Lesson Plans: Grades 9-12

Lesson 3: Emulating Emily Dickinson: Poetry Writing


The Lesson


Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson

Credit: Courtesy of American Memory at the Library of Congress.

Long perceived as a recluse who wrote purely in isolation, Emily 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. In this lesson, students closely examine Dickinson’s poem “There’s a certain slant of light” in order to understand her craft. Students explore different components of Dickinson’s poetry and then practice their own critical and poetry writing skills in an emulation exercise. Finally, in the spirit of Dickinson’s correspondences, students will exchange their poems and offer informed critiques of each others’ work.

For a complete introduction to the three lessons in this curriculum unit, Letters from Emily Dickinson: "Will you be my preceptor?" review the curriculum unit overview.

Guiding Questions

  • What are some of the stylistic choices that Emily Dickinson uses to create a sense of mood and voice in her poem, “There’s a certain slant of light”?

Learning Objectives

After completing this lesson, students will be able to

  • Recognize Emily Dickinson's poetic style
  • Engage in textual analysis and critical thinking of Dickinson’s poem “There’s a certain Slant of light”
  • Use imaginative writing techniques for creative and critical purposes


Preparation Instructions

Review the curriculum unit overview and the lesson plan. Locate and bookmark suggested materials and other useful websites. Download the pdf worksheet, Emulate Emily, and cut out each individual quotation for distribution to student groups. If necessary, download and print out any other documents you will use and duplicate copies as necessary for student viewing.

Lesson Activities

Activity 1. Poetry Writing
  • As a class, read through "There's a certain Slant of light" (258), available both at the Academy of American Poets and the American Verse Project. Then, guide your students through an analysis of the poem. Your students should come to see how each element of the poem contributes to their understanding of the effect of this "certain Slant of light." You may want to include discussion of the following elements:
    • Metaphors — Ask students to find the metaphors in the poem. They may point out that the "Slant of light" "oppresses, like the Heft/Of Cathedral Tunes," that "'Tis the Seal Despair," or that it is "an imperial affliction/Sent us of the Air." Make sure your students see that Dickinson uses these metaphors to describe her experience, most likely because there's no other way to approach this subject.
    • Word Choice — What words does Dickinson choose? How do they inform your reading? The students may list "oppresses," "Despair," "heft," and "affliction." Certainly, this light is not entirely beneficent. They should also find many spiritual references: "Cathedral Tunes," "Heavenly Hurt," and "Sent us of the Air." Could the "light" suggest death? Your students may point out that it's "Winter" and "Afternoon"-times traditionally associated with death. They may also look at the concluding lines of the poem: "When it goes, 'tis like the Distance/On the look of Death—."
    • Rhythm or Meter — Why does Dickinson use dashes in this poem? How does the rhythm of the piece contribute to its meaning? Your students may see the dashes as pauses, adding weight to the ideas. You could point out how the dashes around "hold their breath" give the impression of someone or something holding its breath or how, in line 9, the dashes around "Any" emphasize the impossibility of this sensation ever being taught.
    • Personification — Ask the students to find the personification in the last stanza. They should note that the "Landscape listens" and the "Shadows—hold their breath—." Encourage them to think about what this adds to the poem? Does the speaker project these reactions onto nature? Why? What can that tell us about the speaker?
  • Pass out the Emulate Emily handout to every student. Have students complete the first part of the assignment, which asks them to think again about how the poem "There's a certain Slant of light" presents its message, and then to write a poem of their own emulating it, in class or for homework.
  • Once they've written their poem, have students follow step #4 from the Emulate Emily handout. They will exchange their poems with their partners and offer critiques, based on what they've learned thus far in the lesson. Finally, students will, in step #5 from the Emulate Emily handout, write a one-page essay describing what they have learned.


If students have completed the curriculum unit, you can assess them using this rubric.

Curriculum Unit Assessment

Ask students to submit a portfolio of their work, including their essays, their letter, their poem, and their worksheet with their poem critique. Assess them based on the rubric below, granting point values as preferred.

  1. Student worked with his or her group to decipher Emily Dickinson's writing.
  2. Student contributed thoughtfully to class discussion.
  3. Poetry analysis included awareness of word choice, image, and meter.
  4. Writing samples (letter, poem, and essays) used voice appropriate to form.
  5. Emulated poem indicated an understanding of Dickinson's style.
  6. Emulated poem effectively described a personal experience.
  7. Poem critique demonstrated an understanding of the role of a constructive critic, especially as presented in class discussion.
  8. Essay demonstrated an understanding of Dickinson's poetic style.
  9. Essay included an analysis of the student's own poem.
  10. Essay reflected on the poetry-writing process.

Extending The Lesson

Have the students read the poem "Emily Dickinson" by contemporary poet Linda Pastan. The poem is available from Titanic Operas, Folio 1 on the Dickinson Electronic Archives through the EDSITEment reviewed Academy of American Poets site. Note how Pastan addresses and then challenges the myth of Dickinson. Ask the students to consider how Pastan responds to Dickinson's poetry and her image and how she expresses her views through her poem. Then, have your students pen a poem that reflects their perceptions of Dickinson and her influence on them.

The Basics

Grade Level


Time Required

1-2 class periods

Subject Areas
  • Literature and Language Arts > Place > American
  • History and Social Studies > People > Women
  • Literature and Language Arts > Genre > Poetry
  • 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
  • Julie Kachniasz (AL)


Activity Worksheets