After introducing Emily Dickinson and her poetry to your students, you can let them dig in and figure out one of her poems by themselves (or in small groups). This is a classroom-tested, student-approved project! I’ve been teaching variations of this lesson for almost twenty years, revising and improving this lesson each time. Most recently I added a close-reading component and a text-based written response.
Much of my teaching experience is with low-level readers who still need to meet grade-level expectations with grade-level texts. By incorporating reading strategies with literary analysis, I am able to provide the scaffolding they need to be successful with complex texts. More advanced students will find this exercise just as challenging because the loose structure of the assignment will fit any teacher’s expectations. The framework for a thorough close reading assignment is here; you can determine how much support your students need to make it work for you.
NOTE: This is not an assignment you can just copy and give to students to do on their own. Teachers will need to be comfortable with Dickinson’s poetry for this lesson to be successful. You will need to introduce Dickinson’s life and work through a few poems, model the specific tasks involved in this assignment, and then circulate throughout the class while students work—asking and answering questions to keep the students on the right track. I spend a week on this project—two days of introduction/modeling, two days of individual/group work, and one day for presentations.
• Teaching tips based on my classroom experience with this assignment, including grading suggestions and Common Core State Standards
• One poem for teacher modeling
• Detailed student instructions
• Fifteen versions of the student worksheet, each with a different poem of eight- to twelve-lines in length (Each student worksheet is two pages—photocopy front/back.)