Standard Lesson

Poetry Circles: Generative Writing Loops Help Students Craft Verse

9 - 12
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Five 50- to 60-minute sessions
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In this lesson, students interact and play with language while writing poetry using generative writing loops, which are a type of poetry circle. In these groups, students interact to learn and apply poetic conventions and forms, and this interaction results in improved understanding and development of social skills. While generative writing loops can be used to write any kind of poem, this lesson focuses on a free verse poem and an Italian sonnet. The student groups can be used throughout the year to stimulate interest in poetry and to help students actively learn poetic terms, conventions, and traditional forms.

From Theory to Practice

Literature circles are "linked to improving student achievement scores." The benefits of these groups, which include empowering students by offering them choice and diversity, can also be gleaned from generative writing loops.

As Daniels says, peer-oriented learning helps students access "existing frameworks," which helps them to gain knowledge; it also connects readily and well to existing classroom practices.

All creativity is rooted in action; action itself is a result of creativity. This lesson helps students to:

  • Use creativity to bring poetry into action

  • Craft poems as a means of scaffolding

  • Foster knowledge of poetic conventions and traditional forms

  • Access their power as creators and theory makers

  • Express themselves creatively and strengthen written expression skills

  • Engage as a social learning group with a common goal-learn to negotiate, create, and synthesize information as a group

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.
  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 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

  • Folders

  • Writing journals or notebooks




1. Make enough copies of Generative Writing Loops Activity Handout #1: Introduction, Generative Writing Loops Activity Handout #2: The Roles and Instructions, and Generative Writing Loops Activity Handout #3: Italian Sonnet so you have one of each handout per student.

2. Print and make enough copies of "What Lips My Lips Have Kissed, and Where, and Why (Sonnet XLIII)" by Edna St. Vincent Millay and "A Blessing" by James Wright so you have one of each per student.

3. Ask students to bring writing journals or notebooks to class.

4. Divide students into groups of four. For best results, vary the structure of the groups to take into account gender, academics, and social balance.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • Gain command over language and strategies of poetry by creating poems in groups

  • Hone written expression skills by working together to create poems

  • Strengthen analytic skills by writing to a prompt and then editing their work to make words and sounds fit

  • Strengthen social skills by engaging in a group writing activity

  • Build positive feelings about poetry by completing an engaging poetry assignment

Session 1

1. Pass out a copy of Generative Writing Loops Activity Handout #1: Introduction to each student and introduce the concept of generative writing loops to the class.

2. Have students get into the groups of four that you have assigned (see Preparation, Step 4). Ask students to brainstorm the conventions of contemporary American poetry. You might help students by reminding them that contemporary poems most often do not rhyme and are written in free verse. Have students do a think-pair-share, and then bring the class back together to report their findings. Write the brainstorm list on the board as the pairs report. Your brainstormed list might look something like this:

  • Doesn't rhyme

  • No meter

  • Free verse

  • Image driven

  • Concrete, not abstract

  • Heightened attention to sound

  • Might include alliteration or assonance or other sound elements
3. Have students return to their groups and pass out copies of Generative Writing Loops Activity Handout #2: The Roles and Instructions. Explain that students will be taking on the roles described on the handout and following the handout's instructions to write poems together.

4. Have students assign roles within their groups and choose a subject matter to write about. Encourage students to have fun. Pass out a sample of a contemporary poem if needed to help jump start creativity (e.g., James Wright's "A Blessing"). If students are still stuck, tell them they might write about the following: their favorite slippers, a stuffed animal, a can of creamed corn, a picture frame containing their favorite photo, or a pair of discarded sneakers. The more concrete the topics, the smaller students will tend to write and the more they will avoid empty or clichéd abstraction.

5. Facilitate the group work by moving from group to group to clarify points, guide students, and answer questions. Ideally, students will end this session with a working draft of a poem that can be revised during the next session in the same groups.

6. Hand out folders and ask each group to put its poem inside one. Collect the folders to be revisited during the next session.

Homework (due at beginning of Session 2): Have students write free verse poems at home on topics of their choosing.

Session 2

1. Have students get into their groups of four. Ask students to continue drafting the poems from Session 1.

2. Explain as you circulate between groups that today's work is to revise and refine that of the previous session. Now that students have drafted poems at home and had a chance to work together, what will they change in their group poems? How can they make their poems stronger? Are their poems overly abstract or unclear? How can they work to strengthen the sound in the poems?

