Standard Lesson

Poetry: Sound and Sense

9 - 12
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Five 50-minute sessions
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Examining great poetry leads to both a greater appreciation for poetry and, if encouraged appropriately, a desire to create original poetry. In this lesson, students share their personal definition of poetry and challenge and revise that definition as they read poems from selected authors. In addition to reading poetry, students listen to poems to examine how the sounds of language are used to create meaning and mood. Students then write their own nonsense poem using common poetic devices, such as alliteration, assonance, and consonance. Finally, students write a descriptive poem, share their poem with the class, and write a reflection of their experience writing their own poems.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

Many teachers are apprehensive about teaching poetry because of their misconceptions about its requirements and their reservations about their own expertise in writing poetry. The task can be less daunting by having students read great poetry, ask questions of the poet, and use the poems as models or inspirations for their own poetry. Many texts are available to help teachers choose poetry that will be accessible to students and to find ideas for teaching poetry in the classroom.

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

  • 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • 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

  • Instrumental music (e.g., “A Night on Bald Mountain” by Modeste Mussorgsky)

  • Digital recording device [NOTE: This is not included as a resource in the current lesson, but students need to use a recording device in step 4 of the Preparation phase. Consider adding this resource.]





1. Make copies of the poetry to be used during the lesson. Links to a number of selected poems have been provided in the Resources section or you may choose other poems that you enjoy and feel are appropriate for your students.

2. Read through the poems and identify the poetic sound devices you want to emphasize. You can access websites such as Mrs. Dowling's Literature Terms and Literary Terms to find definitions and examples of commonly used sound devices. Prepare a sheet listing the sound devices that you decide to focus on and make copies of the sheet for students.

3. Make copies of the Observations About Poetry Sheet, which provides observations about poetry by various authors.

4. Make a recording of "Chanson d'Automne" by Paul Verlaine, or use a poem of your own choosing in which the author effectively plays with the sounds of words. "Chanson d'Automne" offers an excellent example of assonance. Using a poem in another language allows students to focus on the sounds of words rather than on the poem's meaning. You may be able to find audio recordings of songs or poems in another language if you are uncomfortable making the recording yourself.

5. Ensure that students can access the necessary websites:
6. Locate pictures of a crocus, tulip, and daffodil (or bring in real flowers if you can).

7. Choose 10 "beautiful" words and write a nonsense poem using at least seven of them. The poem should not rhyme. Two sample poems have been provided.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • Use the "question the author" strategy when reading poems to help understand the author's meaning, language, and stylistic choices

  • Recognize that poetry requires a careful, deliberate use of language

  • Understand that poets play with language and choose words not only for their meaning, but also for their sounds and rhythm

  • Examine how rhythm and sound help a poet convey emotion and mood that support the meaning of a poem

  • Recognize that poetry can express universal truths in powerful or playful ways and that it often leads the reader to see the world in a different way

  • Identify sound devices (e.g., assonance, consonance, alliteration, onomatopoeia) in poetry and attempt to incorporate them into their own writing

  • Realize that they too can create effective, meaningful poetry by writing original poems that mimic the patterns and conventions of the poetry they have been reading

Session 1

1. Tell students that they will be exploring poetry. Expect some groans, and then ask each student to write down a definition of poetry. Listen to and discuss a few of their definitions. Expect to discover that most of your students think poetry should rhyme and be about beautiful or romantic things.

2. Share the Observations About Poetry Sheet, which provides observations about poetry by various poets and authors. Ask students to select the definitions on the sheet that they like best. (If you have time, you may also want to have students read "Ars Poetica" by Archibald MacLeish or "Poetry" by Marianne Moore. Both of these poems offer definitions of poetry and great opportunities for discussion.)

3. Have students discuss the various definitions of poetry as a whole class or in small groups.
  • What do the definitions have in common?

    Individual or group responses may include how poetry is meaningful, emotional, in all of us, uses precise words, etc. If someone does not mention that poetry uses careful or precise word choices, be sure to do so. You might contrast poetry with a novel or short story that can be more leisurely in making its point.

  • Why is poetry so difficult to define?

    Lead students to realize that poetry can be difficult to define because it is wide-ranging and personal.
4. If there is time, have each group come up with a definition of poetry that takes all of their ideas into consideration. Allow each group to share their definition with the class.

5. Distribute a copy of the poem "Alabanza: In Praise of Local 100" by Martín Espada and ask students to read it aloud. How does this poem differ from the typical definition of a poem? Ask students what makes this text a poem if it does not rhyme or discuss beautiful things.

6. Introduce students to the "question the poet" strategy. The following questions may be used for the poem "Alabanza: In Praise of Local 100":
  • Where and when does this poem take place?

  • What happened in the poem?

  • Who is the poem talking about in the first stanza?

  • Why is the poet writing about these people?

  • Who is the poet praising and why?
7. After students have looked at the content of the poem, discuss how it makes them feel. Ask students what the author does to evoke their emotions. Are all the images in the poem ugly?

