Lesson: Voice in Poems

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Lesson Objective

Students will be able to identify the speaker in a poem and distinguish between the personal and imaginary voice. They will also identify the speaker's message in a poem.

Lesson Plan

Connection (3-5 mins): Yesterday we discussed the mood of poetry.  Remember, we said poets try to create a certain feeling in their readers through their word choice and themes.  Today, we will learn another element of poetry, voice.  Poets use a certain voice in their writing to convey meaning.

Teach/Active Engagement (12-15 mins): Voice in poetry is made up of many different ideas including tone and audience.  Tone refers to the writer’s attitude toward the subject and audience is the targeted reader or listener who will be reading the writing. A poet chooses voice or voices for a particular poem to engage the reader's interest or reveal his or her attitude toward the subject. The voice in the poem can be the voice of the poet, voice of an imaginary person, or voice of an object. The voice of the speaker can be lively, inspiring, engaging, emotional, and interesting.

Today we will focus on the personal “I” voice and the imaginary speaker voice.  The personal voice is when the author is expressing his own thoughts or beliefs.  The reader often feels closer to the voice because the voice is based on personal experiences.  One example of this type of poem is by Langston Hughes titled I, too sing America. 

Teacher reads aloud poem from chart paper.  As we read we need to think of a few questions to help us determine the voice in the poem. 

1. Who is the speaker?
2. Who is the speaker talking to?
3. What is the speaker's message?

    I, too sing America.
    I am the darker brother.
    They send me to eat in the kitchen
    When company comes,
    But I laugh,
    And eat well,
    And grow strong.
    I'll be at the table
    When company comes.
    Nobody'll dare
    Say to me,
    "Eat in the kitchen,"
    They'll see how beautiful I am
    And be ashamed
    I, too am America

I love this poem by Langston Hughes.  In this poem Langston is the speaker.  I know this because he uses the pronoun “I” repeatedly, letting me know that the poet is the speaker.  This is the personal voice.  Who do you think the speaker is talking to?  Turn and tell your partner.  Students discuss and teacher calls on a student to share out ideas. 

It’s really interesting in this poem because many of you think that Langston is speaking to everyone in America, to the general public.  If that is the case then his message might be that he too is equal and deserves the same thing as other people despite his darker skin.  There are many ways to interpret the message of this poem. 

The second type of voice we will discuss today is the imaginary speaker voice.  In this type of voice the author asks as the narrator, speaking as a person that doesn’t exist.  You hear the voice of the imaginary person, not necessarily what the author believes or says.  Let’s look at a poem together, to notice the difference between the two voices.  We will read Langston Hughes’s poem, “Mother to Son”. 

Well son, I'll tell you:

    Life for me ain't been no crystal stair,
    It's had tacks in it,
    And splinters,
    And boards torn up,
    And places with no carpet on the floor
    But all the time
    I'se been a-climbin' on,
    And reachin' landin's,
    And turnin' corners,
    And sometimes goin' in the dark
    Where there ain't been no light,
    So boy, don't you turn back.
    Don't you set down on the steps
    'Cause you finds it's kinder hard,
    Don't you fall now,
    For I'se still goin' honey,
    I'se still climbin',
    And life for me ain't been no crystal stair.

In this poem Langston uses an imaginary voice instead of speaking as himself.  He is speaking as a tired mother who is talking to her son about all the hard times in her life. 

Independent Reading (15-20 mins): Students return to their seats.  They will read through their poetry packets to find poems that are examples of both types of voice.  The goal for workshop time is for students to identify as many poems that they can representing the personal voice and the imaginary voice.  Students will be asked to complete an exit slip on one of the poems they discover.  Teacher should circulate during this time to conference with students and help students locate examples of both types of voice.

Exit Slip/Share (3-5 mins): Students will complete an exit slip about one example of a poem they found.  The exit slip requires students to write the title of the poem they found as well as answer the three questions used throughout the lesson.

Reflection:  I decided to include this lesson in the unit after looking through test questions for benchmark assessments.  I noticed many of my students did not perform well on voice questions because they did not have the background knowledge or vocabulary needed to answer voice questions. This is a simple lesson that can be easily modified.  Using both examples makes the lesson longer than normal and the students might benefit from breaking this lesson into two separate days.

Lesson Resources

Voice Exit Slip  


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