How to Teach Parts of Speech Using "Jabberwocky"

Boy with black long-sleeved shirt holding pencil inside room.jpg

Elementary, middle and high school students alike can benefit from learning parts of speech, since grammar is taught less and less these days. One tool to use is the famous poem "Jabberwocky" by Lewis Carroll. This is a poem from his sequel to "Alice in Wonderland," namely "Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There" (1872). Such a wild poem provides a fun way to learn what can sometimes be tedious content. Also, a nonsense poem full of action isn't too intimidating, while a straightforward grammar lesson can.

1 How to Teach Parts of Speech Using "Jabberwocky"

Vocabulary Builder

2 Begin with the first two lines

Begin with the first two lines, which already teach adjectives, nouns and verbs. Look at the noun first: "'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves/did gyre and gimble in the wabe;" Explain that a noun is a person, place or thing. Ask, (not counting "brillig" which mean dusk or morning or nightfall, a kind of noun) which two words must be nouns? You don't even have to know the words' meanings. The answers, according to the language structure, have to be "toves" and "wabe." Substitute nouns that would work here.

3 Focusing on the same lines

Focusing on the same lines, ask which two words must be verbs or action words? The answer again, according to the structure and rules inherent in English grammar, are "gyre" and "gimble", introduced by "did." Again, ask for suggestions of verbs that could be substituted here. What could "gyre" and "gimble" mean? Mention that "galumphing" in line 20 actually became an English word, a verb, after this poem was published. Have the child or student look it up in a good dictionary or on the Internet. "Chortle" in line 24 also became a real verb.

4 Explain that words

Explain that words that modify or describe a noun are called adjectives. For example, which word describes "toves?" The answer is the word that immediately precedes it, "slithy." Again, you might have the child guess what it could mean, considering the sound of the word. Find other adjectives in the poem such as "frumious" (line 8) and "frabjous" (line 23).

5 As a review quiz

As a review quiz, look at the main word of the poem, "Jabberwock", first seen in line 5: "Beware the Jabberwock, my son!" What part of speech would "Jabberwock" be? (Answer: noun)

6 Add an extra challenge

Add an extra challenge if you'd like to identify an interjection or exclamation in the poem ("Callooh! Callay!" in line 28).

  • "Jabberwocky" is widely available on the Internet.