• Edward Hopper's House by the Railroad: From Painting to Poem

    16-A Edward Hopper (1882–1967)

    After a close reading and comparison of Edward Hopper's painting House by the Railroad and Edward Hirsch's poem about the painting, students explore the types of emotion generated by each work in the viewer or reader and examine how the painter and poet each achieved these responses.

  • Midnight Ride of Paul Revere — Fact, Fiction, and Artistic License

    The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, Grant Wood

    This lesson encourages close study of Wood's painting, American Revolution primary sources, and Longfellow's poem to understand the significance of this historical ride in America's struggle for freedom. By reading primary sources, students learn how Paul Revere and his Midnight Ride became an American story of patriotism.

  • Poetry of The Great War: 'From Darkness to Light'?

    "Almost Buried." One of the most compelling photographs of World War I

    The historian and literary critic Paul Fussell has noted in The Great War and Modern Memory that, "Dawn has never recovered from what the Great War did to it." With dawn as a common symbol in poetry, it is no wonder that, like a new understanding of dawn itself, a comprehensive body of "World War I Poetry" emerged from the trenches as well.

  • Picture Lincoln

    Anthony Berger of the Brady Studio, President Lincoln and his son Tad,  February 9, 1864.

    In this lesson students will learn about Abraham Lincoln the individual and the President. By examining Alexander Gardner's February 5, 1865 photograph and reading a short biography of Lincoln, students will consider who the man on the other side of the lens was. Students will demonstrate their understanding by writing an "I Am" Poem and creating their own multimedia portrait of Lincoln.

    Lesson Plans: Grades 9-12
    Curriculum Unit

    Letters from Emily Dickinson: 'Will you be my preceptor?' (3 Lessons)

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    The Unit

    Overview

    In 1862, Emily Dickinson, one of the most innovative poets of the 19th century, ventured a letter to Thomas Wentworth Higginson, an editor, writer, and longtime contributor to the Atlantic Monthly who would become her long-time correspondent and mentor. She asked, "Are you too deeply occupied to say if my verse is alive?" Long perceived as a recluse who wrote purely in isolation, Dickinson in reality maintained many dynamic correspondences throughout her lifetime and specifically sought out dialogues on her poetry. These correspondences—both professional and private—reveal a poet keenly aware of the interdependent relationship between poet and reader.

    Similarly, Dickinson's letters expose a poet fully engaged in the process of crafting a persona. In another note to Higginson in the first year of their correspondence, Dickinson wrote, "When I state myself, as the representative of the verse, it does not mean me, but a supposed person." For students of writing, who often struggle to develop a distinctive voice, and then to modify that voice for different audiences, Dickinson's dialogues offer an instructive model. Ultimately, reading Emily Dickinson's letters alongside her poems helps students to better appreciate a remarkable voice in American literature, grasp how Dickinson perceived herself and her poetry, and-perhaps most relevant to their own endeavors—consider the ways in which a writer constructs a "supposed person."

    In this curriculum unit, students will explore Dickinson's poetry as well as her letters to Higginson and her sister-in-law Susan Huntington Gilbert Dickinson. They will work individually and in groups to reflect on Dickinson's views and the process by which she writes; assume the role of a critic/correspondent and analyze Dickinson's poetry, specifically noting the effectiveness of her persona; and, finally, emulate her writing style while, at the same time, synthesizing what they've learned about poetic voice in a poetry-writing exercise on "There's a certain Slant of light."

    Guiding Questions

    • How does Emily Dickinson perceive herself as a poet, especially as reflected by her correspondences with Thomas Wentworth Higginson and Susan Huntington Gilbert Dickinson?
    • In what ways does this perception manifest itself in her poetry?

    Learning Objectives

    • Recognize Emily Dickinson's poetic style
    • Engage in textual analysis and critical thinking
    • Reflect upon the concept of artistic persona and the creative process
    • Adjust their writing style to different purposes
    • Use imaginative writing techniques

    Preparation Instructions

    • For Lesson One, download the pdf worksheet, Emily Says, and cut out each individual quotation for distribution to student groups.
    • For Lesson Three, download and copy the PDF worksheet, Emulate Emily.
    • Re-read a number of Dickinson's poems to reacquaint yourself with her unique style. The poems used in this lesson are "Safe in their Alabaster Chambers" (216, 1859 and 1861 version), "They shut me up in Prose-" (613), "I dwell in Possibility-" (657), "There's a certain Slant of light" (258). More Dickinson poems are available at the Academy of American Poets or the American Verse Project. Note Dickinson's use of metaphors to express her ideas and her rejection of grammatical conventions, and her dependence on poetry to achieve understanding.
    • Since this lesson addresses Dickinson's persona, it is also helpful to review a few essays on how Dickinson is perceived today. You may want to read the Dickinson biography on the EDSITEment-reviewed website Academy of American Poets, and explore a few of the pieces, specifically Sandra Gilbert's essay, at Titanic Operas, Folio 1, available on the Dickinson Electronic Archives through the Academy of American Poets site. Central to this lesson is the well-known myth of Emily Dickinson as a ghost-like figure, dressed entirely in white and confined to her father's home in Amherst. Conversely, it's significant to note the extent of Dickinson's formal education and the value she placed on literature. Dickinson was well-versed in the poetry and prose of the 19th century, having read and appreciated, among others, the Brontës, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Thomas Carlyle, and George Eliot. As you read the biographies, pay attention to disparate views. While some scholarship portrays Dickinson as a romantic, heartsick figure (i.e., as someone weak who was acted upon), more recent feminist readings tend to view her as deeply aware of the image she actively created of herself.
    • Read at least pages 444 through 447 of Emily Dickinson's Letters, Thomas Wentworth Higginson's article for the October 1891 issue of The Atlantic Monthly, at the EDSITEment-reviewed American Memory Project. Higginson excerpts many of Dickinson's letters to him in this piece. Consider the ways in which Dickinson simultaneously seeks Higginson's input and resists his recommendations. Also, note her particular writing style and think about her views on poetry. Her letters suggest that, for her, writing poetry was instinctive, but they also reveal that she understood her writing in the context of other literary works. (As you read this piece, know that Higginson corrected, so to speak, Dickinson's grammar when he published her letters. For a better look at her unadulterated style, see the manuscripts in the Dickinson Electronic Archives, discussed below.)
    • In his essay, Higginson writes, "Even her letters to me show her mainly on her exaltee side; and should a volume of her correspondence ever be printed, it is very desirable that it should contain some of her letters to friends of closer and more familiar intimacy." For a glimpse of this intimacy, explore the "Emily Dickinson Writing a Poem" site, part of the Dickinson Electronic Archives, which is available through the EDSITEment-reviewed Academy of American Poets. Read the "Introduction," the letters between Dickinson and her sister-in-law Susan, and the manuscript excerpts. Pay particular attention to how Sue comments on Dickinson's poetry, how Dickinson in turn responds to Sue's suggestions, and how she expresses an awareness of herself as a poet writing for a greater audience. Think about how this exchange is more personal than the one between Dickinson and Higginson.

