Pairing Fiction With Poetry and Performance

9 - 12
Lesson Plan Type
Estimated Time
At least eight 45-minute sessions
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Although designed for second-language learners, this lesson is perfect for mixed classrooms, as all learners improve vocabulary and comprehension using a variety of genres and techniques. Students read and discuss novels, along with several poems that share a similar historical or cultural background, and compare the voice and themes of the poems and the novels. At specific points in their reading, students conduct research into the author's personal experiences and cultural background, with the help of an Inquiry Questions Guide; and relate this information to the setting and storyline of the novel. They then consider how they can connect the novel to poetry and drama, and work in groups to write an original performance poem focusing on a specific scene or event. Students memorize their poems, rehearse their roles, and prepare a formal presentation.

From Theory to Practice

Drama can play a critical role in helping students understand and articulate their own experiences. Differentiating instructional strategies to allow students multiple perspectives through research and creation facilitates stronger, more permanent understanding as well as opportunities for language practice beyond reading and writing.

The article discusses a dramatic project conducted with first-graders; this lesson extends the idea to second- language learners in high school. These students will make stronger connections to vocabulary and will understand better when ideas are performed, when their writing can integrate and reflect their own ideas, and when language is shared in an immersive environment.


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

  • 2. Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience.
  • 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • 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.
  • 7. Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and nonprint texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.
  • 8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
  • 9. Students develop an understanding of and respect for diversity in language use, patterns, and dialects across cultures, ethnic groups, geographic regions, and social roles.
  • 10. Students whose first language is not English make use of their first language to develop competency in the English language arts and to develop understanding of content across the curriculum.

Materials and Technology

  • In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez (Plume, 1995)

  • The Kitchen God's Wife by Amy Tan (Ivy Books, 1992)

  • Morning Girl by Michael Dorris (Hyperion Books for Children, 1999)

  • Homecoming, New and Collected Poems by Julia Alvarez (Plume, 1996)

  • Jacklight by Louise Erdrich (Henry Holt, 1984)

  • Harper's Anthology of Twentieth Century Native American Poetry by Duane Niatum (HarperOne, 1988)

  • Songs from This Earth on Turtle's Back: Contemporary American Indian Poetry edited by Joseph Bruchac (Greenfield Review Press, 1983)

  • Asian American Poetry: The Next Generation edited by Victoria Chang (University of Illinois Press, 2004)

  • Computers with Internet access

  • Overhead projector and transparencies

  • Student journals

  • CD player, iPod (with speakers), or MP3 player(optional)

  • Audio recording device(optional)

  • PowerPoint(optional)

  • Interactive whiteboard(optional)



1. Obtain and familiarize yourself with In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez, The Kitchen God's Wife by Amy Tan, and Morning Girl by Michael Dorris.

  • In the Time of the Butterflies takes place in the Dominican Republic and is the story of three sisters active in the underground resistance movement opposing the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo.

  • The Kitchen God's Wife discusses Chinese beliefs and values, and provides insight into the conditions faced by Chinese women during the 1930s.

  • Morning Girl is the story of an indigenous girl and her brother living in Hispanola during the time when Christopher Columbus first landed there.
2. Divide the class into three groups. Assign novels to groups based on interest and language proficiency level as determined by state assessments (e.g., beginner, advanced). Each group should read a different novel.

3. Choose several poems with a similar historical or cultural background for each novel. Students will compare the voice and theme of the poems and the novels (see Session 4). If you are using the three novels listed above, you might consult the following resources:

Make copies of each poem you select for all the students in the group that are reading the appropriate novel.

4. If you do not have classroom computers with Internet access, reserve one 45-minute session in your school's computer lab (see Session 5).

5. Visit and familiarize yourself with the following websites:

Bookmark them on your classroom or lab computers.

6. Print off and make copies of the handouts as follows:

7. To help facilitate the prereading discussion in Session 1, write the following list on a piece of chart paper.

  • Setting: Preview the front cover, inside jacket, and back to determine where your novel takes place - the time, era, country, town, etc.

  • Author's purpose: Read the first page and author bio (inside or on cover). Discuss why you think the author wrote this book.

  • Cultural perspective: Discuss what you know about the time and location of this book. Write two questions about the culture and place that you would like answered when you read.

  • Connections to our lives: Why are you interested in this book?

  • Poetry and performance possibilities: Do you see your novel as a movie? As a play? As a poem? Discuss.
8. Choose a word from one of the texts to use when demonstrating the Vocabulary Organizer (see Session 3). Fill in one section of the transparency (including the sentence from the text, the dictionary definitions, synonyms, and a sentence using the word).

