Seasickness in Space

poem by Colin Thiele , illustrated by Lesley McGee

Learning Intention: 

I am learning the steps to monitor meaning and summarise a poem so that I can develop a deeper understanding poetic meaning. 

Success Criteria: 

  • I can monitor my comprehension by recognising and clarifying unknown words and phrases in a poem.  
  • I can summmarise content within using a four-step approach.  
  • I can write a brief explanation off the meaning of the poem.  

Before reading the poem, conduct a class poll on the topic:  

What is easier to understand, a story or a poem?  

It is likely that most students will nominate the story as being easier to understand. Ask students to list some of the reasons why they find poems more challenging. Reasons may include: they are short and do not contain all the details; because they are sometimes written in long or incomplete sentences; because they often contain unusual words and language techniques.  

Read the poem to the class. Then ask students to write their initial summaries of the poem. At this stage, the summaries are likely to be brief and vague. (For example: people in space get seasick and they look green.) Keep these summaries so that students can compare their progress after they have analysed the poem in more depth.  

Explain to students that a deeper understanding of a poem’s meaning can be achieved by following the steps below:  

  • Identify and clarify unknown words 
  • Unpack language techniques and figurative language 
  • Summarise each stanza into a sentence 
  • Synthesise the stanza summaries into a brief explanation of the poem’s meaning 

Explicitly guide students through these steps. A suggested sequence includes:  

  • Identify and clarify earthly, wayfarers, veer, interstellar 
  • Unpack the two metaphors: weightless wayfarers (someone travelling everywhere by floating rather than on foot) and bug-eyed men (creatures that feel unhappy or sick with bulging eyes).  
  • Read each stanza slowly and then form a summary by asking:  
  • Who is the stanza about? (For example, stanza two is about both someone on a boat on earth, and someone travelling through space.)  
  • What is happening to them? (For example, in stanza two, the person on earth feels seasick, but the person in space feels sicker as they tumble.) 
  • Finally, using the one sentence summaries, students should write an extended (2-3 sentence) summary of the poem’s meaning.  

An example extended summary of this poem is below:  

In the poem ‘Seasickness in Space’ the poet compares the experience of seasickness on land, compared to seasickness in space. He believes that seasickness in space is much worse, which is why aliens are almost always green, because they need to vomit.  

This four-step analysis can also be done on the two other programs in this issue, as well as any poem with a stanza structure. As students practice this approach, there can be a gradual release of scaffolding and control.