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Lesson Plan

Speaking Poetry: Exploring Sonic Patterns Through Performance

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Speaking Poetry: Exploring Sonic Patterns Through Performance

Grades 9 – 12
Lesson Plan Type Standard Lesson
Estimated Time Three 50-minute sessions (plus time for students to memorize and prepare their recitations)
Lesson Author

Eileen Murphy Buckley

Eileen Murphy Buckley

Chicago, Illinois


National Council of Teachers of English


Student Objectives

Session One

Session Two

Session Three


Student Assessment/Reflections



Students will

  • understand sonic patterns and the tools poets use (such as assonance, consonance, and alliteration) to manipulate relationships between sound and meaning.

  • learn how to use their own voices as interpretive instruments as they explore and construct meaning aloud.

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Session One

  1. Begin the session by telling students they will be preparing a recitation of "Those Winter Sundays," capitalizing on their already developed knowledge of the poem and sonic repetition.  Review with students the Literary Terms Quick Reference.

  2. Explain that, as close and careful readers of "Those Winter Sundays," they have developed a sense of the speaker, his father, and their relationship, and are and will now prepare a performance of the poem to communicate their understanding. Tell students that they will be learning how an actor or performer might approach a text, focusing on their concern for the vocal elements of the piece and how these elements relate to and enhance meaning.

  3. Distribute copies of Wilfred Owen's alliteration-filled anti-war poem "Dulce et Decorum Est" and have students read along as they watch the online video of recitation of "Dulce Et Decorum Est" (scroll down to find this particular example). Discuss the recitation, pointing out the cacophonous sounds the poet weaves together as he describes the horror of war.

  4. Give students the Getting Ready to Recite handout and explain that each student will prepare a performance of the Hayden poem for their group.

  5. Explain that the first portion of the handout involves individual vocal work (to be completed first), while the second part asks students to work in groups. Tell students that they will complete the individual work first, and before they engage in the group activities you will guide them through Three Vocal Warm-Ups.

  6. Read through the directions in first part of the handout: "Individual Explorations: Sonic Patterns." Stress to students the idea that they are paying attention to what their mouths are doing as they speak, looking for connections between the sounds they are making and the sense or image they are communicating.

  7. Discuss with students the example in the last paragraph, pointing out the idea that these are the kinds of questions that they should raise with this kind of analysis:
    Consider the connection between sounds and images. For example, you might note that it takes a little more work to say the colloquial "got up" and "put on" than it does to say the more formal "rise" and "dress." Why might the poet have made those choices?
  8. Allow students the rest of the session to work through this notetaking activity individually. You may wish to have students use the ReadWriteThink Notetaker to facilitate this process.

  9. Circulate the room to monitor student progress and provide assistance as necessary.

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Session Two

  1. To get ready for performance activities, lead students in one or more of the Three Vocal Warm-Ups. This part of the lesson is about having fun and freeing the voice, so encourage students to let down their guard and participate freely.

  2. Before beginning the group activity, explain to students that playing the sounds of words is a technique used in voice training for actors. Arthur Lessac, outlining the "symphony of sounds" in our language in The Use and Training of the Human Voice, suggests that the sounds of our language are much more varied than the simple phonetic sounds we produce in words. We use these sounds for various effects as we produce the sounds orally in real speech.

  3. Provide an example of how to "play the sounds of a word," by using the Audio Example of Playing the Sounds in the Word "Those." You may play it for students or simply listen to it as an example of how a teacher might present the idea to a class orally. If you have a particularly talented student, you might ask that student to present it from the Script for Playing the Sounds in the Word "Those" provided. The script could be copied for students to mark the played up parts of the word those.

  4. Go over the directions for groups on the Getting Ready to Recite handout. You should highlight the three bulleted items near the bottom of the page, clarifying the expectations for the way the groups should work.

  5. Give students time to complete the small group exercise "Playing Your Sounds," tasks 1 - 4. Then have a few groups volunteer to perform their interpretation of Task 4 for the class.

  6. For homework, have students work through the rest of the poem, marking the playable sounds, memorizing, and preparing a recitation. Negotiate with students an appropriate day for recitations to take place.

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Session Three

  1. Lead (or have a student volunteer lead) the class through one or more of the Three Vocal Warm-Ups again in order to prepare students for performances.

  2. Hand out the Recitation Reflection sheet and discuss the expectations for this activity.

  3. Have students join their group members and perform their recitations.

  4. Students should complete an entry on the Recitation Reflection sheet after each performance.

  5. Once all the performances have been completed, have students discuss their responses to various interpretations of the speaker's attitudes and feelings toward his father.

  6. Have several students perform for the whole class and discuss the similarities and differences in their interpretations.

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  • Many other poems capitalize on the use of sonic repetition. Have students explore books of poetry and the The Poetry Foundation site, finding examples of sonic repetition. Other poems that would be ideal for this exercise include, "Let Evening Come," "Blackberry Picking," "Dulce et Decorum Est," "Suzie Asado," and "We Real Cool."

  • Have students present recitations of other poems the class is studying or poems students find on the Poetry Out Loud Website or elsewhere.

  • Students can share recitations through podcasts or an online video sharing network.

  • Introduce students to Poetry Slams through video. Many performances are available on video and through online video sharing networks.

  • Have students organize their original poems into a performance for other classes. Using readers theater techniques such as choral readings and movement, students can stage the poems as if it were a single script for a play.

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  • Participation is the most important aspect of the project. If students participate in the activities, they will know so much more about the art of a poetic text and be able to use some of the poet’s tools in their own work.

  • Meet with students to discuss the Recitation Reflection. Discuss with them both the feedback they gave to their peers, as well as the comments they got from their performance. If time does not permit one-on-one conferences, meet with small groups or have students write written reflections about their performance and learning.

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