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teaching character using poetry

Teaching Character Using Poetry (It Couldn’t be Done)

  |   Language Arts, Lesson Plan, Teaching - all grades   |   2 Comments


How do you teach children to tell the truth, treat people with respect, work hard, and not give up until the job is done? 

You teach your children those things by teaching them to have good character. The most common ways of teaching good character include talking about good character traits with your kids, modeling them yourself, and reading great books with people that demonstrate good character. Another way you may not have thought of is teaching character using poetry.

And so here’s one of my favorite examples of using poetry to teach character. In this lesson you’ll read the well-known poem It Couldn’t Be Done, by Edgar Albert Guest.

This simple poem will be appreciated and understood by all but your youngest primary students, and even they can often appreciate it with a little discussion!


Teaching character using poetry

Start your lesson by reading through the poem below silently, then read it aloud once or twice.


It Couldn’t Be Done

by Edgar Guest

Somebody said that it couldn’t be done,
But he with a chuckle replied
That “maybe it couldn’t,” but he would be one
Who wouldn’t say so till he’d tried.
So he buckled right in with the trace of a grin
On his face. If he worried he hid it.
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it.

Somebody scoffed: “Oh, you’ll never do that;
At least no one ever has done it”;
But he took off his coat and he took off his hat,
And the first thing we knew he’d begun it.
With a lift of his chin and a bit of a grin,
Without any doubting or quiddit,
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it.

There are thousands to tell you it cannot be done,
There are thousands to prophesy failure;
There are thousands to point out to you one by one,
The dangers that wait to assail you.
But just buckle in with a bit of a grin,
Just take off your coat and go to it;
Just start in to sing as you tackle the thing
That “cannot be done,” and you’ll do it.


And here’s a video featuring It Couldn’t be Done.

Your auditory children will like to listen to this, but make sure they still read the poem aloud themselves.



And here’s one more version:  a cartoon of It Couldn’t be Done.

By the way, if you are having your children narrate this poem, do it at this point, before reading about the background of the author.


Background of the author, Edgar Albert Guest

Edgar Albert Guest (1881-1959) was a naturalized American citizen born in Great Britain. He was a prolific poet, and writer.

Though some poetry critics didn’t like him, his audience affectionately nicknamed Mr. Guest  “The People’s Poet” because he wrote about common life and experiences people could relate to.

In fact, Mr. Guest was popular enough to be syndicated in over 300 newspapers!  As well, he went on to have radio and television shows, too. Guest’s topics encouraged and inspired the people who read his work.  Before he died, the state of Michigan named Mr. Guest Poet Laureate.

teaching character using poetry


Lesson Plan Options

Again, read the poem to yourself, then read the poem aloud once or twice more. Choose a few of these options, depending upon the age of your student(s).

  1. Let your student know that after the reading, he will tell back what the poem said. (Give you an oral narration on the poem.) Then immediately after reading the poem, ask for the narration. Read more about how to teach narration.

  2. Ask your students to tell you what this poem means.

  3. Have your students write about what this poem means.

  4. Research the poet and write one to three paragraphs about his life. (See paragraph above for a summary.)

  5. What character qualities does the person in the poem demonstrate? (Answer– courageousness, diligence, industriousness, positive attitude/growth mindset…)

  6. What specific words in the poem suggest these character qualities?

    • Courageous, unafraid to try
      • So he buckled right in with the trace of a grin
      •  If he worried he hid it.
      • With a lift of his chin 
      • Without any doubting
    • Diligence, industriousness
      • So he buckled right in
      • he tackled the thing
      • But he took off his coat and he took off his hat,
        And the first thing we knew he’d begun it.
      • Just take off your coat and go to it
      • he did it
    •  Positive attitude/growth mindset
      • he with a chuckle
      • with the trace of a grin
        On his face
      • He started to sing
      • with a bit of a grin
      • Just start in to sing as you tackle the thing
  7. Have your student memorize the poem. A middle-range elementary student on up can memorize this. (I recommend doing this one if your child is in the age range.)

  8. First view the cartoon version of this poem above. Then have your student create his cartoon version. Here are some free downloadable cartoon templates if you need them.

  9. Watch the video above. How many people can you recognize in it? How did their lives demonstrate the character qualities of this poem?

In conclusion, using poems to teach character to your children is an excellent way for your kids to learn positive character traits. And if you have your kids memorize some of the best ones, they’ll have these examples with them forever!

So what do you think of this poem? Don’t you love the character qualities this poem inspires? Do you see anything else you could teach from this poem?

What other poems could you use for teaching character to your children?

teaching character using poetry - Dana - dana


Related Posts

Anne Bradstreet, America’s First Poet

Teaching character using poetry in Psalm 8

Charlotte Mason on teaching poetry

How to teach Narration


teaching character using poetry - affilate link

  • Dana | Apr 17, 2015 at 4:55 pm

    I’ve always enjoyed this poem so it was a pleasure to share it! Glad you enjoyed the post, Beth!

  • Beth Hempton | Apr 17, 2015 at 3:38 pm

    I have always liked “the People’s Poet” and I am happy to see you write about him, Dana. I think many students would get a kick out of this poem and it might encourage them to read more poetry. Great post!

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