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

4 thoughts on “TPCASTT: A Method for Analyzing Poetry”

  1. This was an approach I learned way back when I was getting training for AP lit. Lance Balla, English teacher rock star and trainer, changed the C in connotation to F for figurative language, and I liked that better. Connotation is too limited. This is one good tool in the poetry bag of tricks.

    1. Ah, so that's what the F stands for! One of my students told me she had learned it TPFASTT, but didn't remember what the F was. Makes sense!

  2. I developed How to Read a Poem in Six Easy Steps some years ago, and I still use it. I like the idea of a process, and applying a sort of scientific method to it helps those who feel they are not very poetic by nature.

    I used in with my grade 7s reading Wordsworth and Blake and it worked very well, although we only dealt with a few techniques, mostly fig lang.

  3. How timely a posting! I am leading (dragging) my 7th and 8th graders through a poetry unit in which they are writing the poems. (We did study some and analyze them, although it is a different ball game from the AP Lit course that I taught when I taught high school).

    I think that this acronym and the article helps me lead them toward the Pieirian Spring (to paraphrase Pope), although some may still take scant sips of it. I also like having them write what they think is their best poem, expose them to literary techniques in published poems, and then have them revise what they thought was their best.

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