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Lesson Plan

Ekphrasis: Using Art to Inspire Poetry

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Ekphrasis: Using Art to Inspire Poetry

Grades 9 – 12
Lesson Plan Type Unit
Estimated Time Eight 50-minute sessions
Lesson Author

Ann Kelly Cox

Normal, Illinois


National Council of Teachers of English


Student Objectives

Session One

Session Two

Session Three

Sessions Four through Seven

Session Eight

Student Assessment/Reflections



Students will

  • read and analyze poems inspired by art.

  • discuss the methods poets use to write about artwork.

  • use Internet searching techniques to find several inspiring art pieces.

  • compose poems inspired by the artwork of their choosing.

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Session One

  1. Hand out copies of “Vincent” lyrics by Don McLean and additional poems from the prepared packet.

  2. Play the song while students follow along with the lyrics. The song is played by clicking on the title "Vincent" in the Don McLean Music Player located on the bottom right corner of the home page.

  3. Ask students to reflect on the song in their writing journals, answering the questions, “Who do you think Vincent was?” and “What do we learn about Vincent from the song?”

  4. Discuss students’ journal responses. As the discussion develops, students will point out references to painting and art, and some students may realize the song is written about Vincent Van Gogh.

  5. Display an overhead or LCD reproduction of Van Gogh’s Starry Night. (The song also references other Van Gogh paintings—Sunflowers, Wheat Field with Crows, Self-Portrait—which you may choose to show students as well.)

  6. Continue discussing the song, noting how McLean uses Van Gogh’s artwork as his inspiration.

  7. Point out the songwriter’s perspective in writing this piece is to directly address the artist.

  8. Ask students to re-read the lyrics in their packet, this time noting poetic devices they find. Students may mark the text (underlining, starring, notetaking, etc.) as they re-read.

  9. Students then share their findings with the class, noting examples of devices such as rhyme, alliteration, repetition, etc.

  10. Encourage them to add to their notes during the discussion. Point out literary devices students may have missed (tone, for example).

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Session Two

  1. Introduce the term ekphrasis and define its meaning—“writing inspired by art.”

  2. Take a few minutes to have students explain how “Vincent” is like an ekphrastic poem and therefore offers a good preview of their own analysis of ekphrastic poetry.

  3. Mention that students will have the chance to write ekphrastic poems of their own after analyzing several as a class.

  4. Share several ekphrastic poems and accompanying artwork on the overhead or LCD projector as students follow along in their packets.

  5. Refer to the Websites listed in the Resources section for examples. Alternatively, read aloud from Paint Me a Poem: Poems Inspired by Masterpieces of Art, by Justine Rowden, (Boyds Mills, 2005) or Heart to Heart: New Poems Inspired by Twentieth-Century American Art, edited by Jan Greenberg (Abrams, 2001).

  6. As you read each poem, have students mark the text for poetic devices (or take notes as you read) as they did in response to “Vincent.”

  7. Lead a discussion of each poem, noting the various perspectives poets take towards the artwork as well as the poetic devices they use (e.g., sound devices such as alliteration, metaphors or similes, rhyme, imagery, etc).

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Session Three

  1. Introduce and discuss the ekphrastic poetry booklet, and distribute the Perspectives in Writing Ekphrastic Poetry handout, the Ekphrastic Poetry Booklet Checklist, and the Prewriting Chart.

  2. Display an overhead transparency of the Ekphrastic Poetry Booklet Rubric (or pass out copies for students to use), and explain the connections between the checklist and the rubric.

  3. Have students use the Websites listed in the Resources section to search for artwork they find intriguing.

  4. As students select artwork, they should complete the Prewriting Chart.

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Sessions Four through Seven

  1. Allow students time to draft a series of poems about the pieces of artwork they have chosen.

  2. As the class works, circulate through the room and briefly conference with students as they complete their first poems. Make sure that students’ first poems reflect an understanding of the assignment before they complete the remainder of the series.

  3. Students may wish to conference individually with the teacher or ask their peers for feedback as they write and revise the remainder of their series.

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Session Eight

  1. Students should finish final revisions and editing of their poems.

  2. Lead students through the tutorial included in the ReadWriteThink Printing Press.

  3. Allow students time to assemble their poems into booklets, using the ReadWriteThink Printing Press.

  4. Teachers may wish to add sessions for peer response, revision, and sharing of the finished poetry booklets.

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