Teaching Elegy Structure in Poetry: A Comprehensive Guide
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 10 min read


  1. What is an Elegy?
  2. The Structure of an Elegy
  3. How to Identify an Elegy
  4. Why Teach Elegy Structure
  5. Effective Methods for Teaching Elegy Structure
  6. Examples of Elegy Poems
  7. Classroom Activities to Teach Elegy Structure
  8. How to Assess Student's Understanding of Elegy Structure
  9. Additional Resources for Teaching Elegy Structure

Let's take a journey into the world of poetry. Today's destination? The moving and poignant form of the elegy. If you're an educator looking to teach elegy structure in poetry, you're in the right place. This guide will put you on the right path to convey the depth and subtlety of this genre to your students. So, take a deep breath, and let's dive into the magic world of elegy.

What is an Elegy?

An elegy is a type of poem that expresses sorrow or lamentation, usually for someone who has died. But, don't let that make you think it's all doom and gloom! Elegies offer a beautiful way to explore feelings of loss, nostalgia, and even hope. They allow poets to pay tribute to loved ones, express grief, and find closure.

Now, let's break it down a bit:

  • Expression of grief: This is the heart of an elegy. The poet uses vivid, evocative language to express deep feelings of sorrow and loss. The aim is not just to make you feel sad, but to help you understand the depth of the poet's grief.
  • Praise and admiration: A good elegy does more than just mourn. It celebrates the life of the departed, acknowledging their influence and the joy they brought into the world.
  • Expressions of consolation and solace: At its core, an elegy is a form of healing. Yes, there's pain and loss, but there's also acceptance and a glimmer of hope. The poet tries to find some comfort, however small, in the midst of sorrow.

Teaching elegy structure in poetry gives students a tool to explore their feelings and experiences. It's not just about following a certain rhyme scheme or rhythm—it's about expressing deep, raw emotions in a thoughtful and meaningful way. So, are you ready to teach elegy structure in poetry? Let's get started!

The Structure of an Elegy

Now that we've got a grip on what an elegy is, let's look at how it's built. The structure of an elegy, much like any other form of poetry, is the skeleton that gives it shape. It's the framework that holds the words, ideas, and emotions in place. So, when you teach elegy structure in poetry, you're essentially giving your students a blueprint to express their thoughts and feelings.

Here's the thing—elegies don't have a fixed format. That's right! They don't follow a strict rule book. But, don't let that throw you off. There are certain patterns that many elegies tend to follow. Here's a breakdown:

  • Three-part structure: Many elegies are broken down into three parts. The first part is the lament, where the poet expresses grief and sadness. The second part is the praise, where the poet pays tribute to the person or thing that's been lost. The final part is the consolation, where the poet begins to find solace and acceptance.
  • Rhyme and meter: Many traditional elegies follow a specific rhyme scheme and meter, often iambic pentameter. But remember, not all elegies are bound to this rule.
  • Reflection and introspection: An elegy often includes a moment where the poet reflects on the meaning of life and death, adding depth and thoughtfulness to the poem.

When you teach the structure of an elegy to your students, remember to focus on these elements. But also remind them that an elegy is a personal expression of grief and remembrance. The rules are there to guide them, not to limit their creativity. After all, the best poetry comes from the heart, right?

How to Identify an Elegy

Now that we've covered what an elegy is and how it's structured, let's talk about how to spot one. When you're teaching elegy structure in poetry, it's just as important to help your students recognize an elegy as it is to help them write one. So, what are the tell-tale signs of an elegy?

  • Theme of loss: The first and most obvious sign of an elegy is its central theme: loss. This could be the loss of a loved one, a way of life, a moment in time, or even an ideal. If a poem is dealing with loss and grief, there's a good chance it's an elegy.
  • Expression of sorrow: Elegies often start with an expression of sorrow. This could be a lament for the person or thing that's been lost, or a sense of sadness about the nature of mortality.
  • Tribute to the deceased: Elegies usually contain a tribute to the deceased. This could be a description of their virtues, a recounting of their deeds, or an exploration of their significance to the poet.
  • Consolation and acceptance: Lastly, an elegy often ends with a note of consolation. This is where the poet begins to accept their loss, find solace, or express hope for the future.