9. If students will be using the multimedia tools as part of their final presentations, make sure you have them available for use.

10. Two of the sessions in this lesson have students discussing chapters in their books; you will also need to schedule additional time for students to discuss the books as they finish each additional chapter (see the note at the end of Session 4).

Student Objectives

Students will

  • Practice English using multiple venues that include reading, discussing, writing, listening, research, and performance

  • Think critically by looking at an author's purpose as it relates to a novel's plot and character development

  • Analyze genres by comparing fiction and poetry and by using a fictional scene as a basis for poetry

  • Use discussion, writing, and performance to relate an author's cultural perspective and plot development to their own lives and their own literary styles

  • Practice oral performance of their own poem using a clear set of guidelines

Session 1

1. Explain to students that they will be working in groups to read and discuss novels and poetry, to write their own, and to create a presentation to the class. Distribute the Project Check Guide; tell them they will use this to help them keep track of the various steps of the project. Students should update their progress using this guide at the end of each session.

2. Have students get into their groups and distribute the novels they will be reading. Direct students' attentions to the chart you have created (see Preparation, Step 7). Allow students some time to preview books using these questions and develop questions of their own. While students are working, circulate and assist them as needed. When necessary, model how to ask and answer questions (e.g., "I wonder where Amy Tan grew up? This book is set in the San Francisco area, so maybe she's from California").

3. Bring students together as a class and have each group discuss the questions and answers they came up with. Add any new questions to the chart. Explain that they will revisit these preview questions throughout their reading of the novel and that you will leave the chart up where they can see it.

Session 2

1. Introduce the Inquiry Questions Guide. Review the questions on it and explain that these are meant to serve as a guide as students read the novels and develop their own questions. Model the questioning process using one of the books by thinking out loud to answer one of the questions. Let students see your choices and the reasons for your choices. Brainstorm additional questions with students to help them see how they might develop their own questions.

2. Have students work in their groups to use the organizer. They should develop more questions about their author and create a list of what they learned about their author from the prereading during Session 1. While they are working, circulate and discuss answers to question prompts.

3. Ask one representative from each group to present information on their featured author from both the Inquiry Questions Guide as well as the questions their group wrote.

4. Distribute the Vocabulary Organizer and introduce it using the sample vocabulary word you have pulled from one of the texts (see Preparation, Step 8). Discuss each section of the organizer separately (covering up the other portions) as follows:

a. Show students the word. Ask them what the word makes them think of and if they have heard it, or a word similar to it, before.

b. Show students how the word is used in the text. Discuss the word as it is used in the sentence and encourage predictions about the book.

c. Have a student look the word up in the dictionary, then discuss its dictionary definition as it reconciles with its use. (Use the definition that most closely matches its use.)

d. As a class, think of a synonym or synonyms and write them on the transparency while students fill in their organizers.

e. Have students write their own sentences. Discuss.

5. Explain to students that you have just completed a Word Share and that they will be responsible for sharing at least one word from the text they are reading after they read the first chapter of their novel.

Homework (due at the beginning of Session 3): Students should read the first chapter of their novels, answering the questions they developed during Sessions 1 and 2 in their journals. Instruct them to record at least two or three words they encounter while they read on their Vocabulary Organizers. These words should be new vocabulary or words that were not readily familiar to them. They should fill in the organizer as you have just demonstrated.

Session 3

1. Review and discuss questions developed during the first two sessions that students are able to answer at this point in the lesson.

2. Distribute blank copies of the Vocabulary Organizer. Have students get in their groups and do Word Shares. Each student should share one new word while the others fill in their own Vocabulary Organizers.

Homework (due at the beginning of Session 4): Students should read another chapter, continuing to write down vocabulary words and to answer the questions they developed during Sessions 1 and 2 in their journals.

Session 4

1. Introduce the Poetry Speaking and Performance Rubric by distributing it to students and placing the transparency on the overhead projector. Discuss each section and gradation, asking students for their existing knowledge about how rubrics work, and how and why poetry should be graded using this format. Questions for discussion include:

  • What does expressive intonation mean?

  • What does it mean to reinforce a change in mood or voice?

  • What is the difference between highly effective and moderately effective?

  • What is an example of highly appropriate volume?

