How-to-Teach-Poetry Lesson Plans for High School: Walt Whitman & Emily Dickinson

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Grade Levels
9th - 11th, Homeschool
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32 pages
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  1. Want to immerse your students in the diversity of this country by studying engaging poetry together? Your students will learn so much when they explore the essential questions of American Literature with this giant unit.A collection of questions on 40 poems, spanning from Puritan poetry to contempo
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Looking for an effective, practical guide to teach students to analyze poetry independently?

So often, students get the message that poetry is “hard” or “boring,” and it’s no wonder they believe this when they are expected to sit passively while their teacher lectures them on the true meaning of a text. The kind of instruction that bestows knowledge on students creates passive learners who feel disempowered, frustrated, and learn to hate poetry and literary analysis.

I have spent many years teaching students to analyze poetry using the methods outlined in this unit, and by starting off working together and then gradually giving students more and more independence, I have empowered them to read challenging poetry on their own and analyze it thoroughly to find meaning. What results from this kind of practical instruction is students who are eager to analyze, discuss, and write about poetry and who know that they have the skills to tackle even the most challenging text.

When you teach poetry analysis with these time-proven methods, you will:

  • Give your classes practical resources—a guide to literary elements and a step-by-step guide to reading and analyzing a poem—which they’ll refer to throughout their studies.

  • Give students the concrete scaffolding they need to separate the themes of a poem from the literary elements that help to further that meaning.

  • Teach your classes that language is fun when they complete the innovative creative writing exercises which will help them understand poetry and literary devices from the inside out.

  • Explore the accessible and rigorous poetry of two iconic and very different poets when you study “[Much Madness is Divinest Sense]” by Emily Dickinson, “[This is My Letter to the World]” by Emily Dickinson, and “When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer," by Walt Whitman

  • Give your students the scaffolding, process, and instruction that they need to independently write a literary analysis paper on a poem.

  • Easily grade the final assessments using the no-prep rubrics.

  • Teach your classes that poetry is for everyone.

Whether you’re a new teacher or you’ve been teaching poetry for years, you need this practical guide. Once I tried teaching poetry to my classes following these methods, I never went back to the frustrating, vague methods that I’d been attempting for years.

"I love how this is very step-by-step yet allows for interpretation. I find poetry challenging to teach and this is a great way to break it down. Thank you!"--Hope S.

Total Pages
32 pages
Answer Key
Teaching Duration
2 Weeks
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to see state-specific standards (only available in the US).
Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.
Determine two or more themes or central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to produce a complex account; provide an objective summary of the text.
Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including words with multiple meanings or language that is particularly fresh, engaging, or beautiful.
Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure specific parts of a text (e.g., the choice of where to begin or end a story, the choice to provide a comedic or tragic resolution) contribute to its overall structure and meaning as well as its aesthetic impact.
Analyze a case in which grasping point of view requires distinguishing what is directly stated in a text from what is really meant (e.g., satire, sarcasm, irony, or understatement).


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