Remember, these are just guidelines. An elegy can take many forms and doesn't have to include all these elements. But understanding these signs will definitely help your students identify elegies when they encounter them.

So, the next time you're flipping through a poetry anthology, why not challenge your students to spot the elegies? It's a great way to test their understanding and make the lesson more interactive.

Why Teach Elegy Structure

Let's get to the heart of the matter: why should you teach elegy structure in poetry to your students? Is it really that important? Well, the short answer is yes, it is—and here's why.

  • Exploration of emotions: Elegies allow for a deep dive into complex emotions. They provide a safe space for students to explore themes of loss, grief, and healing. This can be an excellent tool for teaching empathy and emotional literacy.
  • Understanding historical context: Many famous elegies were written in response to significant historical events or persons. Teaching elegy structure can be a gateway to learning about history and culture.
  • Enhancement of analytical skills: Analyzing an elegy requires understanding its structure, theme, and language. This can significantly enhance students' analytical and critical thinking skills.
  • Improvement of writing skills: Writing an elegy requires thought, creativity, and discipline. It can help students improve their writing skills and learn to express their feelings in a structured, poetic form.

Teaching elegy structure in poetry is not just about teaching a form of poetry; it's about teaching students how to use language to express complex emotions, understand the world around them, and communicate with others. That, in my book, makes it well worth the effort.

Effective Methods for Teaching Elegy Structure

Now that you understand the importance of teaching elegies, let's move on to some practical methods you can use to teach elegy structure in poetry effectively. Remember, every class is different—so feel free to adapt these methods to suit your unique teaching style and your students' learning needs.

  1. Start with Definitions: Begin by explaining what an elegy is. Define it as a type of poem that expresses sorrow or lamentation, usually for someone who has died. Make sure your students understand this before you dive into the specifics of its structure.
  2. Explain the Structure: Elegies typically follow a specific structure: they begin with an expression of grief, proceed to praise the deceased, and end with consolation. Break this structure down for your students in clear, simple terms.
  3. Read Examples: Reading examples of famous elegies can be a great way for students to understand the structure. Consider works like "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" by Thomas Gray or "In Memory of W.B. Yeats" by W.H. Auden.
  4. Encourage Practice: Have your students try writing their own elegies. They could write about a famous person they admire or a personal experience of loss. This practical exercise helps them apply what they've learnt.
  5. Provide Feedback: After your students have written their own elegies, provide constructive feedback. Highlight what they did well and where they could improve, always keeping the focus on the structure of the elegy.

With these methods in your teaching toolbox, you'll be well-equipped to teach elegy structure in poetry. Remember, the goal is not to create professional poets, but to enhance students' understanding of language, emotion, and human experience.

Examples of Elegy Poems

Once you've covered the basics of what an elegy is and its typical structure, it's time to dive into some real-world examples. We'll explore a selection of famous elegy poems that have touched the hearts of readers for generations. By studying these examples, your students will get a clearer picture of how to craft their own elegies.

"O Captain! My Captain!" by Walt Whitman: This well-known elegy was penned in memory of President Abraham Lincoln. Notice how Whitman expresses his grief in the opening lines, praises Lincoln's achievements in the middle, and ends with a somber acceptance of his captain's death.

"In Memory of W.B. Yeats" by W.H. Auden: Auden's elegy for fellow poet W.B. Yeats beautifully illustrates the typical structure of an elegy. The initial grief, the praise of Yeats's poetic contributions, and the final consolation that Yeats's work will live on—all these elements make this poem a classic example of an elegy.

"Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" by Thomas Gray: This is one of the most famous elegies in English literature. Gray uses the setting of a country churchyard to reflect on the inevitability of death, offering a poignant reminder of our own mortality.

These examples should provide your students with a clear understanding of what an elegy looks like in practice. Remember, the beauty of poetry lies in its flexibility—each poet may put their unique spin on the traditional elegy structure, which is part of what makes studying poetry so exciting.

