Lesson Plans: Grades 6-8

Poems of Tennyson and Noyes: Pictures in Words

Tools

The Lesson

Introduction

Photograph of Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

Photograph of Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

Credit: Published on the cover of The Illustrated London News (16 October, 1892).

Just as painters capture and manipulate color and light, poets capture and manipulate words and sounds to create a vision for their audiences. Striking examples of pictures in words—not just vivid images but the entire mental picture conjured up by a poet—are to be found in "The Charge of the Light Brigade," by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and "The Highwayman," by Alfred Noyes. Both poems also tell compelling stories and are easily comprehensible as well as appealing to the adolescent reader.

Besides guiding students in a close study of the text of these two poems, the activities and handouts below provide an introduction to the terminology of figurative language. A basic understanding of critical terms can help students to describe and analyze the effects of poetry on readers. Specific activities include an Internet scavenger hunt, discussion and analysis, an exercise involving the interpretation of poetry through visual art, and an opportunity for students to create their own pictures in words.

Guiding Questions

  • How do Tennyson and Noyes use words to paint vivid and memorable pictures?
  • How do such "word pictures" emphasize or qualify the meanings of their poems?

Learning Objectives

  • Analyze, interpret, and understand two classic poems: "The Charge of the Light Brigade" by Alfred, Lord Tennyson and "The Highwayman" by Alfred Noyes
  • Identify examples of alliteration, onomatopoeia, personification, metaphor, and simile in a poem
  • Understand and discuss how line, stanza, rhyme, alliteration, onomatopoeia, and other effects of form, phrasing, and sound can enhance the mental picture created by the images in a poem
  • Create examples of alliteration, onomatopoeia, personification, metaphor, and simile

Preparation Instructions

Lesson Activities

Activity 1. Poetry Scavenger Hunt

Download and make copies of the worksheet, Internet Scavenger Hunt: Poetry. This preparatory exercise is a good team as well as individual assignment. An effective motivator is to offer a prize or special privilege to the team or student who is first to submit a complete and correct scavenger hunt. As you discuss the results of this exercise with your students, and as you read and discuss the poems in the activities below, help your students to understand how the disparate poetic figures covered in the Scavenger Hunt (alliteration, metaphor, personification, and so on) are not experienced in isolation as we read but contribute to an integrated mental picture for the reader.

Activity 2. Close Reading: "The Charge of the Light Brigade"

As an anticipatory question for reading Tennyson's poem, share the following journal question with students and give them five to ten minutes to generate written responses:

What are some examples of times when people must obey an authority figure, even though they may not want to?

Allow students to volunteer responses and discuss. Must military commanders enforce harsh discipline on their soldiers? Is it important for a military outfit to work as a team? What are the consequences if a commander is unable to keep his or her troops under control during wartime? As you discuss these questions, share with students some basic background information on the Crimean War (see Preparation for background information). In your discussion, you may wish to include

  • The two "sides" mentioned in the poem (Russia and a group of nations which included Great Britain)
  • The story of the "Light Brigade" (a mistake in command led to the attack of a Russian artillery post by a British unit armed only with swords).

Have students read the poem aloud, then read the poem to them or play a recording of the poem. Ask and discuss the answers to the following questions:

  • Does a "line" in a poem have to be a complete sentence? Is line four in "The Charge of the Light Brigade" a complete sentence? What does this tell you about lines in poetry? How do you think a very short line length would affect the reader's mental picture of the action in a poem? What about a very long line length?
  • What is a poetic stanza? When you look at a poem, how does the way it is printed on the page help you to determine where stanzas begin and end? How many stanzas do you count in "The Charge of the Light Brigade"? What does each stanza do, in terms of telling the story? Is it fair to say that each stanza contains a separate image? Why or why not?
  • What is onomatopoeia? Can you find an example of onomatopoeia in the fourth stanza? What word or words create a sound effect? Say the word "flash'd" aloud, and think about a saber, or sword, being pulled from its scabbard, or whistling through the air. How does the word imitate the sound of a sword?
  • What is alliteration? Can you find an example of alliteration in the fourth stanza? What consonant sound is repeated? How does the repetition of the "s" sound in "saber stroke," "shattered," and "sundered" emphasize the action that is taking place in the poem at this point?

