POETRY BITES: Close Read Prompts

    When I encounter poetry, I lick my lips. I relish the images, savor the words. I want my students to approach poetry with the same healthy appetite, devouring it as Eve Merriam suggests:

For the Eve Merrriam’s full poem, click here. 

     But I also know that analyzing poetry in a classroom setting can leave a bitter taste in teachers’ and students’ mouths. This aversion comes in part from the notion that poetry requires readers to know a secret etiquette code, like which fork to pick up at a fancy restaurant. That there is only one right answer to what a poem says and means. For these reasons, teachers may avoid analyzing poetry, particularly when they feel they don’t know the “right questions” to ask to get at those “right answers.”


    Poetry can be a nutritious and delicious part of a classroom menu. It provides an opportunity for students to engage in close reading in a bite-sized format. Readers, especially reluctant ones, won’t become bloated as they struggle to digest page after page of text. In addition, poetry analysis allows teachers to engage students in important reading skills required by ELA standards, like determining central message, citing key details, investigating literal and nonliteral meanings, and analyzing structure. Children’s poetry collections are a particularly powerful resource as the illustrations provide an added layer of visual support. (For a list of children’s poetry collections especially suited for classroom analysis click here.)


     How can teachers help students dig in to poetry in a positive way? By giving readers control over what they decide to nibble on in a poem, while still holding them accountable for providing textual evidence to support their “tastes” and observations.

     I’ve developed the following set of standards-aligned, student-centered poetry questions, developed over years of teaching, to do just that. (For a printable PDF of these question for classroom use click here.)



· Look at the title.
· Study the illustration (if provided.)
· What do you think this poem will be about? Why do you think that?

Craft and Structure:

· Which words/phrases stand out to you? Why do you think the poet chose them?
· Where do you notice figurative language? Why do you think the poet used this language?
· 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?
· Why do you think the poet began the poem the way she/he did?
· Why do you think the poet ended the poem the way she/he did?

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


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

Revisit Prediction:

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

     These questions work across grade levels with any type of poem. They can be used for whole class discussion, individual student work, or in small groups. (Have groups analyze the same poem against a different section of questions and then report back to the class.) When used consistently, these questions provide students with a comfortable routine for biting into poetry and savoring its flavors.

Want more? I model these POETRY BITE questions here. 

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. 


  1. This is a really helpful resource to support poetry for young and old!

    1. Thanks, Jay! I hope you'll help spread the word to educators!


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