CBC Digital Archives

Lesson Plan: For Teachers: Language in Poetry

English Language Arts
2 lessons
To learn about formal and informal language and the effect of language choice in poetry.
Students will look for examples of formal and informal language in a sample of Al Purdy’s poetry and explain the impact of the two kinds of language.

Lesson Plan

Before Exploring

Canadian author Margaret Atwood has said of Purdy's style: "In a Purdy poem, high diction can meet the scrawl on the washroom wall, and as in a collision between matter and anti-matter, both explode" (Beyond Remembering, 2000). As a class, discuss the meaning of "high diction" and "scrawl on the washroom wall." Point out that these descriptions distinguish between formal and informal writing.

Ask: Where would a writer always use formal writing? Possible answers include essays, newspapers, letters to officials, scholarly works, and job applications. Then ask: Where would informal writing be appropriate? Possible answers include letters to friends, e-mails, songs, and novels. Explain that in poetry, writers have the freedom to choose any words and word combinations they desire and that the choices can affect the reader in any number of ways.

Outline the Opportunity

Direct students to the topic Al Purdy, An Uncommon Poet on the CBC Digital Archives website and have them browse all the clips. As they explore, have them note examples of "high diction" and "scrawl on the wall" language. Have students read the poem "Listening to Myself" from Beyond Remembering -- The Collected Poems of Al Purdy. List the following words from the poem on the board: staggering, lugging, ridiculous, foolish, stumbling, pool, ceased. Ask students to find the words in the poem and to replace each one with an alternate word choice of their own. When they are done, have them share their word choices with the rest of the class.

Revisit and Reflect

As a class, discuss the impact of word choice in poetry. Ask: What tone or meaning do Al Purdy's words convey? Do your own words change the tone, meaning, or rhythm of a phrase? How? Have them reflect on the reason Purdy chose the words he did and the effect of his word choices on his audience.


Students can expand their exploration of word choice by reading more of Purdy's writing. Have them prepare a two-column chart in their notebooks to record examples of formal and informal language. For each entry, have them note the effect of the wording chosen.


Copies of Al Purdy's works.

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