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Analyzing Word Choice, Meaning and Tone in Poetry: “The Center of the Fire”


Common Core, Language Arts  


9, 10  

In small groups, students are given a small collection of words and phrases clipped from selected poems. They predict the meaning and tone they expect a poem containing those words and phrases to have. They then read and analyze their poem,

Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes

modify or confirm their earlier expectations, and come to a final conclusion about how the author’s word choices impact meaning and tone.


CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.4: Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings, analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (e.g., how the language evokes a sense of time and place; how it sets a formal or informal tone).


Students will be able to draw inferences about meaning and tone by analyzing word choice.

Students will be able to analyze poetry to identify tone and meaning and articulate how word choice contributes to both.

Students will be able to test and either confirm or modify predictions in light of further information.


Copies of “The Invitation” by Oriah Mountain Dreamer1, “If” by Rudyard Kipling2, and “Mother to Son” by Langston Hughes3; collections of 8-12 key words and phrases from each poem. Note: other sets of poems may be substituted.


  1. Divide students into groups of four. Give each group a collection of words and phrases from one of the three poems. Multiple groups will be assigned the same poem, but they do not need to have the same set of key words and phrases.
  2. In groups, without yet having read the poems, students review the words and phrases. They note observations about the selection of words and make predictions about their poem. In particular, students predict what tone they expect the poem to convey and the subject and meaning of the poem. Each group must post at least three predictions.
  3. Teacher gives a full copy of each poem to one student and asks those three students to quietly read the poem in anticipation of reading it aloud. While they do so, teacher leads a discussion with the remainder of students, probing students’ thinking and asking students to explain any interesting differences among the predictions of groups assigned the same poem.
  4. All students receive a copy of all three poems, and the three readers read the poems aloud.
  5. Groups analyze and discuss the meaning and tone of their assigned poem, modifying or confirming their earlier expectations into analytical statements about the poem and noting how word choice contributes to meaning and tone. Teacher circulates to advise and scaffold. Students revise earlier written predictions as needed.
  6. Teacher again leads a discussion, asking students to explain their thinking and noting interesting differences among groups’ analytical statements.
  7. Groups studying the same poem come together to write one to three consensus analytical statements about how the author’s word choice contributes to meaning and tone.

 Writing assignment:

Students select one of the analytical statements generated by the class and write a short essay supporting it with specific references to the text.


Participation in small and large group discussions can be assessed. Writing assignment is assessed based on a rubric focusing on the effective use of textual evidence to support conclusions about word choice, meaning, and tone.






1 Oriah Mountain Dreamer. “The Invitation”. Accessed at on June 10, 2013.

2 Kipling, Rudyard. “If”. Accessed at on June 10, 2013.

3 Hughes, Langston. “Mother to Son.” Accessed at on June 10, 2013.



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