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Lesson Plan

A Poem of Possibilities: Thinking about the Future

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A Poem of Possibilities: Thinking about the Future

Grades 11 – 12
Lesson Plan Type Standard Lesson
Estimated Time Four 50-minute sessions
Lesson Author

Susanne Rubenstein

Susanne Rubenstein

Princeton, Massachusetts


National Council of Teachers of English


Student Objectives

Session One

Session Two

Session Three

Session Four


Student Assessment/Reflections



Students will

  • read "Ex-Basketball Player" by John Updike and discuss its style, theme, and structure.

  • learn to recognize the power of effective detail in poetry.

  • learn to generate vivid and effective detail.

  • consider their own goals, plans and hopes for the future.

  • apply their knowledge to write their own poems or prose poems.

  • employ all the steps of the writing process to create a polished piece.

  • develop an awareness of the importance of writing for a "real" audience.

  • take the first steps toward writing for publication.

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Session One

  1. Put the words "THE FUTURE" on the board or chart paper, and ask students to share the first words that come to mind. Encourage informal discussion and sharing of ideas throughout this brainstorming session. Record students' responses under the heading.

  2. Change the phrase to "FIVE YEARS INTO THE FUTURE," and ask students to revise their immediate impressions, making additions and revisions to the brainstormed list.

  3. Finally turn the phrase into "FIVE YEARS INTO MY FUTURE," and again ask for additions, deletions, and changes to the original brainstormed list.

  4. Ask students to respond in writing to the following list of prewriting questions. Ask each question one at a time (or display them one at at time on your overhead projector). Give students three to five minutes to freewrite each response.

    • Where do you see yourself in five years? Name and describe a specific place.

    • What are you doing with your life in five years? How do you see yourself spending your 9-5 time?

    • What is the biggest physical change in you from your high school self? In other words, at your high school reunion, what will people notice first about you?

    • What is your general attitude toward life? Are you happy? depressed? confused? dissatisfied?

    • What do you miss most about your high school self and/or your high school life?

    Note: These questions are designed for students who are seniors in high school and anticipate their lives after college. Teachers who are doing this activity with another sort of audience can easily adapt and revise these questions and/or the five year time frame to best suit that audience.

  5. Read the poem "Ex-Basketball Player" to the class, and ask students to share their first impressions about the poem's protagonist Flick Webb—who he was in high school and who he is at the time of the poem.

  6. Guide students to notice details about the setting, the physical description of Flick, and the attitude he portrays.

  7. Ask students to note the lines they find most vivid and interesting and to explain to the class why these lines are most effective.

  8. Take time to discuss details that are dated and may need clarification (i.e., the Esso gas pumps, Necco Wafers, Nibs, and Juju Beads, etc.).

  9. Connect the content of the poem to the prewriting work students did in class. Instruct students to continue working on these prewriting questions at home to develop more detail and description for each.

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Session Two

  1. Return to "Ex-Basketball Player," and ask students to examine the structure of the poem and consider how that structure contributes to the meaning.

  2. Ask students to suggest other ways the poem could have been written, for example, as a prose poem, as free verse, in rhyme, etc.

  3. Ask students to form small groups of three or four and to try writing the poem in another style. Have students share their pieces aloud with the class, and give their opinion on the strengths and weaknesses of the various approaches.

  4. Pass out the A Poem of Possibilities—A Letter to Myself, and go over the assignment. Emphasize three particular points:

    • Students may choose the poetic structure they prefer.

    • All poems must be written in the third person.

    • Poems should include the specific material generated through the prewriting questions.
  5. For the first time, at this point, reveal the intention of this writing activityexplain that students will put one copy of the poem in an envelope, sealed, stamped, and addressed to a location where it can be received in five years.

  6. Expect a bit of an uproar as students contemplate this "personal time capsule."

  7. Allow students to consider how they will feel when this letter reaches them in five years. Use their enthusiasm to encourage the best possible writing, writing students will be proud of even five years in the future.

  8. Instruct students to work on drafts of the assignment at home, referring to their prewriting for ideas as they work. Give students whatever amount of time is appropriate for the group in order to complete a first draft to share in response groups.

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Session Three

  1. Focus students' attention on response and revision and on the "nuts and bolts" of the project.

  2. Ask students to share in small groups the poems they're writing. Reader/responders should offer positive feedback as well as suggestions for improvement in two areas:

    • Tell students to focus particular attention on lines and phrases that capture a unique and individual person and life and to suggest places where more such detail is needed. Encourage responders to ask questions that might generate more specific detail.

    • Ask students to comment on the structure/design of the poem and to talk about how it contributes (or does not contribute) to the overall meaning of the poem. Remind students not to allow the form of the poem to dictate the content. This is especially important if students are eager to write in rhyme.
  3. Discuss the nuts and bolts of the project:

    • Tell students to make two copies of the final piece—one to be graded and the other to be sealed in the envelope.

    • If possible, supply an envelope for each student to be distributed in the class session in which the final drafts are due.

    • Tell students to bring two stamps to that class session (two are necessary because of the inevitable rise in postal rates) or ask students to bring in money if you are willing to make the trip to the post office for them.

      • Optional: Tell students they can include other things in their sealed envelope (i.e. pictures of themselves, family and friends, notes to themselves, etc.) and to bring those things to the final class session.

  4. Ask students to continue revising their poems, using feedback from their classmates.

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Session Four

  1. Have student volunteers read their final poems to the class.

  2. Ask all students to discuss how the image of the life they predict compares and contrasts to the life of Flick Webb, the character from Updike's poem.

  3. Collect one copy of the poem for grading purposes.

  4. Ask students to seal the other copy and any additional material in the envelope. If necessary, conduct a minilesson on addressing envelopes. Suggest that students include a return address that might serve as a "second chance" if the intended address is not applicable in five years.

  5. Collect all envelopes and make a "show" of binding them with ribbon or string and the promise to store them safely for five years.

  6. Ask students to imagine how they will react to their letters in five years. Ask how many think their "prophesies" will be accurate.

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  • With student permission, create a bulletin board to publish these poems. Suggest that students add pictures, photographs, words, etc. as a backdrop that will show how they imagine life five years in the future.

  • Create a "class time capsule," a class publication of all poems collected in a booklet or binder. Consider bringing this collection to class reunion.

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  • Grade each poem as a complete writing assignment. When students are writing and revising their poems, they should be guided by the specific questions outlined on the assignment sheet. Evaluate the poem in terms of the strength of detail generated by these questions and the use of an effective poetic structure.

  • Students can assess their own work and learning by completing a reflection sheet that is handed in with the poem. As with all reflection sheets, this process should include four to five questions that ask the students to think deeply about their work and the process that led to its creation. Suggested questions include:

    • What pleases you most about your poem? Why?

    • What detail in the piece is exactly right? Why?

    • What part of the poem are you still dissatisfied with? Why?

    • Where could you include some more specific detail?

    • What was the best piece of advice you got from your response group?

    • Explain why you chose the poetic structure you did.

    • What did you say about yourself that surprised you?

    • In writing this piece, what did you discover about yourself as a writer? As a person?

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