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This lesson plan uses the poem ‘Birches’ by Robert Frost to explore the language of the poem as well as the themes of the poem. The lesson plan includes individual and group work as well as a writing assignment.

Learning Objectives

As a result of this lesson, students will be able to:

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  • define blank verse and recognize iambic pentameter.
  • identify possible themes of the poem ”Birches” by Robert Frost.

Length

  • 1 hour

Curriculum Standards

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.

    RL.7.2

Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text; provide an objective summary of the text.

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.7.

    4

Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of rhymes and other repetitions of sounds (e.g., alliteration) on a specific verse or stanza of a poem or section of a story or drama.

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.

    RL.7.5

Analyze how a drama’s or poem’s form or structure (e.

g., soliloquy, sonnet) contributes to its meaning

Vocabulary/Phrases

  • alliteration
  • blank verse
  • iambic pentameter/iamb
  • theme
  • metaphor

Materials

  • a copy of the poem ”Birches” by Robert Frost for each student, double spaced (so there is space between the lines)
  • colored pencils or pens

Lesson Instructions/Activity

  • Distribute the poem ”Birches” by Robert Frost. Ask students to read the poem through once silently.

  • Poetry has a different impact when read aloud. Read the beginning of the poem aloud, then ask for volunteers to read several lines each until the entire poem has been read aloud.

Exploring the Language of the Poem

  • Play video lesson Birches by Robert Frost: Analysis & Overview, pausing at 1:20.

  • Explain iambic pentameter. Show students how to mark iambic pentameter using the first couple lines of the poem. Then, ask students to mark the iambic pentameter in the next several lines of their poems.
  • A couple of students can put marked lines on the board to demonstrate understanding
  • Note that iambic pentameter is only a form for a poem. The choice of words gives blank verse its full effect. Talk about how the use of precise words carries more impact than general language – Frost says the crystal shells ”shatter and avalanche” rather than that they break.

    Mention also the use of repeated sounds and alliteration.

  • Have students go through the poem again, this time using colored pencils to underline repeated sounds and alliteration in one color, and use a second color to underline words that stand out to them – interesting or precise language that gives the poem more impact.
  • Discussion questions after this activity:
  1. How does the use of blank verse affect the tone of this poem?
  2. Where does Frost use alliteration and repeated sounds and how does it enhance your experience of the poem?
  3. What specific words in the poem did you find to be powerful and interesting, and why?

Exploring the Theme of the Poem

  • Resume video lesson Birches by Robert Frost: Analysis & Overview at 1:21 and play to the end of the lesson.

  • This lesson suggests that the theme of the poem ”Birches” is the tension between imagination and reality.
  • In small groups, students go through the poem and find phrases and lines that talk about imagination, and phrases and lines that talk about reality.
  • Small groups share their findings with the whole class.
  • Check students for understanding using this quiz or worksheet.
  • Discussion questions:
  1. What should be the balance between imagination and reality for a healthy person?
  2. Do you ever experience this tension between imagination and reality?
  3. Are there other possible themes in the poem ”Birches”?

Imagination vs. Reality

  • The poem ”Birches” illustrates a tension between imagination and reality.

    Discuss as a class:

    • A child, unburdened by factual knowledge, is free to imagine creative explanations for everyday occurrences. Do you remember an instance from your childhood where the explanation you imagined was far preferable to the reality you later discovered?
    • Are there any ordinary occurrences that you would like to have more interesting explanations? Brainstorm as a class a list of these occurrences.
  • Writing project: Choose something from the list – an everyday occurrence.

    Think of a more imaginative explanation, the way Robert Frost imagines that the birches were bent by a swinging child rather than by ice. In a poem or a short story, write about your imagined explanation. Omit the everyday explanation, leaving your reader to guess at the end.

  • Take the writing project through the peer editing process. Add illustrations and publish.

Extension: Writing a Metaphor

  • The poem ”Birches” contains a detailed and unique description of an activity that the poem’s narrator enjoyed in childhood – swinging on birch trees. The narrator uses this activity as a metaphor for a topic he is contemplating seriously in adulthood.
  • Think of an activity you enjoyed as a child. How could that activity be used as a metaphor for an issue, decision, struggle, truth, or reality that you face now? Write a metaphor comparing a childhood activity to an issue in your life now.
  • Challenge: write your metaphor in blank verse, using iambic pentameter.

Related Lessons

  • Blank Verse: Definition ; Examples
  • How to Find the Theme or Central Idea

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