A Poetry-Inspired Writing Lesson from WritingFix

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Teacher's Guide:

How Do I Love Sonnets...

exploring sentence fluency and word choice by creating sonnets

This lesson was created by Northern Nevada Writing Project Teacher Consultant
Amie Newberry.

This on-line writing prompt is based on the poetry of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Before writing to this assignment, students should hear and discuss the poetry of this great poet.

To our loyal WritingFix users: Please use this link if purchasing Elizabeth Barett Browning's Poetry from Amazon.com, and help keep WritingFix free and on-line. We thank you!

A note for teacher users: These lessons are posted so that you may borrow ideas from them, but our intention in providing this resource is not to give teachers a word-for-word script to follow. Please, use this lesson's big ideas but adapt everything else. And adapt it recklessly; that's how you become an authentic writing teacher.

Teacher Instructions & Lesson Resources:

Pre-step…before sharing the published model: To get students prepared for the lesson, and more importantly, to disarm their preconceived ideas about poetry, ask them to brainstorm the things that were important to them when they were five years old. What was interesting and exciting when they were five? I would write this list on the overhead and let them enjoy the childhood memories.

Step one…sharing published sonnets:   

  • Next you want to share contemporary poet Scott Ennis' (www.sonnetwriters.com) children’s sonnets. I use “Shadow Rabbit”, “Elephant Dreams”, “I Grew Today”, “The Color of Friendship”. Students get a handout of these poems, and I read these poems out loud and let them laugh and enjoy the sound of the phrases. I also put them up on the overhead and ask them to underline the phrases they like. Talk about what is effective in the writing and what images it brings to mind.
  • Then I want them to discover the meter and rhyme scheme in the poem. I ask them what they notice about the sonnets. Together, we decide what a sonnet must have to make it a sonnet. In a poem that only has 14 lines, sentence fluency and word choice are very important, because there is a limited amount of space to write about one’s point. The word choices must be just right.
  • Once students understand the simple aspects (such as 14 lines and rhyme scheme), they create a sonnet in groups using the brainstorm from the beginning of class. The groups write their own silly sonnets. We publish them out loud in class.

After we’ve had fun with the sonnet form and discovered the general pattern of the poem, I will put up Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s sonnet “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways” and William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

  • While I read the classic sonnets out loud, I will ask them to underline words and phrases that appeal to them.
  • Then we will discuss the similarities and differences between the first set of contemporary children’s sonnets and these two classics sonnets. After brainstorming this idea, I will then ask them to think about the differences and similarities between the two classic sonnets. This will lead into a discussion about the differences between Italian and English sonnets. Sentence fluency is an important factor in the difference between the two models.

Step two (introducing student models of writing): In small groups, have your students read and respond to any or all of the student models that come with this lesson.  The groups will certainly talk about the sentence fluency, since it’s the focus of this lesson.  You might prompt your students to talk about each model's word choice as well.

WritingFix Safely Publishes Students from Around the World! In 2008, we first began accepting students samples from teachers anywhere who use this lesson. Hundreds of new published students now go up at our site annually!

We're currently looking for student samples for other grade levels for this lesson!  Help us obtain some from your students, and we'll send you a free resource for your classroom!  Visit this lesson's student samples page for details.

Step three (thinking and pre-writing):

  • After reviewing our notes and thoughts on the lesson, I will ask students to compose their own sonnet using an Italian or English form on any subject they choose. If they are unsure of a subject, I will suggest they fall back on a love sonnet (similar to Browning’s and Shakespeare’s). They will focus on sentence fluency and word choice. They may even mimic some phrases and word choices from any of the authors we read.
  • Publish in class out loud.

Step four (revising with specific trait language):   To promote response and revision to rough draft writing, attach WritingFix's Revision and Response Post-it® Note-sized templates to your students' drafts.  Make sure the students rank their use of the trait-specific skills on the Post-it® Note-sized templates, which means they'll only have one "1" and one "5."   Have them commit to ideas for revision based on their Post-It rankings.  For more ideas on WritingFix's Revision & Response Post-it® Note-sized templates, click here.

Share Original Revision Techniques or
Adaptations from Your Toolbox.

Inspired by Barry Lane's Reviser's Toolbox, the WritingFix website encourages its teacher users to adapt our lessons, especially the tools of revision we have posted here. If you create an original revision tool (or adapt one of ours) when you teach this page's lesson, and post it, we might just end up publishing it directly here at WritingFix, and we will post it here, giving you full credit.

  • Original revision ideas from teacher users of WritingFix can be submitted through copy/paste or as an attachment at this link. Look for the "Reply to this Box" beneath the post. To be able to post, you will need to be a member of our free Writing Lesson of the Month Network.

Step five (editing for conventions):  After students apply their revision ideas to their drafts and re-write neatly, require them to find an editor.   If you've established a "Community of Editors" among your students, have each student exchange his/her paper with multiple peers.  With yellow high-lighters in hand, each peer reads for and highlights suspected errors for just one item from the Editing Post-it.  The "Community of Editors" idea is just one of dozens and dozens of inspiring ideas that is talked about in detail in the Northern Nevada Writing Project's Going Deep with 6 Trait Language Workbook for Teachers.

Step six (publishing for the portfolio):  The goal of most lessons posted at WritingFix is that students end up with a piece of writing they like, and that their writing is taken through all steps of the writing process. After revising, invite your students to come back to this piece once more during an upcoming writer's workshop block.  The writing started with this lesson might become even more polished for final placement in the portfolio, or the big ideas being written about here might transform into a completely different piece of writing. Most likely, your students will enjoy creating an illustration for their writing as they ready to place final drafts in their portfolios.

Interested in publishing student work on-line? You might earn a free classroom resource from the NNWP! We invite teachers to teach this lesson completely, then share up to three of their students' best revised and edited samples at our ning's Publish Student Writers group.

To submit student samples for this page's lesson, click here. You won't be able to post unless you are a verified member of this site's free-to-use Writing Lesson of the Month ning.


Learn more about poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning by clicking here.

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