Closing journal question: Allow 5-10 minutes for students to respond, then discuss their responses:

  • Tennyson uses the same lines to open both stanza three and stanza five:
    Cannon to right of them,
    Cannon to left of them,
    Cannon behind them
    Volley'd and thunder'd;
    Storm'd at with shot and shell
    Why do you think he repeated these lines, particularly the word "cannon"? Silently tap out the rhythm of these words on your desk with your fingers as you read them to yourself. What effect do you feel he was trying to achieve? What message does he wish to pass to the reader? (For more ideas on teaching sounds in poetry, please see the last bulleted item in Preparation.)
Activity 3. Close Reading: "The Highwayman"

Before they read "The Highwayman" by Alfred Noyes, give students five to ten minutes to generate written responses to the following question

Some call death "the ultimate sacrifice." What are some examples of people who have died to save others? What do you think were their reasons to give their lives?

Allow students to volunteer responses and discuss. Explain that this is a poem about making a sacrifice. Tell students that in the eighteenth century, there were men who would ride the roads at night in search of wealthy people to rob. These men were called highwaymen. Have students read the poem aloud, then read the poem to them or play a recording of the poem. Ask and discuss the answers to the following questions:

  • What is a metaphor? Can you find three of them in the first stanza? What is being compared in each one? How can wind be "a torrent of darkness?" How can the moon be "a ghostly galleon?" How can a road be "a ribbon of moonlight?" By using the words "torrent of darkness," "ghostly," and "moonlight," what kind of mood do you think Noyes is setting up for his poem?
  • What is personification? Can you find the example of personification in stanza ten? What is being personified? Why do the hours seem to "crawl" for Bess at this point in the story?
  • What is a simile? Can you find the simile in stanza thirteen? What two things are being compared? How can a face be "like a light?" What would cause Bess's face to be "like a light" as she stood listening to her love ride toward the inn?

Review questions:

  • In stanza twelve, there is an example of onomatopoeia. What is it? Why does Noyes make a sound effect rather than just tell us that the horse was galloping down the road?
  • In stanza three, there is an example of alliteration. What is it? What is the repeated consonant sound? How do the words "cobbles," "clattered," and "clashed" create a sound effect for the action that is taking place in the stanza? Why do you think Noyes used "noisy words" at this point in the poem?

Summary:

  • If you were an illustrator, and could paint only one picture to represent this entire poem, what would your painting depict, and why?

Demonstrate rhyme scheme in this way: Write these words in a column on the chalkboard:

  • trees
  • seas
  • moor
  • riding
  • riding
  • door

Ask students where they have seen these words before. They will tell you that they are the last words in each line of the first stanza. Write a capital letter A next to the word trees. Ask the students what other words in the list rhyme with trees. Put a capital letter A next to the word seas. Next, write a capital letter B next to the word moor. Ask the students what other words in the list rhyme with the word moor. Put a capital letter B next to the word door. Finally, write a capital letter C next to the first riding on the list. The students will tell you that it rhymes with the second riding, which will also get a capital letter C. The list will end up looking like this:

  • trees A
  • seas A
  • moor B
  • riding C
  • riding C
  • door B

Explain to the students that they have just identified the rhyme scheme of the first stanza. Tell them that poets sometimes write the stanzas of their poems in a rhyming pattern. Have students determine the rhyme scheme for stanza two. They will tell you that in that stanza, as well, there is an AABCCB rhyme scheme. Ask students what effect the repetition of sound has on the mental picture created by the poem. If desired, have students determine the rhyme scheme for stanzas in “The Charge of the Light Brigade.” How does rhyme scheme reinforce or otherwise affect the mental picture created in these poems?

Closing journal question: Allow 5-10 minutes for students to respond, then discuss their responses:

  • Do you think Bess made a wise choice in sacrificing herself for her love? Why or why not?
Activity 4. Painting Pictures With Words

Download the PDF, Painting Pictures With Words. This may be an individual or group assignment. It is recommended that the students complete the activity in a word processor, so that they may move easily between the poem, the paintings, and the activity. They may need to be shown how to cut and paste their chosen stanzas into the document. A follow-up to this activity could entail students weaving their figurative language creations into a poem of their own.

The Basics

Time Required

5 class periods

Subject Areas
  • Literature and Language Arts > Place > British
  • Art and Culture > Medium > Visual Arts
  • Literature and Language Arts > Genre > Poetry
Skills
  • Critical analysis
  • Critical thinking
  • Discussion
  • Gathering, classifying and interpreting written, oral and visual information
  • Poetry analysis
  • Poetry writing
  • Representing ideas and information orally, graphically and in writing
  • Visual analysis
Authors
  • Denise Freisberg (AL)

Resources

Activity Worksheets
Media