3. After students are satisfied with their poems, have them trade poems with another group. Ask students to provide response and feedback to their peers' poems. To help guide them in the revision process, ask them to comment on content, sound, form, meter, and so on. They should also answer these questions: What works well in the poem? What needs to change?

4. Bring the class back together and have students read aloud their group poems.

5. Ask students to reflect verbally on the process of the generative writing loop. What worked well? What was challenging? What did writing poems as a group feel like?

Homework (due at beginning of Session 3): Have students research the Italian sonnet form online or at the library and bring at least one fact about Italian sonnets to class for Session 3.

Session 3

1. Introduce the idea of sonnets to the class if they have not learned about them through earlier instruction. Give students copies of Generative Writing Loops Activity Handout #3: Italian Sonnet. Explain the form, movement, and meter of the Italian sonnet, such as the rhyme scheme (ABBA, ABBA, CDE, CDE, or any other combination of CDE for the last six lines) and the volta, which is the turn of the sonnet, coming after the eighth line and solving the problem or predicament that the sonnet expresses. Explain or review iambic pentameter.

2. Because writing in iambic pentameter is extremely hard and takes much practice, explain to students that you will be expecting them to write in 10-syllable lines but that you will not be worrying about the accuracy of the stress patterns. Having students actually write in iambic pentameter should be a long-term goal to accomplish by the end of the year. If students balk at the 10-syllable rule, tell them to simply write the lines at any length they want. Have them then try to whittle them down to 10 syllables later.

3. Have students get into new groups of four. Explain that each student will perform an assigned role to create a sonnet.

4. Review the responsibilities of each role by referring to Generative Writing Loops Activity Handout #2: The Roles and Instructions. Have students assign roles within their groups.

5. Assign the topic of the poems-the problem of writing poetry itself. The first eight lines should set up any of the problems or challenges in writing poetry, and the last six lines should provide solutions.

6. Facilitate group work by circling the room and explaining unclear points as well as directing and guiding students.

Session 4

1. Have students get back into their groups from Session 3. Ask them to revisit their poems and make any revisions that they would like to make.

2. Have students give a poetry reading during which students from each group read aloud their groups' poems to the class.

3. Review the Italian sonnet form and discuss the challenges involved in writing it.

4. Pass out an example of the Italian sonnet "What Lips My Lips Have Kissed, and Where, and Why (Sonnet XLIII)" by Edna St. Vincent Millay. Have three students read the poem aloud, one at a time. This technique, touted by Sheridan Blau, helps students to get immersed in the poem. By the third reading, students have had time to absorb the readings and think about possible meanings.

5. Ask students to write down reasons why this is an Italian sonnet.

6. Ask students to write about the sonnet-writing activity. Did they enjoy it? Were they happy with their poems? Did the activity help them to view the Millay poem in a different light? If so, how?

7. Collect the poems and other writing as informal assessments of student work.

Session 5

1. Tell students that you will be writing a sonnet together as a class. Ask each class member to write down a possible subject for this sonnet. What do students want to write about?

2. Ask students to share their topic ideas. Write possible topics on the board and have students vote on the topic that they prefer. The whole class will use the same topic to write the poem.

3. Have students get back into their groups from Session 4.

4. Have one group first choose the sound for the lines that form the A portion of the poem's rhyme scheme and then write the A lines (lines that rhyme with the A sound). Have a second group choose the B sound and write B lines, the third group write the C lines, a fourth group write the D lines, and a fifth group write the E lines.

Note: If you have more than five groups in your class, break up the assignments so that two groups work with A sound, etc. Then take one line from each group to fulfill the A sound requirements of the sonnet (which is two lines).

5. Give the students about 10 to 20 minutes to write their group's assigned lines.

6. Bring the class together, and use the lines as raw material to create an improvised sonnet. Write this sonnet on the board.

7. Have students reflect through freewriting on the experience of writing the sonnet. Have them write about what surprised them about the process and what they learned from it.


Student Assessment / Reflections


  • During Session 1, use class participation and your observations as you circulate around the room to assess how students are doing. Are they understanding? Are they able to write poems? If they are stuck, gently coach and guide them until they are working more freely.

  • After Session 4, use students’ writing and the poems themselves as informal assessments. Could the students successfully create Italian sonnets? What did they perceive that they learned from the exercise? Were they able to recognize the form and its features when you passed out the Millay poem?


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