    The Lessons

    The Basics

    Grade Level

    9-12

    Subject Areas
    • Literature and Language Arts > Place > American
    • Literature and Language Arts > Genre > AP Literature
    • History and Social Studies > People > Women
    • Literature and Language Arts > Genre > Poetry
    Skills
    • Creative writing
    • Critical analysis
    • Critical thinking
    • Discussion
    • Gathering, classifying and interpreting written, oral and visual information
    • Interpretation
    • Literary analysis
    • Making inferences and drawing conclusions
    • Poetry writing
    • Representing ideas and information orally, graphically and in writing
    • Textual analysis
    • Using primary sources
    Lesson Plans: Grades 9-12
    Curriculum Unit

    Introduction to Modernist Poetry (3 Lessons)

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    The Unit

    Overview

    The English novelist Virginia Woolf declared that human nature underwent a fundamental change "on or about December 1910." The statement testifies to the modern writer's fervent desire to break with the past, rejecting literary traditions that seemed outmoded and diction that seemed too genteel to suit an era of technological breakthroughs and global violence.”
    —from the EDSITEment-reviewed Academy of American PoetsThe Modernist Revolution: Make It New

    Modernist poetry often is difficult for students to analyze and understand. A primary reason students feel a bit disoriented when reading a modernist poem is that the speaker himself is uncertain about his or her own ontological bearings. Indeed, the speaker of modernist poems characteristically wrestles with the fundamental question of “self,” often feeling fragmented and alienated from the world around him. In other words, a coherent speaker with a clear sense of himself/herself is hard to find in modernist poetry, often leaving students confused and “lost.”

    Such ontological feelings of fragmentation and alienation, which often led to a more pessimistic and bleak outlook on life as manifested in representative modernist poems such as T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” were prompted by fundamental and far-reaching historical, social, cultural, and economic changes in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The rise of cities; profound technological changes in transportation, architecture, and engineering; a rising population that engendered crowds and chaos in public spaces; and a growing sense of mass markets often made individuals feel less individual and more alienated, fragmented, and at a loss in their daily worlds. World War I (WWI), moreover, contributed to a more modern local and world view.

    Understanding the context of literary modernism (specifically, modernist poetry) is important for students before they analyze modernist texts themselves. To that end, this three-lesson curriculum unit begins with Lesson One: “Understanding the Context of Modernism Poetry,” followed by Lesson Two: “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” which features “warm-up” exercises to give students initial bearings for reading and analyzing modernist poetry. The curriculum unit ends with T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”; this lesson requires students to analyze modernist poetry in more depth and detail. You may extend the unit by teaching additional modernist poets such as Marianne Moore, Jean Toomer, William Carlos Williams, and Ezra Pound.

    Guiding Questions

    • What are several historical, social, and cultural forces that prompted the modernist movement? What were the effects of these influential factors?
    • What are the primary characteristics of modernist poetry?

    Learning Objectives

    • Students will understand the literary context of modernism.
    • Students will be able to define and understand in context common poetic devices.
    • Students will be able to analyze several modernist poems.
    • Students will understand the historical, social, and cultural context of modernism at large.

    Preparation Instructions

    • Review the lesson plan. Locate and bookmark suggested materials and other useful websites. Download and print out documents you will use and duplicate copies as necessary for student viewing.
    • To reference any literary device mentioned in this curriculum unit, visit Norton’s Glossary of Literary Terms, available via the EDSITEment-reviewed American Academy of Poets.

    The Lessons

    The Basics

    Grade Level

    9-12

    Subject Areas
    • Literature and Language Arts > Place > American
    • Literature and Language Arts > Place > British
    • History and Social Studies > U.S. > The Emergence of Modern America (1890-1930)
    • Literature and Language Arts > Genre > Poetry
    Skills
    • Compare and contrast
    • Critical analysis
    • Critical thinking
    • Interpretation
    • Making inferences and drawing conclusions
    • Poetry analysis
  • Thirteen Ways

    Created October 5, 2009