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Boredom Be Gone: An English Teacher’s Guide to Keeping Learning Alive- Lesson 4

Updated on April 16, 2020

Introduction to Explication

In order to understand a poem, it helps to be able to take it apart and put it back together again. The process of doing this is called explication. It might sound difficult, but it isn’t -really! In this lesson, we’ll be discussing just a few steps in the process.

We’ll be using this poem for practice:

Steam Shovel
By Charles Malam

The dinosaurs are not all dead.

I saw one raise its iron head

To watch me walking down the road

Beyond our house today.

It’s jaws were dripping with a load

Of earth and grass that it had cropped.

It must have heard me where I stopped,

Snorted white steam my way,

And stretched its long neck out to see,

And chewed, and grinned quite amiably.

Are you ready to get started? The first thing you should do is read the poem aloud. After all,when you come right down to it, poetry is made up of sounds and images, so you really do need to hear it.

Next, look up the definition of any words with which you’re not familiar. In this poem, I would imagine that the only word that you might not be certain of is amiably, which means in a friendly manner.

We’re going to skip a few steps here and save them for future lessons. . Now we’re going to figure out the syntax (structure) of the poem. First, is it written in rhyme or is it free verse? It’s fairly obvious that this poem is written in rhyme, now we need to figure out the rhyme scheme. to do this, you need to look at the last word of each line. always label the last word of the first line as “a” . If the last word in line two rhymes with the last word in line one, label that word “a” also. Each time the last word in the line had a different rhyme, go on to the next letter of the alphabet. Other words, the rhyme scheme of this poem is AABCBDDCEE.

Now we have to decide whether or not the poem has a definite meter. In other words, can you identify a distinct beat? ( Decide what the beat is by how many syllables are emphasized in each line.) in this poem, there are four beats per line, which is known as tetrameter. (We’ll get into other types of meter in a future lesson.)

Next, explain the imagery in the poem: what can you see, touch, taste, feel and/or smell? In this poem, you can see a steam shovel at work, the earth and the grass, white steam, the length of the steam shovel, the speaker of the poem walking and also his house. You can hear the steam shovel “snort” and “chew”.

Finally, ldentify any figures of speech that are used. (alliteration, irony, metaphor, simile, onomatopoeia, personification: refer to lesson three) In line 1, there is alliteration (dinosaurs and dead). The poem is also an example of an extended metaphor: it compares a steam shovel to a dinosaur . Finally, personification is used throughout the poem: the steam shovel has a head, jaws, a neck, it hears, snorts, chews, and grins.

It’s Your Turn


by Ogden Nash

I thought that I would like to see

The early world that used to be,

That mastodonic mausoleum,

The Natural History Museum.

At midnight in the vastly hall

The fossils gathered for a ball.

High above notices and bulletins

Loomed up the Mesozoic skeletons.

Aroused by who knows what elixirs,

They ground along like concrete mixers.

They bowed and scraped in reptile pleasure,

And then began to tread the measure.

There were no drums or saxophones,

But just the clatter of their bones,

A rolling, rattling carefree circus

Of mammoth polkas and mazurkas.

Pterodactyls and brontosauruses

Sang ghostly prehistoric choruses.

Amid the megalosauric wassail

I caught the eye of one small fossil.

Cheer up, old man, he said, and winked-

It’s kind of fun to be extinct.


1. Read the poem aloud.

2. Define any unfamiliar words.

3. Identify the structure of the poem.

A. Is it written in rhyme or free verse?

B. If it’s written in rhyme, identify the rhyme scheme.

C. If there is meter, indicate how many beats per line.

4. Identify the imagery in the poem.

5. Identify any figures of speech.

Answers will appear at the end of lesson five.


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