Tips for Analyzing Poetry in IB English

The International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum offers a wealth of new knowledge acquisition for students—often encouraging them to challenge themselves with new methods of inquiry. The IB English course does this well by asking students to analyze many mediums of communication, one of those being poetry. Aegis Advisors’ IB English tutors in Hong Kong have observed, through their hundreds of lessons, that poetry analysis seems particularly difficult for many IB students, especially those who have not traditionally enjoyed literary coursework. Our IB English tutors in Hong Kong came together to share some tips for students learning how to analyze poetry. This list is by no means exhaustive but rather a start when students are feeling overwhelmed by their poetry assignments. 

  1. You can never read a poem too many times. 

Many students get frustrated with poetry because on the first read, the meaning is not immediately clear. This makes sense for poetry because so often there are so many literary and structural devices being used that it is impossible to understand them all from one read. Students are usually accustomed to reading a text and immediately understanding the content, so of course it would be frustrating to have a poem which initially refuses to yield meaning. Our IB English tutors in Hong Kong know that reading a poem many times, each time focusing on a different aspect of the poem is key to understanding. We suggest reading the poem a first time, then a second time going stanza by stanza, and writing what you think you are understanding from each stanza for content. Then a student could try to read out loud so see what the poem sounds like. Then a student could examine the structure of the poem by reading for form: Where are the phrases vs. sentences? Which words are alone and which in longer lines? To try and get all of these nuances in one reading is impossible. Our IB English tutors in Hong Kong believe that a student must be meticulous in the focus of each reading to decipher all the aspects of a poem.

  1. How do the pieces relate to one another?

After reading the poem several times for different aspects, students should start a list of their observations and see if they can find any patterns. Maybe the tone of the poem and its form change at the same time. Maybe there are repeats of similar words? Maybe the rhyming scheme changes based on the content. Poetry allows for so many tricks and possibilities that many connections can be made by just listing observations, according to our IB English tutors in Hong Kong. 

  1. Look at the context.

Another suggestion from our IB English tutors in Hong Kong is to look at the context of a poem to aid in the analysis. Students should find out information about the author and the environment they lived in. What major world events were happening during their lifetime? How might those circumstances be represented in the work of poetry a student analyzed? This type of context can also help students feeling stuck on understanding the content of a poem. If a student knows what was happening around when this poem was written and some information about the author, they can try and find the author’s perspective in the poem which might lead to new conclusions. 

Aegis Advisors’ expert IB English tutors in Hong Kong know that poetry is challenging. Tutors can help so much with this skill by doing poetry analysis alongside their students as they practice this new skill. Having a tutor can encourage students to expand into deeper thinking about their own observations and alert them to new ways of thinking about text. Overall, using these tips and having tutor support can greatly assist students who are struggling with poetry and IB english in general. We are committed to teaching our students and helping them find passions and new perspective through their coursework in a way that builds academic determination and interest. 
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