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Lesson Plan

Developing Aesthetic Criteria: Using Music to Move Beyond Like/Dislike with Poetry

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Developing Aesthetic Criteria: Using Music to Move Beyond Like/Dislike with Poetry

Grades 9 – 10
Lesson Plan Type Standard Lesson
Estimated Time Four 50-minute sessions
Lesson Author

K.A. Keener

New York, New York


National Council of Teachers of English



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From Theory to Practice



This lesson helps students explore the aesthetics of poetry and music by developing their own criteria. Students begin by examining what makes a good song. They then read criteria for what makes a good poem and examine two examples of ars poetica. Next, they read about the different aesthetic elements for poetry. Finally, students develop their own aesthetic criteria by which to judge poetry by finding poems that they like, designing an aesthetic crietera they can use to evaluate future poems, and then defending their own judgment.

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Morrell and Duncan-Andrade discuss their experience in an inner city California high school where they designed a unit that asks students to compare hip hop lyrics to classic poems from the Western canon.  They emphasize that their inspiration for the unit came from noticing how their students had cognitive critical thinking skills when the students evaluated hip hop songs.  Hoping to transfer these skills to the students’ understanding of poetry, they championed hip hop as a text and taught parallels between poetry and hip hop songs.  Just as Morell and Duncan-Andrade hope to expand their students’ cognitive skills from their discussion of hip hop, this lesson asks students to extend their evaluative tendencies in music to develop a habit of evaluating poems using a more formalized aesthetic criteria.

Morrell, E., & Duncan-Andrade, J. (2002). Promoting academic literacy through engaging hip-hop culture with urban youth. English Journal, 91(6), 88–94.


George Hillocks examines the ways that argumentative writing is often taught in our schools and finds these methods lacking.  Specifically he discusses how often students are asked to begin a paper writing process with writing a thesis statement when in fact students should be beginning by looking at data and information.  He calls for teachers to consider teaching an alternate method to the more deductive reasoning approach driven by an idea which the student thereafter finds evidence to support.  Instead he asks teachers to allow for more inductive reasoning, encouraging students to looks for patterns in information which then generate a thesis statement.  This lesson asks students to use this more inductive approach as students are asked first what is it that they like (looking at the data) and then discovering what criteria their preferences fulfill.  It is only after investigating and engaging in many different activities with music and then poems that students in this unit develop an aesthetic criteria and then defend it.

Hillocks, G. (2010).  Teaching argument for critical thinking and writing: An introduction English Journal 99(6): 24-32.

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