you on a short journey and touches your heart,
turns on your imagination, or tickles your funny-
bone somewhere along the way.

Primary readers are often attracted to poems because of their rhyme and rhythm. Getting them to see beyond the sound elements and to explore meaning requires careful selection by the teacher. The teacher needs to select poems that the students will be able to connect to in order to understand the complexities of the language.


Select a poem that will connect to your students. Students are familiar with the poems by Jack Prelutsky and Shel Silverstein. Bruce Lansky has several anthologies that attract the primary reader, such as If Kids Ruled the School: More Kids’ Favorite Funny School Poems and Mary Had a Little Jam and Other Silly Rhymes. The internet has several student friendly poetry sites including by Bruce Lansky. Joe Thompson is a Maryland poet who also has many child friendly poems on his website Display an enlarged version of the selected poem and read it aloud. For example, you could read “Turtle Race” by Joe Thompson.

Turtle Race
I went to a turtle race one day
there was excitement in the air.
Of all the turtles in all the world
the fastest ones were there.

I stayed for many hours
to watch those turtles run,
and though the hour grew very late
I never saw who won.

But I learned a real lesson
that you may already know-
even the fastest turtle alive
is still very very slow.

This rhyming poem is a good selection to begin discussing meaning because most students have experience or knowledge of the slowness of a turtle and the language is light and fun. After reading the poem, talk about the meaning that the poet suggests in each stanza of the poem. The poet’s message is right on the surface and provides a good model for showing how the meaning of each of the stanzas relates to the other to bring overall understanding to the poem.

Stanza Meaning
1st The speaker is excited to be at a race which features the fastest turtles in the world.
2nd The speaker leaves the race without seeing the finish because it has taken a very long time.
3rd The speaker ties the first two stanzas together to reveal the lesson that he learned about turtles.


Continue the discussion by looking at another of Joe Thompson’s silly poems. Read it aloud to the students and then chorally read it in two parts having some of the students read Sarah Jean’s words and the others read the rest.

Hand in the air
Before the teacher has finished the question,
Sarah Jean has her hand in the air.
"Call on me, call on me“ she whispers out loud
as she jumps up and down in her chair.

Whether the question is four times five
or "What are the parts of a cell?"
She is waving her arm around and around,
calling "I know, I know! Let me tell."

I like Sarah Jean but I worry,
and sometimes I just want to hide-
'cause I think that someday she's going to explode -
she has so many answers inside.

Ask the students what kind of an image they got in their head when they read the poem. Ask if they ever act like Sarah Jean or if anyone they know acts that way. Divide the class into thirds. Have pairs in each of the three larger groups write the meaning of one of the stanzas in their own words. Have students share their responses. Discuss how the meaning of each of the stanzas leads to an overall understanding of the poem. Again this poem is light and entertaining and the meaning should be easily reached by the students. Make sure that in the second stanza the students have picked up on the use of quotations the first time in the teacher’s question and the second time in Sarah Jeans actions. Discuss the feelings that the speaker has about Sarah Jean in the 3rd stanza.


Select a third poem that has a deeper meaning. For example, you could use the poem “Kind Words” by Henry W. Longfellow.

Kind Words
Kind hearts are the garden,
Kind thoughts are the roots.
Kind words are the flowers,
Kind deeds are the fruits.

Take care of the gardens,
And keep them from weeds.
Fill, fill them with flowers,
Kind words and kind deeds.

Read a displayed copy of the poem aloud. Have your students read it with you. Discuss the structural elements of the poem. Explain to the students that this poem was written almost 200 years ago by a very famous poet. In this poem the author expresses his ideas about kind words by comparing them to a garden. Often poets use comparison in poems to help us understand how they feel about a topic. Examine the first stanza of this poem line by line with the students.

Line Text What it means to me
1 Kind hearts are the garden, A garden is a beautiful thing to see. It is made up of many beautiful flowers. A person with a kind heart is also beautiful.
2 Kind thoughts are the roots. The roots of a plant nourish it and help the plant flourish. A person who has kind thoughts will say and do kind things.
3 Kind words are the flowers, Strong roots produce the flowers that make a garden so beautiful just like kind thoughts help a person say kind things that make them special.
4 Kind deeds are the fruits. After they bloom, flowers produce the fruit that contains the seeds for new life to keep the garden going. When people follow their kind words with kind acts toward others, the other people may pass the kindness on.

Help the children express that in this stanza the poet is helping us to understand that a kind person begins with kind thoughts and helps spread the kindness to others through the things they say and do.

Continue into the second stanza by having the students assist with the line by line analysis. Ask the students what they think may be the “weeds” that the poet is warning us about in the 6th line of the poem. Discuss how understanding the first stanza is crucial to understanding and enjoying the second stanza. Help students to understand the analogy of the garden to human kindness.


Choose other simple poems that are within the conceptual grasp of your students to analyze meaning. Point out significant words, analyze line by line and stanza by stanza so students can begin to see the symbolism that gives poems their deeper meaning.


Place a variety of poetry anthologies in your classroom library. Choose collections that are silly as well as collections that will provoke thought. The Random House Book of Poetry for Children edited by Jack Prelutsky has a nice variety of child friendly classics and popular modern poets.