Useful at key points in a term, such as the beginning or end of the term, this lesson asks students to reflect on their writing process, and helps the teacher learn more about students' habits and techniques as writers. Students begin by reading and analyzing the poem "The Writer" by Richard Wilbur, particularly discussing the use of extended metaphor. Students then reflect on their own writing habits, compare themselves as writers to the writer in the poem, and brainstorm possible metaphors for themselves as writers. Finally, students complete one of several recommended projects to extend the metaphor describing themselves as writers. Throughout the process, students share their work in small groups.
"The Writer" by Richard Wilbur: Analysis of this poem sets the stage for students' work with extended metaphor.
Writing Habits Journal Questions: Use these questions to help students reflect on their own habits as writers.
Writing Metaphor Assignment: This assignment offers several projects that students can choose to extend a metaphor describing themselves as writers, including creating a scrapbook, designing a CD cover, writing a paper, or writing a short story.
This project asks students to think deeply about their writing and how they work as writers. This process of deep reflection helps students improve as writers. Dawn Swartzendruber-Putnam explains:
"Reflection is a form of metacognition-thinking about thinking. It means looking back with new eyes in order to discover-in this case, looking back on writing. As Pianko states, ‘The ability to reflect on what is begin written seems to be the essence of the difference between able and not so able writers from their initial writing experience onward' (qtd. in Yancey 4)" (88).
Rather than reflecting on a single piece of writing, this activity asks students to analyze the trends and patterns in their own writing. By exploring their work, they identify the habits that work well and those that need rethought.
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.
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
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.
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).
- analyze a poem, in particular paying attention to metaphor.
- reflect on their writing process.
- build community by sharing their writing habits with others.
- compose a text based on a metaphor they have chosen for themselves as writers.
- Pass out copies of "The Writer" by Richard Wilbur, and introduce the poem to the class.
- Read through the poem completely one time.
- Ask students to share any immediate reactions.
- Read through the poem more slowly, pausing to define any unfamiliar words for the class. Because they are important to the poem's imagery be sure that students understand the meaning of the key words that relate to nautical imagery—prow, gunwale, cargo, and passage.
- Ask students to identify the speaker and setting of the poem. Shape the discussion with the following questions, if desired:
- Who is the speaker? Who is telling the story in this poem?
- Where is the speaker when the events in the poem take place?
- Which parts are from the present, and which are from memories?
- What are the speaker's emotions?
- How do the speaker's feelings influence the message?
- Next, ask students to identify the subject of the poem, using the following questions:
- What is the speaker talking about?
- What is the message in the poem?
- What is the speaker trying to communicate?
- Read through the poem again, asking students to listen for comparisons in the poem (e.g., places where one object is compared to another).
- Have students share their observations, recording their comments on the board or on white paper.
- If students have difficulty identifying the comparison, ask the following questions about specific images in the poem to guide their observations:
- What words and ideas in the poem have to do with ships and boats?
- How do the words that describe sounds in the poem work (e.g., "commotion," "stillness," "silent")? What comparisons do they suggest?
- How is the starling in the poem a comparison?
- Read through the list, and ask students to identify comparisons that relate to the subject of the poem.
- Once the list has been narrowed, ask students to discuss how accurate the comparisons are and what they tell readers about the speaker and the subject of the poem. Introduce the concept of metaphors, using this simple explanation or the information in OWL's Using Metaphors in Creative Writing.
- To ensure connections between the poem and the writing activities that students will complete, ask them to explain what the poem communicates about writers and writing in general, as well as in the particular situation that the poem describes.
- Pass out copies of the Writing Habits Journal Questions, and ask students to answer the questions for homework. Read through the questions as a group, and make any adjustments or add any suggestions. If desired, students can create their informal outlines (for question 6 on the journal questions handout) using the ReadWriteThink Notetaker.
- If time allows, provide answers to the questions based on your own writing experience, or discuss one of the questions as a class.
- Arrange students in small groups, and ask them to share their answers to the Writing Habits Journal Questions with one another.
