POETRY BITES 2: Close Read Example

In my last post, I shared POETRY BITES, questions I created to help readers dig in to close poetry reading.  (Click here for a printable version of POETRYBITES.)

In this post, I will model POETRY BITES in action using my poem “Pile Up” from Fresh-Picked Poetry: A Day at the Farmers’ Market. (Click here for more information about this poetry collection.) The sample responses I provide to each question offer one possible interpretation. They are given from my perspective as the author.  Every reader brings a different background and perspective to a poem. They may come up with different, but equally viable interpretations.  What’s critical is that readers back up their own answers with textual support and logical explanations



Look at the title. Study the illustration.
What do you think this poem will be about? Why do you think that?

Possible Response: Based on the title, “Pile Up”, and the display of “fresh veggies” in the illustration, readers may predict that the poem will be about a farmer setting up piles of vegetables.  Readers may also predict that the poem will describe the interaction between the farmer and the customer, because they both feature prominently in the illustration.  They may guess that the vender isn’t happy with the customer. The look on the farmer’s face and the peppers falling off the display near the customer are evidence for this prediction.

Craft and Structure:

Which words/phrases stand out to you? Why do you think the poet chose them?

Possible Response: Readers may note the words “meticulous,” “precisely,” and “impeccable.” Using context clues and a dictionary, readers will understand that these words all have to do with being careful and exact. They all have short, sharp syllables, which make the words themselves sound orderly. The words’ meanings and sounds suggest that Farmer Rick likes his stand to be neat and tidy.

Where do you notice figurative language? Why do you think the poet used this language?

Possible Response: 

Hyperbole: The phrase “cauliflower towers take him eons to align” is an exaggeration.  In astronomy, an eon is a billion years. It doesn’t really take Farmer Rick a billion years to set up his cauliflower, but it seems like that long because he moves slowly and carefully.
Alliteration: The phrase “pyramid of peppers shows impeccable design” uses alliteration. The poet might repeat the crisp “p” sound to make the words feel like they belong together, just like a tidy row of vegetables.

What do you notice about the way the poet arranges the lines and stanzas of the poem? Why do you think the poet does this?

Possible Response:  The poem is one stanza made of a series of sentences. Each sentence describes an action Farmer Rick takes to set up his stand.  Listing one action after another shows that Farmer Rick takes many steps to make sure his produce display is perfect. The lines of the poem are also stacked one on top of each other, just like Farmer Rick’s piles of vegetables.  

Why do you think the poet began the poem the way she/he did?

Possible Response: The first line introduces Farmer Rick. It lets readers know that he likes his produce stand to look perfect. When paired with the illustration, this first line hints at a possible problem. Will he be able to keep his vegetables in precise piles?

Why do you think the poet ended the poem the way she/he did?

Possible Response: The poem ends with a twist. The ending leaves readers guessing that all of Farmer Rick’s hard work is going to come tumbling down. The author might end on this funny note to make readers laugh, but also sympathize with Farmer Rick.

Key Ideas and Details:

How does the poem make you feel? Which words give you that feeling? Why do you think the poet chose those words?

Possible Response:  Readers might share in the satisfaction and pride that Farmer Rick feels for his hard work, especially if the readers like paying attention to details in their own work.   The words “precisely planned”, “impeccable design”, and “perfect symmetry” all suggest satisfaction with a job will done. At the end of the poem, readers might feel frustrated. The “wary” suggests that Farmer Rick fears that his hard work is going to be thwarted.

What theme/message do you think the poet was trying to communicate? What makes
you think that?

Possible Response: The author might be suggesting that you can’t always control what is going to happen. Farmer Rick puts a lot of time and effort into making his stand look perfect, but his work is undone in an instant. Still, Rick smiles at the end. He can’t control Miss Mallory’s actions, but he can re-stack his veggies towers to look nice once again.


What other texts or moments does this poem bring to mind? How are they similar? Different? 

Possible Response: Readers may connect to a time when they tried to construct their own tower with blocks or other materials and had a younger child try to knock it down.  They may also connect Farmer Rick to the hat vendor in “Caps for Sale” who stacks his caps precisely on his head, and then has to content with monkey shenanigans.

Revisit Prediction:

After reading, was your prediction correct?  If not, what made it change?

Possible Response: Answers will vary, depending on initial prediction.

I hope you enjoyed this POETRY BITES taste test. When used consistently, these questions provide students with a comfortable routine for biting into poetry and savoring its flavors.  Bon App├ętit!

About Michelle Schaub

Michelle Schaub is a language arts teacher and award-winning children's poet. She is the author of the picture book poetry collections Fresh-Picked Poetry: A Day at the Farmers’ Market, (which won the 2018 Growing Good Kids Award and 2019 Northern Lights Book Award,) and Finding Treasure: A Collection of Collections. She also wrote the bedtime STEM book in verse, Dream Big, Little Scientists. Her poems appear in several anthologies, including The Poetry Anthology for Celebrations and Great Morning! Poems for School Leaders to Read Aloud.  Michelle speaks at conferences on the power of poetry to boost literacy.