TPCASTT: A Method for Analyzing Poetry

magnetic poetryOne of the difficulties students tend to have with analyzing poetry is figuring out how to start. One method I’ve adopted after seeing it on Lisa Huff’s blog is TPCASTT.

TPCASTT is an acronym standing for title, paraphrase, connotation, attitude, shift, title (again), and theme.

Students begin by looking at the title of the poem to determine what they think it might be about and what it might literally mean.

Next, they read the poem and paraphrase it. What is the “story” of the poem in their own words? They should also define words they don’t know at this stage.

Examining the connotations means looking at words that might have multiple meanings and trying to determine if there is a meaning beyond the literal that lies beneath the surface of the poem. At this stage, students are truly analyzing the text.

Attitude involves determining the tone and emotions associated with the subject. What sort of attitude does the speaker take toward the subject?

Many poems involve a shift in tone. Next, students examine the poem to see if they can detect a shift, and if so, where it occurs, what kind of shift it is, and how it changes the direction and meaning of the poem.

After examining the poem, students return to the title again. Are there any new insights about the title after they have read the poem?

The final step is determining the theme. What greater message did the poet hope to convey? Why did he/she pick up the pen?

One advantage of this method is that it provides students a framework and process for analyzing poetry. Students examine subject, purpose, and audience through this analysis.

My experience has been that students enjoy this organized method of analyzing poetry, and they tend to do well with this sort of guidance. They can learn the acronym and apply it to other poems that they read. I know many AP Literature teachers use this method to teach their students poetry analysis, but I find it works with students of all levels, and particularly with lower level students who have difficulty determining what is important or how to tease out meaning and analysis in a poem. Lisa provides handouts for this method on her blog, too.

I used this method successfully today as my British literature students analyzed Wordsworth’s poem “The World is Too Much With Us” and my American literature students analyzed “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer.” It was new to my American literature students, but my British literature students were familiar with the method. It was nice to hear students saying they enjoyed the poetry we read, and I think they enjoyed it mainly because they uncovered a deeper meaning and connection to the poetry through their analysis.

I’ll try to post more poetry ideas as the month progresses. Happy National Poetry Month!

Creative Commons License photo credit: surrealmuse

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Late Renaissance and Restoration Poetry

My students in British Literature and Composition have just begun a unit on late Renaissance/Restoration poetry.  We will read the following writers:

  • John Donne
  • Ben Jonson
  • Andrew Marvell
  • Robert Herrick
  • Sir John Suckling
  • John Milton

Afterward, students will explicate a poem, something I was not asked to do until I was a freshman and college.  When I told our AP Literature teacher (who also often teaches juniors and seniors), he seemed thrilled to learn I was going to try explication, and he gave some good things to peruse and think about.  Meanwhile, to get my students started, I am using Lisa Huff’s TPCASTT method for analyzing poetry, and the students have responded positively to the deep reading, even if they haven’t necessarily “liked” the poem.  It’s hard to get past “do you like this poem or not and why” with some students, and this graphic organizer really helps.  At any rate, I’m really encouraged by the positive comments the students are making about the material on the classroom blog.

Through the English Companion Ning, I became aware of an excellent podcast of a BBC program called In Our Time.  I listened to and shared the episode concerning the Metaphysical Poets with my students, and I’m crossing my fingers they will listen to it.  I think it will really help them understand especially John Donne, whom I find to be a challenging writer.

Speaking of the Ning, I have not contributed as much as I need to because I have not had time to keep up with the conversations going on.  I’m going to try Steve Shann’s suggestion of setting up Pageflakes to keep track of the Ning.  I am finding it a challenge to balance teaching with grad school and home life this semester.  This weekend in particular looks like one long, bleak work session to me (I am just on a short break, I promise), and it depresses me not to be able to read for pleasure, particularly after Matthew Pearl sent me a galley copy of The Last Dickens that I’m itching to start.

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