Standard Lesson

Dancing Minds and Shouting Smiles: Teaching Personification Through Poetry

3 - 5
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Four 30- to 45-minute sessions
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Experiencing the language of great poets provides a rich learning context for students, giving them access to the best examples of how words can be arranged in unique ways. By studying the works of renowned poets across cultures and histories, students extract knowledge about figurative language and poetic devices from masters of the craft. In this lesson, students learn about personification by reading and discussing poems that feature this writing device. Then they use the poems as a guide to brainstorm lists of nouns and verbs that they randomly arrange to create personification in their own poems.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

  • Students should not be limited to reading poetry aimed at children, but should be exposed to classic adult poetry as well.

  • Poetry written by the great poets is a rich resource for exploring poetic devices and figurative language with students.

  • Great poetry can serve as a model for students, providing a connection to their own writing. It provides patterns and styles for students to imitate and explore.

  • This process of mining great poetry for ideas can be encouraged using prewriting brainstorming sessions.

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
  • 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
  • 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Materials and Technology

  • A plain envelope for each student

  • Lined paper and pencils

  • Paper in two different colors

  • Scissors




1. Transcribe the poems "The Sky is Low" by Emily Dickinson, "Two Sunflowers Move in the Yellow Room" by Nancy Willard (but frequently misattributed to William Blake), and "April Rain Song" by Langston Hughes onto chart paper.

2. Make copies of the Brainstorming Graphic Organizer, the Peer Editing Checklist, and the Teaching Personification Through Poetry Rubric for each student in the class.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • Define personification and learn how it is applied by reading and responding to classic poetry

  • Demonstrate comprehension and practice analysis by discussing personification and how it affects the mood of specific poems

  • Practice working collaboratively to develop word lists and write a poem together

  • Apply their knowledge of figurative language by using a graphic organizer to create personification using random phrases and by writing original poems

Session 1

1. Explain to students that they will be reading poems that contain examples of personification, one type of figurative language used in writing. Use the following questions to discuss personification and arrive at a definition:
  • What word do you notice inside the word personification?

  • How does the word "person" give you a clue as to the meaning of personification?

  • Why do you think a writer would want to use personification in a poem?
After a brief discussion, establish with students that personification is the attribution of human qualities (such as emotion) and actions to nonhuman objects or ideas.

2. Introduce the poem "The Sky is Low" by Emily Dickinson to students. Conduct a choral reading, assigning different students to each read one line of the poem. Ask students to try and define any unfamiliar vocabulary (for example, diadem) using the context of the poem, providing definitions when they are unable to determine what a word means.

3. Ask students to identify examples of personification in the poem. Discuss why Dickinson has chosen to personify the weather. Questions for discussion include:
  • What kind of words does she use to set the mood of the poem? Can you think of other words that might do the same thing?

  • How does she intensify the image of an unpleasant day by using personification?

  • What does she compare nature to? Why do you think she does this?
You may choose to write student responses on chart paper here and after discussing the two other poems. This will be useful during Sessions 2 and 3.

4. Follow the same procedure for "Two Sunflowers Move in the Yellow Room" by Nancy Willard (but frequently misattributed to William Blake). Possible discussion questions include:
  • What is different about how Willard uses personification in her poem?

  • Why do you think she chooses to have the sunflowers talk?

  • What kinds of descriptive words does Willard use? Why do you think she uses these words?
5. Read and discuss "April Rain Song" by Langston Hughes. Possible questions for discussion include:
  • What are Langston Hughes' feelings toward rain?

  • What does he want his audience to do?

  • How does personification help him make his point?

  • How is his use of personification different from that of Dickinson or Blake?

  • What do you notice about the language he uses to describe the rain? How does he use repetition to make his point?
6. Ask students to compare and contrast the three poems. Some suggested questions are as follows:
  • What are the different moods of each poem?

  • How does the use of personification by each poet contribute to the mood of his or her poem?

  • What are the different types of words and patterns that each poet uses?

  • Which poem do you like the best? Why?

Session 2

1. Write "Verbs" on the top of one piece of chart paper and "Nouns" at the top of another. Have these on display next to the copies of the poems you read in Session 1. If you have recorded student responses to the discussion questions, have these posted as well. Have students read each of the three poems aloud and ask for volunteers to remind the class what personification is and how these poems make use of it.

