Bowerbird Suitor

poem by Sandi Leibowitz , illustrated by Marjorie Crosby-Fairall

Learning intention:

I am learning to analyse the use of precise vocabulary in a text so that I can better understand the author’s intent.


Success criteria:

  • I can identify words that have been chosen by the author to convey a specific meaning
  • I can identify the connotation of these words
  • I can use my understanding of the connotations to explain the author’s intent


After reading the poem, direct students’ attention to the first stanza and highlight the word ‘threshold’. Ask the class to define it. Students can use classroom dictionaries or an online dictionary to help. Discuss the literal meaning of the word ‘threshold’ (the piece of material under a doorway), and ask students if bowerbirds have doorways. Because they have nests, with no doorways, discuss why the poet might have chosen this word for the poem. For guidance, direct students to another use of the word – ‘the place of entering or beginning’. Students may recognise the threshold is the point where the female bowerbird must cross over if she chooses this mate. They may also suggest that using the word threshold makes it sound like the bowerbird has a more human-like home, leaning towards personification.


Return to the poem and highlight the word ‘strewn’. Ask the class to define it. Students can use classroom dictionaries or an online dictionary to help. Have students give synonyms for the word, such as ‘scattered’, ‘sprinkled’ and ‘peppered’. Ask students why the poet chose ‘strewn’ instead. Students may recognise it matches the rhythm of the poem. Ensure they also understand that strewn gives a connotation of messiness more than the other words, such as clothes being strewn across the room. Ask students what connotation means then view The School Magazine’s video Connotation, Imagery and Symbol up to 1 min 55 sec.


Discuss how using certain words instead of their synonyms can change the meaning. Give the example of ‘The room was cosy’ versus ‘The room was cramped’ and ask how changing the word ‘cosy’ to ‘cramped’ has changed the assumption about the room. Both mean small, but they make the reader feel different things. Ensure students understand that ‘cramped’ makes the room sound uncomfortable and too little, while ‘cosy’ gives the sense of warmth and happiness.


In pairs, students are to find one word per stanza and explain why the author has chosen this word instead of a synonym. They should give connotations of the word and speculate on the poet’s intent.


Suggested words for each stanza:

Stanza 2 – sculpts

Stanza 3 – weaves/altar/woos

Stanza 4 – prance/strut/whirring/treads

Stanza 5 – virtuoso/architect


Once complete, students write out a short statement explaining how they believe the poet wanted to portray the bowerbird in the poem.


A sample statement:


The use of the words sculpts, weaves and virtuoso suggests the poet intended to personify the bowerbird as a masterful artist.