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Lesson Plan

Using Classic Poetry to Challenge and Enrich Students' Writing

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Grades 6 – 8
Lesson Plan Type Standard Lesson
Estimated Time Three 40-minute sessions
Lesson Author

Susan Ruckdeschel

Susan Ruckdeschel

New York, New York


International Literacy Association


Student Objectives

Session 1: Before Reading and Preparation

Session 2: During Writing

Session 3: Student Sharing


Student Assessment/Reflections



Students will

  • Examine models of classic poetry and use them to develop their own personal writing style

  • Analyze and interpret poetry by making personal connections to poems using their own individual perspectives and by listening to the perspectives of their classmates

  • Develop an enhanced perception and appreciation of poetry through class and small-group discussions and exposure to cross-cultural poetry

  • Demonstrate improved writing ability through the collaborative construction of a writing prompt or "link" and experimentation with various styles and forms of poetry

  • Demonstrate higher-level thinking through thoughtful, analytical reflection on and experimentation with classic poetry

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Session 1: Before Reading and Preparation

1. Gather a collection of classic poems to use with this lesson. (See the Poetry Selection Tips and the Suggested Classic Poems for assistance in finding appropriate poems for your students.)

2. Select one poem for students to read, examine, and analyze as a prewriting activity. The poem "The Lamb" from William Blakes' Songs of Innocence is used as an example in this lesson, but any poem can be substituted as the model.

3. Place the selected model poem, "The Lamb," on an overhead projector for the class to view together. After reading the poem aloud, discuss what the lamb personifies or symbolizes, leading students to the idea that the lamb in Blake's poem is a symbol of innocence. Discuss the language conventions used in the poem and how it might be written today.

4. Read the poem aloud again, and instruct students to reflect silently (closing their eyes), as you give verbal prompts, such as, "What did you think when...? Try to visualize.... What did you see when...?"

5. Write your own reflections to these verbal prompts on the overhead projector or board to model the thought process for students. "I saw a small little lamb in a large pasture. I heard a sheep caller in the distance, with a high voice that echoed."

6. After modeling the process, prompt students to begin writing their own reflections in their response journals. Some students will begin writing automatically, while others will wait for direction from you. You may have students use the Link Helper to generate ideas for their reflections.

7. Have students share their journal responses or responses from the Link Helper, and record their ideas, impressions, and thoughts in short phrases on the overhead or board. Encourage collaborative discussion among students as you are recording their responses.

8. Gather students into small groups to brainstorm ideas for an open-ended writing prompt or "link" that the class may choose to respond to in a poetry writing session. Students can again use the Link Helper and the ideas listed on the overhead or board to brainstorm ideas for the writing prompt.

9. Give each group an opportunity to present their idea for a writing prompt to the class, and then have the class decide on two or three ideas from which they will choose. Using a semantic map method, facilitate a narrowing down of prompt ideas, helping students make one or two choices.

10. Once you have settled on one or two general ideas, distribute the Link Prompts Sampler for students to refer to as they develop the details for each of the writing prompts. Leave the links as open-ended as possible so as not to limit students' experimentation and creativity. Ideas include:

a. Experiment with the content of the poem by adding a character or changing the ending

b. Write messages you may have heard on a voicemail or an answering machine or typical messages one would leave and arrange them to create a poem

c. Experiment with dialogue in poetry by either changing the dialogue used in the poem (if it had dialogue) or adding dialogue (if it did not have any)

d. Explore a particular sense, such as taste or sound, by rewriting the poem to focus on this one sense

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Session 2: During Writing

1. Model explicitly how to begin writing a draft of the poem in response to the writing prompt selected, by placing a blank sheet on an overhead projecter, then writing in response to the selected prompt. You will be ad-libbing so that students can view first-hand the writing process.

2. Encourage your students to begin writing at the same time. This will enable reluctant or struggling writers to watch and begin their own writing when they're ready.

3. When you have completed your draft and students are focused on their own writing, circulate around the room to confer individually with students, check their progress, and coach them as needed.

4. When students are finished writing, have them share their drafts with partners and use the Great Poetry Rubric (peer portion) to evaluate their partner's work.

5. Give students an opportunity to revise their poems based on the peer feedback and then use the Great Poetry Rubric (self portion) to evaluate their own writing.

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Session 3: Student Sharing

1. Gather as a whole class and have each student read his or her poem aloud. Do not allow students to give negative feedback; rather, this will be a sharing session of critical "helpful" feedback. Set the ground rules. Instruct students to use only "I" statements, such as the following:

  • I heard...

  • I felt...

  • I saw...

Continue to facilitate this feedback by fielding questions to students that relate directly to the selected prompt, such as: "What conversation did you hear?", "Was there a new character introduced into the poem?", "Who (or where) was the new character?", "Where was alliteration used?", "What senses were the strongest?"

2. Use the teacher portion of the Great Poetry Rubric to evaluate and offer individual feedback on each student's poem. Write in comments and circle relevant sections on the rubric for students to review independently. Individual conferences can also be scheduled as students continue to work independently.

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You can repeat this lesson using contemporary poems or student poems from area elementary schools, and a wider variety of poetry to reflect different cultures and traditions. Students may also like the opportunity to choose the model poems you use, by asking family members to recommend their favorite poems or by searching the Web for poems that interest them.

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  • Observe students during the class discussions in Session 1 to assess their abilities to analyze and interpret the poem you presented to them as a model. Evaluate also their participation in generating ideas and collaboration throughout the development of the writing prompt or "link."

  • Use the Great Poetry Rubric to evaluate students' finished poems (see Session 3). You may also want to check the self and peer portions of the rubric to see how well students are able to conduct these forms of self and peer evaluation (see Session 2).

  • Repeat this lesson with other poets and poetic styles, and then facilitate a class discussion about the entire process:
    • Was the process easy or difficult?

    • Did this activity improve their writing?

    • Did they like or dislike this approach? Why or why not?

    • How do they feel about themselves as writers?

    • How do they feel about classic poetry now as compared to before?

    • Which poets do they relate to or appreciate the most?

    • Which poet was their favorite and why?

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