2. Ask students to look at the types of things that these three poems are about. What nouns do they notice? What do the poets choose to personify? What kinds of words do they use to do this?

3. Keeping the poems in front of the students, ask them to suggest nouns and verbs they think might work well in writing a poem that uses personification. Write their responses on the chart papers labeled "Nouns" and "Verbs." Try to generate at least 20 nouns and 20 verbs; the more words students list, the more options they will have in writing their own poems.

Session 3

Note: Before the start of this session, transfer the noun and verb lists from Session 2 onto colored paper, one color for nouns, another for verbs. Make enough copies so that you have 10 nouns and 10 verbs for each student in the class. Cut out the nouns and verbs and randomly place ten of each in an envelope for each student.

1. Explain to students that they will each receive an envelope containing 10 nouns and 10 verbs. Instruct them not to open the envelope until everyone has received one.

2. Tell students that they have one minute to arrange the nouns and verbs in the envelopes into random pairs on their desks. Discourage students from trying to arrange the words to make sense - the stranger the combination, the better.

3. When the minute is up, ask students to choose their four favorite noun/verb combinations. Explain that they will use the four word combinations to write original poems containing personification.

4. Distribute the Brainstorming Graphic Organizer and review the directions. Ask students for three or four sample word pairs and use them to model how they should fill out the sheet. You can ask for contributions from the class to do this; write student responses on a sheet of chart paper.

For the pair moon/boils, your sample might look like this:
  • Why: because it is the stroke of midnight

  • How: in a shimmering glow

  • Where: in a starless sky
5. Once students have completed the graphic organizers, have them return to the responses you have written on the chart paper. Ask students to help you write a sentence using the phrases. Explain that they don't have to use every idea, just the ones that they like the best. Encourage them to link the images from each sentence thematically. For example, if you had the following word combinations: moon/boils, eyes/swing, mind/dances, and smile/shouts, students might write a poem about being asleep and dreaming:
The full moon boils at midnight in a starless sky.
My eyes swing under blankets of dreams.
My mind dances with blue unicorns and cotton candy flowers.
My smile shouts, "I'm not quite ready to wake up yet!"
6. Students should then write their own poems using the graphic organizers. Circulate as students write their poems. As you notice interesting images in student work, share them with the class in order to keep emphasizing the importance of creating imagery that is new and unique.

Session 4

1. Congratulate students on the work they did on their personification poems. Explain that they will work with a partner to review and edit each other's poems prior to turning their rough drafts into final copies.

2. Introduce the Peer Editing Checklist. Explain that each partner will trade his or her poem with the other and then, review it and make suggestions using the questions on the checklist.

3. Go over the questions on the checklist with the students as a group. Clarify any questions students have. Emphasize the constructive nature of the process and that students are offering helpful advice.

4. Divide students into pairs. Instruct them to trade poems. Give each student a checklist to use as a guide as they review their partner's poem. Have them write comments and suggestions in the spaces provided on the checklist. As students complete their reviews, they should return the checklist and poem to the writer. Circulate while students are working, answering questions and observing.

5. Give students time to read the checklists and rewrite their poems.

6. Bring students back together to share their favorite personification images from their partners' poems. Ask them to explain why they especially liked the particular images. If students are willing, ask them to read their poems to the class.


  • Allow students to share their poems in a poetry reading. You might also have students illustrate their poems for a class literary magazine.

  • Have students use the Acrostic Poems or Diamante Poems online tools to write poems in these forms that use personification.

  • Provide access to the Personification Practice website where students can practice identifying examples of personification.

  • Direct students to create their own lists of 10 nouns and 10 verbs to be used in a second poetry writing exercise focused on personification. Have students put the words they chose in envelopes to trade with a friend. Discuss how the second exercise turned out differently than the first because of the wider selection of words.

Student Assessment / Reflections

  • Informally assess student comprehension of personification during the discussion in Session 1 and at the end of Session 4. You want to make sure that students understand not only what personification is, but also how poets use it to create mood and imagery.

  • Informally assess students' ability to work collaboratively to generate the noun and verb lists, write the class poem, review each other's work, and discuss each other's use of personification. You may also choose to collect and review the Peer Editing Checklists to check how much feedback students share and how well they understand the concept of personification.

  • Collect and review the completed Brainstorming Graphic Organizers and the student poems to assess student comprehension of and ability to apply figurative language and personification. You can assess these using the Teaching Personification Through Poetry Rubric.