Spring is a Bird

poem by Lisa Varchol Perron ,  illustrated by Tohby Riddle

Learning Intention:

I can use metalanguage to describe the language features used in a figurative poem so that I can understand how imagery is used to enhance characterisation and description.

Success Criteria:

  • I can understand the meaning of the metalanguage terms symbolism and zoomorphism and their role in characterisation.
  • I can generate a list of adjectives based on an image.
  • I can make connections between a poet’s use of zoomorphism and the adjectives that describe the images.

Essential knowledge:

  • More information about how zoomorphism (imagery) is used to create complex meanings that can be found in the English Textual Concepts video Connotation, Imagery and Symbol.
  • More information about how an idea or something non-human can also be characterised can be found in the English Textual Concepts video Character.

Prior to reading the poem, introduce students to the following terms:

  • Symbolism: use of a symbol that represents something else, particularly in relation to a quality or concept developed and strengthened through repetition (See NSW K-10 Syllabus Glossary).
  • Zoomorphism: the use of animal forms or symbols in art, literature, etc. (See the Collins Dictionary’s entry on Zoomorphism).

Tell students that assigning human traits to animals in children’s literature is very common. This is a type of characterisation and is called anthropomorphism. Brainstorm examples of anthropomorphism in children’s literature (The Tales of Beatrix Potter, ‘Farmer Duck’ by Martin Waddell, ‘The True Story of the Three Little Pigs’ by Jon Scieszka).

Then inform students that zoomorphism is less common. It involves assigning animal traits to non-animals (to humans or objects). It is also a process of characterisation. An animal may also be a symbol of certain traits; an owl is wise and a lion is brave. There are examples of zoomorphism in ancient myths (such as Anubis, the jackal god) and also in modern superheroes (such as Spiderman, Batman and Catwoman).

Ask the class why an author might use zoomorphism. Students should recognise that comparing something or someone to an animal enhances description and characterisation. For example, Catwoman immediately makes the responder think of a cat’s traits: agile, fast and sometimes aggressive.

Explain that soon the class will read a poem that uses zoomorphism. It will compare each of the four seasons to an animal’s traits. Before reading the poem, the class will conduct a poll on which animal will be assigned to which season.

First, present students with an image of the same landscape across the four seasons. Pause on each image and instruct students (in groups of 3 – 4) to brainstorm a list of adjectives about the season. For example, an image of a path in a park in spring could be described as vibrant, blossoming, chirpy. If you have a digital subscription, this can be done as an interactive activity on The School Magazine’s website.

Using interactive presentation software, such as Mentimeter, collate the adjectives into a word cloud for each season. Then, using the word clouds as inspiration, come up with a list of animals that have traits that link to these adjectives. For example, students may associate birds, small dogs or monkeys with spring.

Finally, conduct a class poll predicting which animals will be assigned to represent each season. (Mentimeter also has a poll function.)

Read the poem to the class and compare the results of the class poll to the animals that appear in the poem (bird, cat, possum, wolf). Discuss the animal choices with the students and whether they had suggestions that they believed better suited the seasons.