LEARNING THROUGH MNEMONICS – NEW WAYS OF UNDERSTANDING AND ANALYSING POETRY

  • How many of us out there find it difficult to understand and analyse a poem?

If you answered with an emphatic YES, then the techniques explored here will be of great help. Above all, the amount of elements, techniques, and creativity found in poetry is unanswered in the prose world.

If your answer to the question is a straight NO, then let me be honest with you that “You are smart.” My techniques here will help you consolidate your existing repertoire.

ACRONYM OR MNEMONICS?

AN ACRONYM is a word or name formed as an abbreviation from the initial components in a phrase or a word, usually individual letters as in NATO, for instance. Put simply, an acronym is a word from first letters of other words in the name of something, being pronounced as a word.

A MNEMONIC, (derived from the Greek word mnemonikos, which means “of memory”) on the other hand, deals with memory. It is a device helping learners in recalling pieces of information, be it in the form of lists, like facts, characteristics, steps, parts, phases and stages.

Apparently, way back in 1967, a study conducted by Gerald R. Miller was a major breakthrough in confirming that mnemonics increased recall. Miller found that students who regularly applied mnemonic devices in their learning increased test scores by up to 77%. Rather put in simple terms: Mnemomic helps us remember – it is an aide memoire or a memory aide.

In short, many mnemonics also take the form of acronyms.

For example, the seven coordinating conjunctions are FANBOYS which stands for For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, So.

ROY G. BIV = colors of the spectrum/rainbow (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet.)

Expression/Word – The order of the planets from the sun outward: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto. See how it is constructed for you to remember: My Very Elegant Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas.

My position in the coming weeks is to execute the use of MNEMONICS in enhancing our teaching and learning repertoire. In these posts, I want to show how mnemonics can help us learn, understand and recall important concepts better.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Using Mnemonics

Mnemonics serve an important role in memory, but they have limitations and should be used sparingly. If you use mnemonics too extensively, they become cumbersome and can add confusion to your learning process. If you do not study the mnemonics accurately, they hinder rather than help you recall information accurately. The following chart shows the advantages and disadvantages of using mnemonics.

Advantages

Disadvantages

1. They provide a memory bridge to help you recall information that otherwise is difficult to remember. 1. They must be recited and practiced in a precise manner in order to work correctly.
2. They involve rearranging or reorganizing information, which also helps you personalize the information and be a more active learner. 2. They require time to create, learn, and practice.
3. They add interest to studying by providing you with new ways to work with information. 3. They can become “crutches” and can give you a false sense of security that you know the information.
4. When used properly, they allow you to spend less time retrieving information from your long-term memory. 4. They rely more on rote memory than on elaborative rehearsal, so your actual understanding of the concepts may be inadequate.
5. Overuse can result in confusion and an excessive expenditure of time reviewing.

UNDERSTANDING AND ANALYSING POETRY

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Ways to interpret poems…

Over the years, I have seen that interpreting a poem through mnemonics is easier and has impact on students’ understanding:

First, let’s review some vocabulary used in poems:

  • LITERAL= means “exact” or “not exaggerated”. Literal language is language that means exactly what is said. Most of the time, we use literal language.
  • FIGURATIVE = the opposite of literal language. Figurative language is language that means more than what it says on the surface. Often used by poets and other writers.
  • DENOTATION = the dictionary definition of a word or phrase.
  • CONNOTATION = a meaning suggested by a word or phrase, in addition to its exact (denotative) meaning; can be the emotional feelings associated with the word.

IMAGERY This is language that (normally, though not always) evokes the senses.

  • Visual imagery – relating to sight. (The most frequent type of imagery.)
  • Aural or auditory imagery – relating to sound.
  • Olfactory imagery – relating to smell.
  • Gustatory imagery – relating to taste.
  • Tactile imagery – relating to touch.
  • Kinaesthetic imagery – relating to movement and bodily effort.
  • Abstract imagery – appealing to the intellect or a concept.

The imagery used in poetry are often not exclusive to one type – they often overlap.

When you are analysing imagery, for instance in a poetry or in a prose text, it is very important to avoid simply ‘listing’ the images that are being used but one needs to analyse and comment on them.

For each image you discuss, you should consider:

  •  What type of image is being used?
  •  Why is this particular image being used?
  •  What is the effect of this image is on the reader?
  •  How does the image contributes to the poem as a whole?

