Reading and Annotating Poetry: Stevie Smith

Contributor: Emily Love. Lesson ID: 10606

Poems aren't just fun to read; they can convey strong messages. In this lesson, learn how to dig into and annotate a powerful poem, and how to write your own short poem expressing your own thoughts!


Literary Studies

learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8), High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!


Think about a time when things went wrong because your words or gestures were misunderstood by others. Write your experience down and share it with your teacher or parent.

  • What can you learn from that?

Having your words or gestures be misunderstood can be humorous or frustrating!

In some cases, it can even be dangerous. For example, you could be traveling in the Philippines and gesture at someone to "Come here." In America, this sign is viewed as completely acceptable, but in the Philippines, this sign is used only for animals and is actually an offense that can result in an arrest!

Communicating with other people is an essential part of living on this earth, but communication can be challenging. The poet Stevie Smith wrote a poem about the danger of a misinterpreted gesture, but she actually addresses an issue much deeper than a physical misunderstanding.

Read her poem "Not Waving But Drowning" (Poetry Foundation) straight through for enjoyment.

Read it again out loud. Now, work through the following steps, TP-KAST, to annotate the poem. Write your annotations on a separate piece of paper:

  • T= Title: explain what you think the title means
  • P= Paraphrase: rewrite the stanzas into your own words
  • K= Key Words: select the most important or interesting words in each stanza
  • A= Attitude: choose an adjective to describe how the speaker of the poem (not the poet) feels toward subject of poem (NOTE: you can have more than one!)
  • S= Shifts in attitude or tone: draw a small symbol next to the stanza(s) where the speaker's attitude changes
  • T= Theme: write a 1-2 sentence summary of the poem's main message

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