The Undeterred Octopus

poem by Rebecca Gardyn Levington , illustrated by Christopher Nielsen

Learning intentions:

I am learning to identify different techniques in composing poems that enhance the way they are read so that I can develop a better understanding of how to read and write poetry in a more connected and engaging way.


Success criteria:

  • I can identify the way rhyme scheme and syllables affect the rhythm of a poem
  • I can understand the purpose of using visual techniques in text, such as italics and capital letters to enhance the way words are read
  • I can use my understanding of these techniques to influence the way that I read poetry aloud


Have students read the poem silently to themselves. After they have finished reading, draw their attention back to the title of the poem. Ask them what they think the word undeterred means now that they have read about the octopus’ circumstances. Students should deduce that it refers to the octopus not being discouraged despite his difficulties in learning to roller-skate.

Discuss the structure of the poem, ensuring students understand that it includes three stanzas, each written in an ABCB rhyme scheme, with every two lines containing 13-14 syllables. Explain that these factors create a rhythm to the way we read the poem, which can influence how we experience or enjoy the text, in a similar way to music and songs.

Draw students’ attention to the visual techniques used within the text to emphasise words and discuss how this may affect the way we say them when we read the poem out loud. These include:

  • The words ‘not’ and ‘know’ being italicised would indicate that they should be accentuated when they are read aloud.
  • The parentheses around the words whoa-WHOA tells us that this is an aside that deviates from the main poem and we may change our tone when saying it.
  • The capitalisation of the second WHOA indicates that it is said louder than the first one. This gives the word a sense of panic and implies that the octopus came extremely close to falling over.
  • The quotation marks around the last two lines of the poem tell the audience that this is a direct quote from the octopus, which would mean that they would be said in a different voice to the narrator. Given that the poem up until that point has informed readers that the octopus remains optimistic despite his setbacks, it’s likely that he expresses this in an upbeat, positive tone.


Split the students into pairs or small groups and inform them that they are going to work together to create a recorded reading of the poem. This may be done with a device such as an iPad, laptop or phone. If technology is unavailable, they may instead prefer to rehearse and perform a live reading for the class of their interpretation of the poem.

Depending on the number of group members, students may wish to decide how they will split the vocal duties evenly. For example, if they are in a group of three, they may decide to read one full stanza each, every third line, or two lines at a time.

Remind students to focus on rhythm, tone and word emphasis and ensure they practice several times before recording so they feel comfortable with these elements in their reading.