8. Point out to students the rich imagery in the poem and also the language the author uses. The following questions can be used to facilitate a class discussion:
  • How does word choice make a difference?

  • How does a word's sound help emphasize the meaning of the poem?

  • Why does the poet use the word alabanza, which means praise in Spanish, in addition to repeating the word in English?
9. As an optional group activity or individual homework assignment, have students choose a word in the poem by Espada that they find interesting, think of a synonym, and then discuss the author's word choice. Groups or individuals might then share a few of their insights with the class.

Session 2

1. As students enter the classroom, have some dramatic music playing. "A Night on Bald Mountain" by Modeste Mussorgsky or "Symphony No. 9 in E minor" by Antonin Dvorak work well, but you can choose any instrumental that evokes a definite mood. Ask students how the music makes them feel, and explain that poetry is like music in that it can create a mood with its sound.

2. Play the recording of "Chanson d'Automne" by Paul Verlaine (or another foreign language poem or song of your choice), and have students write down their observations and impressions of how the poem makes them feel. Emphasize that they should listen to the sound of the poem, and not the meaning of the words. Have students share their observations. (They should notice that the poem rhymes and uses many repeated sounds. Some may hear familiar sounding words, such as autumn, violin, and long.)

3. Introduce the sound devices you have chosen to focus on and point out examples in the poem.
  • Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds within words.

  • Consonance is the close repetition of consonant sounds at the ends of words or syllables.

  • Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds at the beginning of words or syllables.
Note that for all of these sound devices it is similar sounds, not letters. City and search is an example of alliteration, while city and country is not. (See the websites Mrs. Dowling's Literature Terms and Literary Terms for definitions and examples to share with your students.)

4. Ask students to work in pairs to find additional examples of these sound devices in the poem "Auto Wreck" by Shapiro or any other poem they have been reading. Then have them share a few examples with the class. Spend enough time on this segment of the lesson to ensure students have a strong understanding of poetic sound devices.

5. Share the article "Mother's the word" by David Ward and ask students what they think makes a word "beautiful." Ask them to consider the sounds of words only. For example, Chlamydia could be considered a beautiful word, even though its meaning is not beautiful. Share other examples with the class.

6. Allow students a few minutes to write down 10 words that they think sound beautiful. They should not consider the meanings of the words and should not include profanity. If you wish, ask students to share some of their words with the class. You may find that individuals have an affinity for certain sounds, like the /sh/ sound in Dalmatian, sunshine, and ocean.

7. Ask students to write a nonsense poem using at least seven of their beautiful words. The poem should not rhyme, but should use some of the sound devices they have been learning. Emphasize to students that the poem does not need to make sense, but instead should play with the sounds of words. Encourage them to be playful with their word choices and to make their writing look like a poem by using short lines, breaking for a new line when they want to add emphasis rather than when they come to the margin. Share the nonsense poem that you prepared in advance of the lesson or share one of the sample poems provided.

8. Have students access Poetry 180: A Poem a Day for American High Schools and read poem #1, "Introduction to Poetry" by Billy Collins. In advance of the next class session, ask students to write down their thoughts after reading Collins' poem. Have them compare his description of poetry to their own experiences.

Session 3

1. Begin this class session with a brief discussion of Collins' poem "Introduction to Poetry." Assure students that you will not beat their poetry with a hose!

2. Have students share the nonsense poems they wrote in Session 2 in small groups of four students each. Each student should read his or her poem aloud to the group, then pass the poem to the person on the left who should underline examples of assonance. That student again passes the poem to the left and the next student should circle examples of alliteration. Passing it once more, the next student should place a check mark next to examples of consonance. The author of the poem should then check the markings for accuracy and discuss any discrepancies or additional markings that he or she feels should be made.

3. Ask volunteers to share their poems with the entire class. Discuss the use of sound devices in each poem. Although the assignment was to write a nonsense poem, you will find that many of the poems do make sense, often in surprising and unusual ways.

4. Edgar Allan Poe, although probably best known for his macabre stories, also wrote poetry and loved to experiment with the sounds of words. His poem "The Bells" is an excellent example. Pass out copies of Poe's poem and have students read it silently. Then ask them to mark the sound devices (i.e., alliteration, assonance, consonance) that they find in the poem. Have students compare their markings in small groups.

5. Introduce the term onomatopoeia, which is when the sound of the word imitates the real sound, as in buzz or snap. What words in "The Bells" are onomatopoetic? (Examples include tinkle, jingle, shriek, jangling, twanging, clanging, clash, crash, and roar.)

6. Prepare for a choral reading of Poe's poem by dividing the class into four groups based on their vocal ranges. The highest female voices should read stanza one (the tinkling bells). Lower female voices can read stanza two (the golden bells). A mixture of male and female voices can read stanza three (the alarum bells). Save the deepest male voices for the last stanza (the iron bells). This fourth group reads to the line, "Keeping time, time, time... ", and then everyone joins in to read the remainder of the poem. Groups should briefly practice their segments of the poem and then participate in reading it as a whole group.

