Contemporary Canadian Poetry - Style and Structure

Kyle Green - PED3177 C


This wiki page deals with ministry standards, theoretical issues and challenges, teaching strategies, and assessment and evaluation examples regarding contemporary Canadian poetry. The subject matter is directed toward teachers at the intermediate/senior educational levels in the Ontario curricula. The pages merges theoretical and practical approaches to poetry in an attempt to offer a holistic approach to the subject. While contents on this page do not compose units in any ministerial curricula, the material can augment any language arts course.


Research shows that liberal arts education is critical to forming true leaders. It also shows that literature studies and language arts must reflect "the global status of the English language, and the cultural and linguistic qualities of English literature". If we as teachers wish to create an educational setting that both creates leaders and recognizes Canada's unique contexts within the greater global community, then we must incorporate both liberal education with Canadian studies. In the context of a Language Arts curriculum, implementing contemporary Canadian poetry into lesson and unit plans provides opportuniuties to engage students on a variety of levels.


Dana Colarusso notes that all language arts have traditionally been used as tools for cultural
assimilation, and that "English teachers face growing pressures to meet the needs of increasingly diverse learners, both in terms of ethnicity and language but also in terms of economic and social circumstances" (Colarusso 2010, 434). The time when a teacher stood in front of a monocultural class and lectured is gone. Many Canadian poets currently write in relation to this colonial past and provide important insights into how culture, history and politics can be incorporated into the educational system.

Many Canadian poets recognize the end of monocultures in Canada and address this directly in their work. Some examples of contemporary poets who are relevant to the current discussion include:

Janette Hughes notices several challenges that teachers who incorporate poetry into curricula have historically faced. These challenges, elaborated as Theoretical Challenges below, are real and must be considered prior to planning a lesson or unit that uses poetry.

Ministry Expectations

The Ontario Ministry of Education does not require learning outcomes in contemporary Canadian poetry to students in any grade level. However, the tools that a student can gain from learning poetic conventions will enable the student to develop skills in each of the curriculum's strands. To name a few ways that a contemporary Canadian poetry section can augment the curriculum, presenting poetry improves students' oral communication skills, while analyzing how particular poets manipulate the mediums used in language arts can enhance a media studies unit.

Where does it Fit?

The Ministry does not delimit where a unit about poetry can and cannot be implemented in the curriculum. Teachers can use the educational tools found in contemporary Canadian poetry anywhere in a course structure as a means of enhancing the student's educational experience.

For example:
  • Grade 9, Applied English (ENG1P)
    • Overall Expectation 1: Reading for Meaning
    • Specific Expectation 1.1: Variety of Texts: "read a few different short, contemporary, student- and teacher-selected texts from different cultures, identifying purposes for reading".
  • Grade 11, Canadian Literature (ETC3M)
    • Overall Expectation 2: Analysing Texts
    • Specific Expectation 2.2: Exploring Background Information: "use information from secondary sources to understand how historica, political, regional, and cultural contexts influence the presentation of ideas, issues and themes in Canadian literary texts".

Theoretical Challenges

Hughes finds that barriers for literacy education occur in many schools. These barriers present challenges for teaching poetry and must be overcome if a teacher is to include contemporary Canadian poetry in the curriculum. Mainly, these challenges relate to:
  • the teacher's inability to teach poetry effectively;
  • teachers' difficulty with understanding poetry;
  • text-only approaches to teaching poetry; and
  • resistance to incorporating new media into instruction. (Huges 2007).

Hughes' findings are important for a language arts curriculum precisely because they relate not to how students learn, but rather to how teachers teach. If you would like to use contemporary Canadian poetry in your course, you will need to use it strategically and only if you are comfortable with it; otherwise, you may well face the challenges Hughes finds are so common.

Strategies for Teaching

Based on Hughes' findings, teachers should take the following strategic considerations into account prior to incorporating any poetic lesson, including one about contemporary Canadian poetry, into a curriculum:
  1. Only use what you are comfortable using, and only at a level to which you are also comfortable;
  2. Ensure you understand a poem not only from one, but several angles. These angles include, but are not limited to, its form, structure, political implications, context, and intertext (how it refers to other authors' work, where applicable); and
  3. Do not limit your lesson to the traditional, text-only approach with which you were probably taught; use whatever media as are available to better engage your students.

Possible Modes for Assessment

ETS4U Poetry Evaluation: Christian Bök

Previous Knowledge Required
  • Knowledge about poetic conventions
  • Knowledge about text forms
  • Knowledge about elements of style
Technological Requirements
  • Access to a computer and the YouTube file
    • Alternatives:
      • Audio-only presentation
      • text-only presentation
      • audio-and-text presentation
      • video-and-text presentatmion
Allow students to demonstrate achievement of the following expectations:
  • 2: Analysing Texts
    • 2.1 (responding to texts);
    • 2.3 (analysing texts);
    • 2.4 (text forms); and
    • 2.5 (elements of style).
  • student shows ability to respond critically to a work of language art
  • student analyzes how a poet uses elements of style to make a text form unique
  • student is able to relate a complex poem to other work

Assessable Activity
Watch Christian Bök's dramatic reading from his book Eunoia. Afterward, form groups of 2-3 students and discuss the following in relation to Bök's reading:
  1. What is unique about Bök's poem?
  2. What elements of style does Bök use to convey his message?
  3. Is this poem similar to anything else we have studied in this unit? If so, how? If not, why do you think it was included?
  4. Is he successful?

If you would like a more formal version of this plan, it is available here: .


I hope you have found this wiki helpful. As you have hopefully seen, a lesson plan, unit or activity about Canadian contemporary poetry is useful for a variety of reasons. It allows you to bridge subject areas, appeal to students' differentiated learning styles, and can add something new and unique to your pedagogy. The topic is especially useful if you would like to stress form, style and structure in your classroom.


Further Reading

Awuah, Patrick. "Patrick Awuah on Educating Leaders".

Colarusso, Dana M. "Teaching English in a Multicultural Society: Three Models for Reform". Canadian Journal of Education. V. 33, No. 2, 2010.

Hughs, Janette. "Poetry: A Powerful Medium for Literacy and Technology Development". What Works? Research into Practice. October 2007.

Nowak-Fabrykowski, Krystyna. "The Role of Poetry and Stories of Young Children in their Processes of Learning". Journal of Instructional Psychology, V. 27 No. 1, 69-65, 2000.

Important Links

Similar Pages in This Wiki
Canadian Literature
Creative projects in English language arts
Cultural Content Learning in ELA Classrooms with ESL Learners
Issues in Writing Assessment
Literary criticism in the secondary school
Social Diversity and Inclusive Language

Ministry of Education Links
The Ontario Curriculum Grades 9 and 10: English
The Ontario Curriculum Grades 11 and 12: English

External Links
Canadian Poetry Online How I Teach Poetry in the Schools