Students unfamiliar or uncomfortable with poetry often struggle to understand new poems. In many cases, students do not know how to analyze a poem, let alone the most effective steps with which to approach a challenging poem. When this is the case, simple mnemonic devices like SMILE can help them get started, and makes analyzing a poem easy and fun.
SMILE is an acronym that helps students remember important aspects of a poem to interpret. Each letter stands for a separate poetic element as outlined below.
The elements in SMILE are certainly not an exhaustive means of analyzing any particular poem, but they provide a useful basis for understanding. The various steps of SMILE do not need to be completed in any particular order, but can build on one another as a student’s understanding unfolds.
An easy way to engage your students in SMILE is to have them storyboard the five elements. By combining textual analysis with visual representation through storyboards, the students will demonstrate a concrete understanding of the poem's nuances. Consider the storyboard below for Robert Hayden's "Those Winter Sundays". Use this example and its template as a springboard to get your students SMILE-ing!
The structure refers to the physical and grammatical composition of the poem. For this element, students should consider the following for their poetry analysis:
In identifying the meaning, students should be able to articulate the basic subject of a poem along with its deeper significance. To truly capture meaning, a reader must also be able to accurately identify a poem's message or theme. Often this requires working out a poem’s figurative meaning. In Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken”, for example, the basic subject conveys a man walking in the woods who has difficulty deciding which path to take. To fully understand the poem, however, readers must recognize that the forest paths represent the journey of life, and the poem’s message reminds us that each choice in life has irrevocable consequences. It is often useful to establish a poem’s basic meaning and then revisit step M for a poem’s deeper significance following further analysis of other elements (steps ILE).
Imagery refers to language that appeals to one of the five senses - touch, taste, smell, sound, and sight. Imagery helps strengthen a writer's description by providing physical details that enable the reader to better imagine the scene or understand the speaker's feelings. Imagery can contain figurative language, but does not have to, as in the examples below, taken from “City Autumn” by Joseph Moncure March.
No figurative language: A thin wind beats/ Old dust and papers down gray streets
Figurative language: A snowflake falls like an errant feather
Both examples of imagery in “City Autumn” give us a visual picture of the autumn weather. One does so with a literal description and the other with an effective simile.
By adding imagery to a particular object, person, or scene, the writer heightens the importance of that detail and helps add negative or positive value to it.
Language refers to a writer's diction, or word choice. Use of figurative language should be noted here and interpreted, along with sound devices, repetition, the speaker' dialect, and particularly significant words. Students may find the questions below useful when analyzing poetic language.
In determining a poem's effect, readers can include their initial reactions. How do they feel after reading it? What is the mood of the poem? The readers should also review this element after studying the other four (SMIL). In this way, students can consider the effect of the poem's structure, imagery, language, and message as they work together.
| Excellent |
| Satisfactory |
| Needs Improvement |
| Poor |
Structure, Imagery, Language
The student correctly identifies and explains important examples or overviews of the poems structure, imagery, and language.
The student correctly identifies and explains most examples or overviews of the poems structure, imagery, and language. Examples may be of minor significance, but demonstrate understanding of the poetic element.
The student correctly identifies and explains examples in at least one of the three categories. The student attempts all three categories, but does not show a clear understanding.
Examples and descriptions are missing or too minimal to score.
Descriptions in both categories demonstrate an accurate understanding of the poetic elements and their significance. The student clearly understands the literal and symbolic meaning of the poem and how this meaning is supported through poetic devices.
Descriptions in both categories demonstrate a basic understanding of the poetic elements and their significance. The student understands the literal meaning of the poem and makes some attempt to explain how this meaning is supported through poetic devices.
Descriptions show some understanding of the overall poem and its poetic devices, but are missing fundamentally important aspects. Student does not understand the figurative meaning.
Responses reflect a lack of understanding or are missing or too minimal to score.
Depictions chosen for each section are accurate to the poem and reflect time, effort, thought, and care with regard to placement and creation of the scenes.
Depictions chosen for each section are mostly accurate to the poem. They reflect time and effort put into placement and creation of the scenes.
Depictions chosen for each section are inaccurate to the poem. The depictions may be rushed or show minimal effort, time, and care put into placement and creation of the scenes.
Most depictions are missing too many elements or are too minimal to score. Little time or effort has been put into placement and creation of the scenes.
There are no errors in spelling, grammar, or mechanics throughout the storyboard. All writing portions reflect careful proofreading and accuracy to the poem.
There are a few errors in spelling, grammar, and mechanics throughout the storyboard. All writing portions show accuracy to the poem and some proofreading.
There are several errors in spelling, grammar, and mechanics throughout the storyboard. Most writing portions do not reflect proofreading or accuracy to the poem.
Errors in spelling, grammar, and mechanics in writing portions of the storyboard seriously interfere with communication.