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Embodying Poetic Text

Context for this Lesson

Teaching Strategies: 

GENERAL TOPIC: Use physical image-building to understand and analyze poetic text                         

GRADE: English Language Arts (9th / 10th)


  • How does poetry use language to evoke images in the reader’s mind?
  • How do spatial relationship and emotional intention work together to tell stories in bodies?
  • How does embodying poetic imagery deepen students’ understanding of the concept?


Copies of “Shoveling Snow with Buddha” by Billy Collins

Copies of “A Visit from St. Nicholas” by Clement Clarke Moore

Big paper




§110.31: (3) Reading/Comprehension of Literary Text/Poetry. Students understand, make inferences and draw conclusions about the structure and elements of poetry and provide evidence from text to support their understanding. Students are expected to analyze the effects of diction and imagery (e.g., controlling images, figurative language, understatement, overstatement, irony, paradox) in poetry.


1A: Improvise, using emotional and sensory recall

1C: Employ stage movement and pantomime consistently to express thoughts, feelings, and actions



1.  The Truth About Me

Have students form a large standing circle. Stand in the middle of students to give instructions for the game.

"This game is called The Truth About Me. It will let us all get to know a little about each other. Someone will come to the center of the circle and say their name and something that is true about them. It can be something you’re wearing – “The truth about me is I am wearing blue” – or about something you like – “The truth about me is that I like cats, or peanut butter cookies” – the only rule is that it has to be something that is actually true about you.  Then, if you’re standing in the circle and the statement is also true about you, you have to step into the circle, and take the spot of someone else for whom that statement was true.  The person in the middle is also trying to find a spot, so there will be one person left in the middle who will then say their name and something true about themselves.  So let’s practice. I’ll give you a few statements and will stay in the middle – you just practice finding another person’s spot if the statement is true about you, too."

Start with an all-skate that will ask all students to find a new place in the circle.

"My name is _______ and the truth about me is that I live in Austin, Texas."


Then have a couple other statements that check comprehension, and also tell something about students’ prior knowledge and experience.


The truth about me is that I am wearing black.

The truth about me is that I like to read stories.

The truth about me is that I like to write stories.

The truth about me is that I have seen a play before.

"Great – now we’re going to add changing the person in the middle. Remember to say your name when you get in the middle of the circle."

Make another statement and move into the circle and play with students.


Transition: "Good work, everybody. Now that we’re a little warmed up and in our bodies, we’re going to see how we can tell and read stories using just our bodies."

Have the students sit, making an audience and a playing space.     

2. What’s the Story

Ask for two volunteers to help create a story on stage.  Have one person sit in a chair facing the audience, and have the second person stand several paces behind him or her.  The person in front is Character A; the person behind is Character B.

Ask students: "What do you see? What’s the story here? What might you think was happening between these people if you saw them standing like this?"

Accept and encourage multiple interpretations. Try to get as many scenarios / relationships as possible.  Now, have two more students volunteer. Create the same picture as before, but with Character A two steps closer to Character B.  Ask the audience again what they see – what’s the story.  Bring up another two students; Character A should be just behind Character B’s chair. Repeat the questions.  Another pair: stand even with one another, both facing out – repeat the questions.  Have both people look at each other – how does that change of focus change the story? One more pair: now Character A is a step or two in front of Character B. Have the bodies keep their focus on each other.  What’s the story now?  Have them focus straight-ahead – what’s the story now?

Wild applause for the volunteers!

Micro-reflection: "So, what happened during that exercise?" Talk about the images that were created and all that the students were able to infer just from two bodies placed on stage. Talk about the wide variety of relationships and situations that can be created in frozen images.



3. Defining Imagery & its use in poetry

Define Imagery: "So, when I say the word “imagery” what do you think of?" Have students popcorn out responses, defining the term as a group.  Scribe their thoughts on big paper / blackboard. Offer this definition: "imagery uses sensory words and phrases to paint pictures in a reader’s mind so she can vividly imagine what is written."

"Part of that definition relies on the importance of sensory words. What do I mean by sensory words?" Define five senses and ask students to give examples of the words that a writer might use to get at each of them.

"Imagery can be present in a lot of different genres of writing, but poetry is a form of writing where we see this technique a lot.  Why do you think that is? What are some of the characteristics of poetry that would make imagery a good tool for the writer?"

Be sure to get students to this notion of poetry as an exchange/collaboration between the writer and the reader.  For example: "Using imagery helps the poet create a blueprint for the images and the story she wants the reader to build in his mind. This allows the poet to work with the reader to create a vibrant, alive experience of the situation or story that the poet wants to illuminate."

Transition: "Great – now we’re going to take a look at some poetry and see if we can dig into the imagery that the author is using. To do this, we’re going to take a look at two different poems."

4. Finding & Building Images  

Divide them into two groups; one will focus on each of the poems in this exercise. Give students copies of “Shoveling Snow with Buddha” and “A Visit from St. Nicholas.” In your groups, have students read along, asking them to circle any words that bring images to their minds while the teacher reads the poem aloud. As you go through the poem stop and define any tricky words – the students can raise their hands if they hear a word they don’t know. Check for comprehension and story as you go.

Describe: "What words did you circle? What sensory language did you find? What images stuck with you from the poem?" Record these words and images on the big paper.

Analyze: "Based on the language used, how do you think our main character feels? How do you know? What other emotion does this poem make you feel? Why?" Record these emotions on the big paper.

Relate: "Now, I want you to think of the imagery that you heard from the poem, the moments that stuck out for you. Think about the images that we made earlier in class – the stories we told with the two bodies in space. We’re going to create an image with our bodies (called a tableau) that is inspired by this part of the poem."

Choose one section of the poem to focus on – suggested passages are in bold in the appendix, but you can choose another if your students respond particularly strongly to a section. Refer to the ideas and feelings recorded on your big paper.  Create a series of 3 frozen image using bodies.  Ideally, you will involve all members of the group over the course of these images – perhaps a small number of people are actors, but then the rest of the group should help create environment, and be responsible for reading the poem out loud. Students should share the whole poem with the audience, and decide what their cue to get into their images will be.

Share the tableaux with the other group as audience.  Students should share their image and be sure toe share the poem with the other group, too.

Micro-Reflection (after each set of tableaux): "What do you see? What part of the poem is each image communicating? How do you know? Where do you see story? Where do you see emotion?"

After both poems are presented, use a Venn diagram on the board / big paper to compare and contrast the poems. Encourage students to refer to the hard copies of the poems they were given. "So, these are both poems but they’re very different, right? What are some of the ways that they are similar?"  [Examples: Similar theme – mysterious visitor coming to the house around the holidays.  Both poems feature a narrator describing his interaction with this visitor.  They are also both short, and full of description that makes us think about winter and the holidays.]   

"How are the poems different?"  [Examples: They are laid out on the page differently. One of them rhymes, the other does not. One uses more contemporary language – the other feels old-timey.]


  • What did we do today?
  • What are ways that we can use our bodies to tell stories?
  • How do poets use imagery in their work?
  • Why is imagery especially useful for poetry? Do you see imagery used in other genres?
  • How might our work today influence you the next time you read a poem?