The Swirling Mix:

How One Teacher Helps His Students See Poetry through Collage
by Dave Luhman, Dobbs Ferry High School, Dobbs Ferry, NY

Download lesson plan notes & Neruda Poem (pdf)

Objectives & Skills:

• Students will develop a personal and meaningful interpretation of a poem.

• Students will recognize the importance of visualizing poetic imagery when seeking to find meaning in a poem.

• Students will recognize that certain feelings or ideas may be associated with particular images or words.

Blackboard/chalk or overhead.

Desks arranged in two parallel columns facing each other with an ample space between them at center. One desk should be in the center of room between the rows.

Copies of the poem “Poet’s Obligation” (from a translation of Pablo Neruda’s The Sea and the Bells)

Selected collages from Dan Eldon’s journals. (Eldon, Kathy, ed., The Journey Is the Destination, the Journals of Dan Eldon, San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1997. ISBN 0-8118-1586-2)

Sheet or blanket containing: Many different kinds of magazines (Nat. Geographic, Time, Elle, etc.), newspapers, pens, pencils, markers: all colors, and anything else you can think of: wrapping ribbon, containers of stuff like sand or glitter, other poems, burnt matches, paper clips, a light bulb (yes, a student actually used it in his collage!).

Tools: Some or all of the following adhesives: Elmers glue, rubber cement, glue sticks, scotch tape, black electrical tape, etc. Scissors, Hi-liters, 8″ x 11″ (or bigger) sheets of stiff paper (i.e. construction paper). Student notebooks, learning logs and writing utensils.


A. On the board: – Write the credo of Eldon’s journal.

B. Directions to students on Eldon book:

1. Ask students: Why do people keep diaries or journals? During discussion, confirm and/or develop reasons for writing journals.

2. Introduce Eldon’s work as an example of a very creative journal. – Invite students to come stand around center desk to show them the book. – Describe Eldon’s life and interpret the credo together with the students’ help. – Describe how a collage works: use a two-image example. – Show samples from Eldon’s book and ask questions about the moods and emotions the pictures seem to create. Ask the students what details in the pictures create these moods. Point out uses of different media. What do the pictures say about Eldon himself and the place and people he visits?

C. Directions to students on Poetry Collages:

1 . Present the idea that a collage is actually very similar to a poem: both use very vivid images to show emotions and create meaning. Poetry is a little harder to understand because you have to make the words into images in your mind. To show you what I mean, we are each going to create a collage based on a poem assigned for English class.

2. Introduce “Poet’s Obligation”. – Hand out vocabulary sheet with definitions already on it. – Activate any prior historical knowledge and make predictions using the title. – Read over the poem with the students.

3. Making the collage: Ask students to hi-lite at least 8 images from throughout the poem. What images stand out the most? Are there any particular images they like or can “see” clearly? Are any images repeated in the poem? Ask students to find images and begin to arrange them on the stiff sheets of paper (Students SHOULD NOT glue anything down yet). Teacher should float around to individual students to monitor what they are doing. Teacher should discuss with each student what the student thinks the poem means while he arranges the images. Emphasize the PROCESS of trying to generate meaning. – As students develop meaning for the poem, encourage elaboration and allow them to start gluing things down.


A. When they are done with their collages, ask them to write a paragraph that explains how their collage represents the meaning they found in the poem. Prepare the students to share their interpretation with other students in the class.

B. Ask students to write a journal entry for homework. The journal entry will go into their ring-binder learning logs in the Understanding Literature section. Question to answer: How does visualizing the images in a poem help you understand a poem?