A Poetry-Inspired Writing Lesson from WritingFix

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This Lesson's Title:

Tillbury Town:
Why, Cory, Why?

creating a "Top Ten List" to explore Richard Cory's motives

This lesson was created by NNWP Teacher Consultant Corbett Harrison. You can access all of Corbett's on-line lessons by clicking here.

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

Click here to learn more about this poet.

If you are a Washoe County teacher, click here to search for a collection of works by this poet that you can check out from the county library.

Teacher Instructions & Lesson Resources:

Richard Cory
by E. A. Robinson

Whenever Richard Cory went down town,   
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,   
Clean favored, and imperially slim.   

And he was always quietly arrayed,   
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,   
"Good-morning," and he glittered when he walked.

And he was rich—yes, richer than a king,   
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine, we thought that he was everything   
To make us wish that we were in his place.   

So on we worked, and waited for the light,   
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.


Step one (sharing the published model): 

E. A. Robinson wrote many poems about the unusual characters in the fictional place he created with his pen: Tillbury Town.  Richard Cory is probably Robinson's most famous Tillbury Town resident. If you're looking for another interesting Tillbury Town poem, be sure to check out WritingFix's Reuben Bright writing prompt as well.

Share the one-page handout below with your students, or place it on the overhead projector.  Before reading, let students know this poem is an traditional sonnet, because of its sixteen lines, four stanzas, and its ABAB, CDCD, EFEF, HIHI rhyme scheme.

Read the poem aloud, then ask students to write down their initial best guess of why a man as wealthy and loved as Richard Cory might do this. Have students share their ideas with a partner.

Talk to your students about how many poems can have multiple interpretations. Poetic interpretation can come from many places; the personal experiences of the reader often shapes the interpretation.

Tell students that today they will be interpreting the poem from the perspective of someone different: a TV producer.

As every TV producer knows, good drama makes good television. Non-detailed and unoriginal drama makes bad television. Working with a partner, students will think about interpreting the Richard Cory poem with the intention of turning the story into good television drama.

Students, working under the idea that they are going to hire writers to write a two-hour made-for-TV movie about the life and death of Richard Cory, will create a "Top Ten List." The topic of the "Top Ten List": ten one-sentence ideas that would launch a great two-hour script about Richard Cory.

Step two (introducing models of writing):  Tell students each item on their "Top Ten List" must be a complete sentence, and each item must contain some snazzy adjectives and verbs that would help launch the perfect script about Mr. Cory's tragedy. Tell students they are not allowed to create sentences that would imply that this movie is a comedy; they are proposing a tragic drama.

Write these two sentences where students can see them; the first is a non-example for their top ten lists; the second is a thoughtful example, one that should inspire their examples.

  • Bad example: "Richard Cory was really sad."
  • Good example: "After believing for years that his deceased and wealthy father was a good man, Richard Cory discovers that he earned his fortune at the expense of others' happiness."

Tell your students they need to form partnerships, and they need to discuss possible interpretations of Richard Cory's actions. When they have one they both believe sounds feasible, they need to create a one-sentence summary of their idea, using the good example from above as a model. Ultimately, your students will create ten sentences about ten possible interpretations.


Step three (thinking and pre-writing): If you are able to have students press the interactive choice buttons on the Student Instructions Page, they will find some interesting possibilities for plot ideas. Remember, they will need ten different ideas for this assignment.

When student partners are composing their lists, have them raise their hands to share their first example with you before moving on to their second item. Check that their first item is detailed enough before they move deeper into the list; if it is not, require on-the-spot revision. If a student partnership has an excellent example, share it out loud, praising its word choice, as an example for the rest of the class.

Use the writing worksheet below to have the students compose their top ten lists. Important: Have both members of each partnership write down their top ten lists; it's good for both writers to correctly write down the sentences, and it's important for the partner to have two copies of the list for the last part of this activity.


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.

When finished considering revision ideas, have the partnership rank their best list items from 1 (BEST) to 10 (not so BEST). Have them write their rankings on just one of their copies of the top ten list. Tell them to consider "best ideas" and "best word choice" when determining their numbers.

Have student partnerships exchange their un-ranked worksheet copy with another partnership. The receiving partnership reads the new list over, and they rank the ten items. When the list has been ranked by another partnership, students need to compare their rankings of their own list to the rankings of another group.

Partners can write then their best sentence on a sentence strip of a large piece of construction paper. Hang them up around the room.

Extension idea: If students like the plots they created with their single sentences, challenge them to turn the sentence into a larger story during the next writer's workshop time.


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):   When they are finished revising and have second drafts, invite your students to come back to this piece once more during an upcoming writer's workshop block.  Their stories might become a longer story, a more detailed piece, or the beginning of a series of pieces about the story they started here.  Students will probably enjoy creating an illustration for this story as they get ready to publish it for their portfolios.

Interested in publishing student work on-line?  We invite student writers to post final drafts of their original at WritingFix's Community of Student Writers.  This is a safe-to-use blog for students and teachers. No writing is posted until it is approved by the moderator. Contact us at publish@writingfix.com if you have questions about getting your students published.


Learn more about poet E. A. Robinson by clicking here.

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