  • What is an example of volume that is not appropriate for an audience?
2. Have students get into their groups and introduce the poems you have selected (see Preparation, Step 3). Read one poem aloud to each group making sure you follow the guidelines set out in the rubric. Students should then take turns reading the poems you have selected out loud to other members of the group. Remind them to use the rubric to evaluate each other's reading.

3. Distribute the Novel/Poem Compare and Contrast Frame. Students should compare the poems with their novels focusing on theme, voice, and what the poems reinforce or communicate about history. Questions for discussion include:

  • What did you feel when the poem was being read?

  • Does the writing sound familiar to the writing of your novel?

  • What sounds familiar?

  • How is it different?

  • What is the author trying to say?

Note: Students should continue reading their books, recording vocabulary words, and discussing their reading with their groups after each chapter. They should revisit the questions developed during Sessions 1 and 2 by responding to them in their journals and discussing in groups. The novels should be completed by Session 6.

Session 5

Note: If you do not have classroom computers with Internet access, this session should take place in the computer lab (see Preparation, Step 4). Students should bring the Inquiry Questions Guide they developed during Session 2 and you should bring the prereading questions chart (see Preparation, Step 7).

1. Explain to students that they will be researching their authors. They should use the prereading questions and the questions on the Inquiry Questions Guide to frame their research.

2. Students should use the websites you have bookmarked to research their authors (see Preparation, Step 5). They should write down their responses in their journals.

3. When students have finished their research, bring the class back together to share what they have learned. Questions for discussion include:

  • What did you learn about this author?

  • How does what you learned tie into the novel?

  • What questions were answered? What questions were not answered?
4. Have students brainstorm how they might find answers to the unanswered questions. Encourage them to continue their research until all of their questions are answered.

Session 6

Note: Students should have finished reading the novels by the beginning of this session.

1. Explain to students that they will now choose an event or scene from the novel to write a poem about and dramatize. Distribute the Reenactment Criteria Guide to students and go over it with them, making sure you encourage them to make selections based on what they have learned about their author. They should look, in particular, at what the author might have felt strongly about that inspired him or her to write this book.

2. Students should work in their groups to select one event or scene from the novel they are reading using criteria as set forth in the Reenactment Criteria Guide. (They should fill this in as they work.)

3. Once each group has chosen a scene or event, bring the class back together and have each group present what they have selected. The class should then discuss which scenes hold the most promise for reenactment, using the Reenactment Criteria Guide as catalyst. While students are talking, record their responses on the board or a piece of chart paper.

Session 7

1. Students should work in their groups to write a poem about the event or scene they chose during Session 6. The poem should use vocabulary words that students have been recording in their organizers. Questions for students to consider as they work on their poems include:

  • What are some words that would express how we felt when you read this section or scene?

  • What can we say to help a reader capture the same feelings we had when reading?

  • What are some of the words that come to our minds as we re-read the section?
2. When students have finished their poems, lead the class in a discussion of how to perform their poem. What kinds of things can they say or do to make the scene come to life using their poems? You might choose to model how this might work using several lines from one group's poem. Or you might ask for student volunteers to do this.

3. If you will be having students use multimedia as part of their presentations, distribute the Multimedia Guide and review the various ways that these tools might enhance their presentation.

4. Students should work in their groups to fill out the Multimedia Guides. They should then decide how to perform their poem and should begin rehearsing. Depending on the poem they have written, each group may need to complete several presentations so that all students have the opportunity to perform.

Note: You will need to plan several extra sessions to allow students time to prepare their performances and incorporate the multimedia effects.

Session 8

Students should perform their poems. After each presentation, ask the class to discuss, using the Poetry Speaking and Performance Rubric as a guide.


Student Assessment / Reflections

  • Collect and assess students’ responses and research in their journals and on their Vocabulary Organizers.

  • Informally observe students’ participation during class and group discussions.

  • Collect and assess the filled in Project Check Guides, Inquiry Questions Guides, Reenactment Criteria Guides, Multimedia Guides, and Novel/Poem Compare and Contrast Frames. Check to make sure students have filled them in and that they understood the relevant concepts included.

  • Ask students to self-assess using the Poetry Speaking and Performance Rubric. Use this form to assess students as well.

  • You may choose to use a 100-point scale to assess this project. Point values can be assigned as follows:

    • Project Check Guide, 5 points
    • Inquiry Questions Guide, 5 points
    • Group work (includes Reenactment Criteria Guides, Multimedia Guides, and Novel/Poem Compare and Contrast Frames), 15 points
    • Poetry and Performance Assessment Rubric, 75 points

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