U1 Speaking Practice

Poetry is often meant to be read aloud and performed by speaking. In addition to the words and grammar of the poem, the speaker's voice can also add meaning to the poem as it expresses the ideas. One way your voice can be used to add meaning to poetry is through intonation. 


Intonation is the rise and fall of a voice as it speaks. A voice may rise in pitch (get higher) or lower in pitch (get lower). There are different intonation patterns in different languages. For example, in English intonation will rise when the speaker is surprised about something. Intonation also rises when asking yes/no questions, but it falls when asking who, what, when, where, why, or how questions. When making a statement in English, the intonation will often rise and then fall. The fall at the end of the sentence tells the listener that the speaker is finished with the sentence and done talking about that idea.

Intonation can be used to express surprise, questions or doubt, and finality.

A graph showing 3 types of intonation

Image: Ana Barraza, 2023

The intonation you use will depend on the ideas you are expressing and the punctuation that shows whether the writer is done talking about an idea. Your intonation may fall at the end of a clause, sentence, or stanza to show that an idea is complete. Your intonation will always fall on a period (.). It will sometimes fall on a comma (,).  If an idea is not complete, your intonation may not fall or may even rise to show that you are continuing to speak on the same idea. If an idea is surprising or causes uncertainty, your intonation will rise. Your intonation will rise on an exclamation point (!) and a question mark (?). As you read and perform poetry be aware of how you use intonation to express the ideas in the poem. 

If there is a pattern in the intonation, then the poem may sound musical to those who hear it. Poetry can be musical sounding or intentionally not spoken like music. It depends on how you want to express the meaning of the poem.

Exercise 1.50

Which type of intonation would the sentences below have? Write R for rising, F for falling, RF for rise fall, and FR for fall rise. 

1. ___ I like rainbows.

2. ___ When are you going?

3. ___ Do you like cheese?

4. ___ The dish seemed dirty, so I washed it. 

5. ___ Free chocolate!

6. ___ The tree is outside. Are you outside?

Exercise 1.51

Limericks are a type of poem that is usually meant to be read aloud. They have strong rhyming and can sound musical. 

Read these poems silently two times. Then, read them aloud to a partner. 

* In the poems below "Dorking" and "Walking" rhyme because of the accent of the author. 

Book of Nonsense Limerick 1

by Edward Lear

There was an Old Man with a beard
Who said, "It is just as I feared! -
Two Owls and a Hen,
Four Larks and a Wren,
Have all built their nests in my beard!

Book of Nonsense Limerick 26

by Edward Lear

There was a young Lady of Dorking,
Who bought a large bonnet for walking;
But its colour and size,
So bedazzled her eyes,
That she very soon went back to Dorking. 


by Unknown

There was a young woman named Sue,

Who wanted to catch the 2:02;

Said the trainman, "Don't hurry

Or flurry or worry;

It's a minute or two to 2:02."

Exercise 1.52

Not all poetry is meant to be read as a song. Practice reading a poem without making it 'sing-songy' or musical. 

  1.  Read the poem below silently to yourself.
  2. Circle any words or phrases that you feel are important and should be read dramatically louder. 
  3. Underline any words or phrases that you think would be more powerful read softly. 
  4. Practice reading it aloud to yourself.
  5. Then, read it aloud to a classmate. 

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

by Dylan Thomas

Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,

Because their words had forked no lightning they

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright

Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,

And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight

Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,

Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

  1. How did the meaning change because of how you read the poem and how your partner read the poem?
  1. How did the meaning change because of how you read the poem and how Dylan Thomas read the poem (in U2 Listening)?

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