“Cotton Candy” by Edward Hirsch

A young boy walks over a bridge with his grandfather, not knowing it would be the last time. The memory of that event is the central moment of Edward Hirsch’s poem “Cotton Candy.” Hirsch uses his sensory memory to bring that moment to life and to remind us of the special place older people, as bridges to personal and community history, hold in our lives.

This lesson plan provides a sequence of activities that you can use with your students before, during, and after reading “Cotton Candy.” Use the whole sequence, or any of the activities, to help your diverse learners enter, experience, and explore the meaning of the poem. Feel free to adjust each activity to meet the needs of your particular students. This lesson can be adapted for secondary students in grades 6–12.

Link to a video of the poet, Edward Hirsch, reading “Cotton Candy.”

This lesson is an adaptation of an original lesson by the Academy of American Poet’s Educator in Residence, Madeleine Fuchs Holzer.

Guiding Questions

How are we connected to the past?

Learning Objectives

Students will compare the experience of reading a poem on a page to hearing and seeing a poet read a poem on video.

Students will explore a poet’s use of sensory imagery to bring a poem to life.

Students will explore how poetry can serve as a bridge between people of different ages and as a bridge between the past and the present.

Students will distinguish between what a poem is telling us literally and figuratively.

Students will write an original poem using vivid language, metaphor, and/or sound to help them emphasize meaning “beyond the words.”