- Ask groups to choose answers to three questions to share with the rest of the class.
- Monitor student progress, and provide feedback and support as they discuss their writing processes.
- Once the groups are ready, gather the class and work through the questions one-by-one. Students can share any observations in general, and groups should be prepared to share the answers that they have chosen.
- After sharing their responses, focus the class's attention on noticing the many varied ways that writers work while at the same time listening for practices that many writers use. Have students recall stories and details from the class discussion that show variety as well as those that demonstrate similarities.
- Return discussion to "The Writer" by Richard Wilbur. Based on the class discussion, ask students to compare themselves as writers to the writer in the poem. Encourage students to point to details in the poem and to connect to specific information about their own writing.
- Pass out the Writing Metaphor Assignment (or the options that you have chosen), and read through the assignment with the class. Be sure to draw clear connections to the poem that the class has explored in the previous session. Students might also find OWL's Using Metaphors in Creative Writing helpful as they begin thinking about creating metaphors for themselves as writers.
- Ask students to review the responses that they wrote to the Writing Habits Journal Questions and brainstorm a list of possible metaphors that they can use to describe themselves as writers. Encourage students to identify at least three to five ideas.
- Once students have a list of possibilities, have them freewrite on connections for each possible metaphor. Remind students to use their journal responses as a resource as they work.
- With ten to fifteen minutes left in the class, arrange students in small groups, and have them share their metaphors with one another. Students can provide feedback and support.
- For homework, ask students to write a brief description (in their journals or on a separate piece of paper) of the metaphor they have chosen and the project that they will complete.
- Either collect students' descriptions of their plans for the project or ask them to share their ideas with the class or in small groups. Provide feedback as appropriate.
- Pass out the Writing Metaphor Rubric and discuss the criteria for the projects. You may add criteria depending on the projects that students choose.
- If students have not done so earlier, you might have them create their more complete outlines of their general composing process, using the ReadWriteThink Notetaker.
- Answer any questions that students have about the project; then, have students spend the period working on their assignment.
- If students will use any of the student interactives as part of their work, demonstrate the tools and explain how to use them for the activities:
- Acrostic Poems: Gather students working on acrostics. Ensure that they understand the format, and then work through an example metaphor using the tool.
- Letter Generator: Discuss the difference between business and friendly letters with students who choose to write a letter to the class about their process. Using the online tool, review the parts of a letter (e.g., salutation, greeting). Use the tool to work through the process of publishing a letter.
- Plot Diagram and Literary Elements Map: Review literary elements with students who choose to write a short story or silent movie script. You can use the Elements of Fiction Overview to shape the discussion. Demonstrate the two tools, and discuss how students can use the tools to gather ideas for the projects and plan their structure.
- ReadWriteThink Printing Press: Demonstrate the Printing Press for students completing the tabloid exposé option. Students can use the newspaper layouts to publish their pieces.
- Be sure to demonstrate PowerPoint as well, if students can use the software for the projects they have chosen.
- As students work, encourage sharing and feedback. Cultivate a writing workshop atmosphere, where students share drafts and solve problems together.
- At the end of the fifth session, ask students to submit their projects for your review. Alternatively, ask students to share their metaphor projects with the class or small groups during an optional sixth session.
- If students complete this activity early in a term, retain a copy. At the end of the term, pass the copies back out and ask students to revisit their metaphors, focusing on how they would revise or change their metaphors based on the experience over the course of the term. Students might submit revised projects as a final examination.
- Have students explore Modern American Poetry: Richard Wilbur to learn more about the poet. This University of Illinois site includes a brief biography and background information on Wilbur as well as the poet's commentary on his poems. The site also includes a transcript of a 1995 interview.
Student Assessment / Reflections
Observe students for their participation during the exploration and discussion of their writing process and their metaphors. In class discussions and conferences, watch for evidence that students are able to describe specific details about their writing and prompt them to reflect on why they write as they do. Monitor students’ progress and process as they work on their writing metaphor projects. For formal assessment, use the Writing Metaphor Rubric.