Thus, when you analyse imagery, you should suggest a possible interpretation, rather than stating your ideas as definite.

USING MNEMONIC IN ANALYSING POEMS

TP-CASTT is a mnemonic for . . .

TITLE – What predictions can you make about the poem from the title? What are your initial (first) thoughts about the poem?  What might be the theme of the poem?

PARAPHRASE – Describe what happens in the poem, in your own words.

CONNOTATION – What might the poem mean beyond the literal level? Find examples of imagery, metaphors, similes, personification, symbolism, idioms, hyperbole, alliteration, rhyme scheme, rhythm, etc. and think about their possible connotative meanings. Consider the emotional feelings that the words may give the reader.

ATTITUDE – Describe the tone of the poem. What is the poet’s attitude toward the subject of the poem?  The speaker’s attitude? Find and list examples that illustrate the tone and mood of the poem (these show attitude).

SHIFT – Is there a shift (a change) in the tone or speaker of the poem?  Where does the shift happen in the poem?  What does it shift from and to?

TITLE – Look at the title again. Have your original ideas about the poem changed? How? What do you think the title means now?

THEME – What is the overall theme of the poem? What insight, understanding, lesson, or truth are we supposed to have after reading this poem?

A. H.I.T. P.O.E.M. is mnemonic standing for . . .

  • AboutWhat is the poem about?
  •  Historical/Social Contextany important contextual information
  •  Imagerywhat images are used and their effect?
  •  Techniqueswhat poetic techniques are used?
  •  Personal Responsewhat are your pf about it?
  •  OrganisationHow is it structured?
  • EmotionsWhat is the tone or mood?
  • Message What is the theme? What is its message?

SIFT Analysis is a mnemonic standing for . . .

  • Symbol – Examine the title and text for symbolism. Ask: “What are the denotations and the connotation of this title?”
  •  Images – Identify images and sensory details. What do you see and feel?
  •  Figures of Speech – Analyze figurative language and other devices.
  •  Tone and Theme – Discuss how all devices reveal tone and theme. What is the author saying?

KEY ELEMENTS

Once you have chosen any of the Poetry Mnemonic above, you should work in conjunction with the Key Elements in combining to create the overall effect of a poem:

CONTENT – It is what the poem is about, or what the message the poet gives to the reader.

FORM and STRUCTURE   – What type of poem is it? It maybe a ballad, free verse, a sonnet, an elegy, etc. Structure is the physical structure of the poem which includes the length of the lines, the rhythms, the system of rhymes and repetition.                         

TONE      – This is the attitude that the poet exhibits towards the subject or audience.

VOICE    – Voice is the writer’s lively, powerful words on the page, speaking to the reader to form a relationship. This is also the persona.

MOOD    – It refers to the atmosphere, emotions and feelings evoked by the poem’s language.

RHYME  –   a repetition of similar sounding words occurring either internally or at the end of lines in poems or songs. It creates a pattern within a poem making it memorable. It also drives forward the rhythm as well as unifying the poem and adding structure.

RHYTHM  –  It is the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables, or beats within a line of poetry.                          

IMAGERY   – These are elements in a poem that deal with the senses. It creates vivid mental pictures and evokes ideas, feelings and atmosphere by appealing to the senses (sight, smell, taste, touch, and sound).

Chaucer

Chaucer reciting his poetry

Another simple approach to studying poems is to approach through:

*Overview – a short summary of what the poem is about.

*Context – background information about the poet/the poem.

*Themes – the main ideas dealt with in the poem. This is particularly useful to know when thinking about the comparison questions.

*Content – step by step through the poem explaining what it is about. The most important section.

*Language and techniques – highlighting key words or phrases and their use, as well as different literary techniques and why they’ve been used.

*Structure – everything relevant about the way the poem is built and explaining how to write about it effectively.

*Tone – the emotion of the poem and the way it would be read.

My next two posts focus on analyzing  poetry. These are entitled:

Essential Words To Use When Analysing Poetry – 1 & 2

The best way to recall all these mnemonics is to pick on one type and use it quite often so that it becomes second nature. That way you will analyse both seen or unseen poems better!

Good luck in all your endeavours.

As of old: Be EMPOWERED and EXCEL

 

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