Analysing unseen poetry

A system for tackling unseen poetry, well, any unseen text. The image below is an example of what the table will look like completed.

  • Column 1 = Point
  • Column 2 = Evidence
  • Column 3 = Explanation
  • Column 4 = Link back to question or to another point


The page on the right is the written analysis students will be able to complete once their table is done.

See also our Iceberg paragraph structure.

Identify key words

Students read the poem and underline or highlight 10 key words, words which they think are important in the poem because they summarise the mood or tone. Emphasise how important it is to do this on their own – there is no right or wrong at this stage. They don’t need to understand the whole poem, just have to have a feel for it.

If you are nervous some might be ‘wrong’, gather ideas on the board, and encourage the class to pick the best.

Convert key words to key themes or ideas

Once they have these words underlined, they then try to convert them into abstract nouns (see below) which will form the POINT of their Point, Evidence Explanation analysis. Please note that this list is not exhaustive. Students choose (or think of) five.

They then put those five words one at a time into the first column of the table (see picture above).

Find evidence

They then find at least two pieces of Evidence per Point and write those in the second column. They select these from anywhere in the poem. One strength of this method is that it encourages more able students to select quotations which support quite grand thematical points.

Explode the quote

They then Explode-a-quote those words/phrases, thinking about all the connotations they can. This is where the thinking takes place as these 'explosions' form the basis PEE paragraphs of their essays. All the words here end up in the paragraph in Stage 5.

Turn the notes into a paragraph

Students then, using the notes in this table, write a full analytical paragraph. See the example on the right-hand side of the image (text below).

The writer feels frustration because his son has been hurt and he was powerless to help. There is also a suggestion that the poet feels frustration that he will never be able to fully protect his son from all the things that will be painful as his son goes through life. The poet shows this frustration by using phrases such as “honed the blade” and “slashed in fury”. When the poet says he went out and “honed the blade” we know that he is preparing his weapon to exact his revenge on the nettles. That he spends time preparing the blade for the job is a measure of his frustration. This frustration is presented as wild and angry through the poet’s use of words such as “slashed” and “fury” which have clear connotations of frustration let loose. They are violent and physical words, illustrating to the reader the extent of the poet’s frustration. But this frustration is also pointless: “My son would often feel sharp wounds again”. "Often" reflects the writer's knowledge that his son will experience pain again, and frequently, and we are aware as readers that he is frustrated by his powerlessness to prevent that from happening. When the writer uses the words "sharp wounds" he is referring to intense pain. It is the wounds which are sharp, not the weapon. The poet is much more interested in the pain felt by his son rather than the weapon which inflicted it. The poet does not say "those sharp wounds" which suggests he is trying to make the reader aware that the wounds won't just come from the nettles, but from other places too. From everywhere. He will feel sharp wounds. The sense of responsibility the author feels is echoed again when he writes "My son". He hasn't been able to protect his son, and he feels he should have been. The last word of the poem is "again" which is important as it leaves the reader with the feeling that this pain is not finished, that the author will have to endure his son’s pain more and more. By contrast, the poem, Neutral Tones does not convey any such strong emotion, like the title suggests, it is about passivity, about emptiness, about a death of sorts.



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