Classroom Activities to Teach Elegy Structure

Now that we've got a good grasp of what an elegy is and seen some examples, let's move onto some classroom activities that can help you teach elegy structure in poetry. These activities are designed to be engaging and interactive, making the learning process more enjoyable for your students.

Activity 1: Elegy Analysis

Choose an elegy, such as "O Captain! My Captain!" by Walt Whitman. Have your students break down the poem, identifying its structure and the themes it explores. This exercise will give them firsthand experience with elegy structure and deepen their understanding of the genre. Plus, it's a fun way to get them critically thinking about poetry!

Activity 2: Write Your Own Elegy

Encourage your students to write their own elegy. This can be an emotional exercise, as it often involves writing about loss. However, it's also a powerful way to teach elegy structure in poetry. By writing their own elegy, students will gain a deeper understanding of how the structure works and the emotional impact it can have on the reader.

Activity 3: Elegy Recital

Once students have written their own elegies, have a classroom recital. Students can take turns reading their elegies aloud. This can be a moving experience and can help students appreciate the power of elegy structure in poetry. Plus, it can also boost their confidence in their own writing abilities.

Remember, teaching elegy structure in poetry doesn't have to be a dry academic exercise. With these activities, you can make your poetry lessons engaging, emotional, and enlightening.

How to Assess Student's Understanding of Elegy Structure

Assessing your students' understanding of the elegy structure in poetry can be a bit tricky. After all, poetry is a subjective art form, isn't it? But don't worry—I've got some tips that can help.

Tip 1: Elegy Analysis Assignment

One effective way to assess understanding is through an elegy analysis assignment. Ask your students to write a short essay analyzing the structure of a selected elegy. In their analysis, they should identify the three stages of an elegy: the lament, the praise, and the solace. Their ability to correctly identify and explain these stages will give you a clear indication of their understanding.

Tip 2: Peer Review

Another method is peer review. Have your students exchange their elegies written during the previous activity. They can then review each other's work and provide feedback. This not only helps to assess understanding but also fosters a sense of collaboration and constructive criticism among students.

Tip 3: Pop Quiz

If you're in the mood for a more traditional approach, a pop quiz can work too. You can ask questions about the structure of an elegy, its purpose, and how it differs from other types of poetry. Their answers will help you gauge how well they've grasped the concept of the elegy structure.

Remember, assessment should be an ongoing process. Keep an eye on your students' progress as you teach elegy structure in poetry, and adjust your teaching methods as needed to ensure everyone is on the same page. After all, our end goal is to instill a love and understanding of poetry in our students, isn't it?

Additional Resources for Teaching Elegy Structure

Teaching the elegy structure in poetry can be a rewarding experience. But, it can also be a challenge to find the right resources to aid your teaching process. So, let's look at some additional resources you can use to teach elegy structure in poetry.

Book: "Elegy: Poems of Mourning"

This is a collection of some of the best elegies in English literature. The book not only offers examples of elegies but also provides notes on the structure and themes of each poem. It's a great resource for students to see the elegy structure in action.

Website: Poets.org

Poets.org is a free website that provides thousands of poems, including a vast collection of elegies. It's a great place for students to explore and find examples of elegies from different poets and eras.

Worksheet: "Elegy Structure Analysis"

Worksheets can be a practical tool for teaching elegy structure. You can design a worksheet that asks students to identify the three stages of an elegy in a given poem. This encourages active learning and allows you to assess their understanding.

Remember, the key to teaching elegy structure in poetry effectively is to provide a variety of resources. Different students learn in different ways. So, mix it up! Use books, websites, worksheets, and even videos to make your lessons engaging and memorable. And don't forget to have fun with it—after all, isn't that what teaching is all about?

If you enjoyed this comprehensive guide on teaching elegy structure in poetry and want to further improve your poetic skills, check out Alieu Drammeh's workshop, '10 Minute Poetry Challenge: THINK LESS, WRITE MORE!.' This workshop focuses on helping you write poetry more freely and efficiently, which can be applied to various poetic structures, including elegies. Enhance your poetry writing journey with this fun and engaging workshop!