7. Discuss the effect of the different voices and Poe's word choices. How does he make the bells sound different? Students should notice the predominance of short /i/ sounds to simulate high notes, with long /o/ and /a/ sounds being used for the deeper bells.

8. Allow students time to access the following websites to find other poems that use the sound devices they have been studying: As they find examples, students should print a copy of the poem, mark the sound devices they find, and be prepared to discuss why the author used those devices in the poem. Students should find at least one example of each sound device.

Session 4

1. Gather students into small groups, and have them share the poems they found online and the poetic sound devices they marked in each one. You may also want to ask a few students to read one of their poems aloud and discuss the poetic sound devices that they identified.

2. Pass out copies of "God's World" by Edna St. Vincent Millay and read it aloud. Ask students to mark examples of alliteration, assonance, and consonance in the poem and also any other devices they notice (e.g., visual imagery).

3. Discuss the poem together as a class:
  • What season does the poet refer to?

  • How does the author feel about autumn?

  • How does her word choices help convey her feelings?

  • What sound devices are used?

  • Are they effective? How and why?
4. Introduce the poem "Spring," also written by Edna St. Vincent Millay, and ask students to predict her attitude about the spring season. Hand out copies of the poem and read it aloud.
  • How does the author feel about spring?

  • What is it about spring that the poet dislikes?

  • What in the poem helps create the mood?

  • How do her word choices contribute to the feeling?
5. Show students a picture of a crocus, and ask them why Millay chose this word for her poem. How would the poem be affected if she had used the words tulip or daffodil instead? A crocus is a beautiful flower and similar to a daffodil, so its appearance is not the issue. Discuss the author's word choice with students.

6. Working again in groups, ask students to choose one poem (from those they found online) to alter by substituting words with the same meanings but different sounds. Challenge students to change at least five words in the poem they select. When groups are finished, ask them to read a portion of the original poem and also their rewritten version with the substituted words. (If the poem is short, students can read the whole poem.) They should not reveal which version is the original and which one has been rewritten. Have the class guess which one is the original and discuss how the different word choices affected the poem's meaning.

7. Hand out copies of "The Gate" by Elizabeth Coatsworth and read it aloud. Discuss the sound devices used in the poem and how the author creates a feeling of heat and cool with her word choices. Students should also notice the use of short- and long-vowel sounds to create this effect.

8. Ask students to brainstorm a list of things that contrast well and evoke a strong feeling of joy or sorrow. They can use hotand cold things as Coatsworth does, or if they prefer, they can choose other contrasting ideas such as big and small or bright and dark. If they prefer to attempt a poem like Millay's "God's World" or "Spring," they can brainstorm images related to a season they love or one they dislike.

9. Next, have students focus on four or five of the things they have listed and add descriptive phrases to create strong visual images (as in "white jade gate"). Suggest that they consider using alliteration, assonance, or consonance in their phrases, but they should first concentrate on creating a clear, strong image.

10. Using their brainstormed list of favorite beautiful things and descriptive phrases about them, students should write a poem consisting of 7 to 10 lines. The poem does not need to rhyme, but should include at least five examples of the sound devices they have been studying (i.e., alliteration, assonance, consonance, pacing, rhythm). Remind students to keep the lines of the poem short and use line breaks for emphasis.

Allow several days for students to complete drafts of their poems. Students should also clearly label the sound devices they have used in the poem on the final copy.

Session 5

1. Ask students to write a short reflection on the poems they have written. Was writing the poem easy or difficult to do? Why? What would they do differently if they were asked to write another poem? What do they like best about their poem? What do they like least? Are they confident they have used the sound devices and have accurately identified them?

2. Allow time for students to share their poems in small groups. Group members should verify that each poem meets the requirements and that sound devices are used correctly and are accurately labeled.

3. Invite a few volunteers to read their poems aloud to the class.


  • Introduce additional poems to ensure that students can identify the various sound devices that poets use.

  • Have students compose a longer poem using rhythm, rhyme, or both, as well as the sound devices.

  • Have students create a glossary listing the sound devices and their definitions, along with an example of each from either an online poem or one they have written on their own.

  • Invite students to explore a favorite poet and write a report on his or her works.

  • Have students select a poem and create a slideshow of visual images that enhance the meaning of the poem. They could also include background music to accompany their reading and visual presentation.

Student Assessment / Reflections

  • Use the Sound Devices Rubric to assess the original poems that students created during the lesson. Pay special attention to whether students were able to clearly incorporate and identify sound devices in their poems.

  • Evaluate students' responses on the Poetic Devices Quiz to ensure an understanding of the sound devices. Compare their definitions of poetry on the quiz to the definitions they wrote at the beginning of the lesson (see Session 1).

  • Observe students during the class discussions and group work to ensure that they understand the sound devices and how and why poets use them.

  • Review the reflections students completed at the beginning of Session 5 to identify any difficulties students may have had with the final poetry writing assignment.