Choosing Words Carefully: Anne Bradstreet's Diction and Style

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SWBAT identify and analyze how poetic structure refines and shapes the tone and theme of Anne Bradstreet's "Upon the Burning of Our House."

Big Idea

As students look deeper into the themes and diction Puritan Poetry, they explore how one person expresses solace even amid devastating tragedy.

Introduction: It's Newspaper Carrier's Day

5 minutes

We open class with a welcome to "Newspaper Carrier's Day," and I ask if any of the students had a job as a "paperboy" or "papergirl," and point out that it's Newspaper Carrier's Day. I also share my ow experiences playing the video game, "Paperboy," to point out that no idea--despite how ridiculous it may seem--is a automatically bad one (in this case, a video game about delivering the morning papers).  As always, Daily Holidays serve to build a sense of community, openness, and trust in the classroom, especially early in the school year as teachers and students are still "feeling out" the classroom climate and communication styles. Additionally, I stress the value of taking risks in the class, like the game designed who had the idea to connect a set of bicycle handlebars to a video game's controls

Discussion: "What's The Value of Hard Work?"

15 minutes

In order to prepare for discussion of the themes of Puritan poetry, and how these themes are developed over the course of a poem (RL.9-10.2), students were asked to write short-form responses to the journal prompt, "Is hard work something of value, even if it doesn't lead to money? In your opinion, does hard work indeed lead to success?" (W.9-10.10). Along with these responses, through our independent reading and guided notes, students have already identified the definition of the Puritan (Protestant) Work Ethic, to draw on this preparation to stimulate our discussion today (SL.9-10.1a), as we discuss this theme in Puritan life and writing.

As we discuss, students respond to this current discussion to clarify and challenge the ideas and values of hard work students share (SL.9-10.1c), seeking clarification as they respond to differing perspectives, be they "lazy" or "workaholic," justifying their own values and making new connections in light of the thoughts presented by their peers (SL.9-10.1d).

I provide students with the chance to share their opinions in order to encourage their speaking up in collaborative discussion.

This is not the first time I've asked students to share thoughts on hard work, and in the years I have, the answers seem to have similarities:

1. Work is desirable if one gets rewarded.

2. Things that come easily have more intrinsic value than those that have to be worked for.

3. Students do not always see the value of working in classes that do not come easy for them. 

The discussion on these ideas begins to introduce the concepts of collaborative discussion. I want students to take risks, say ridiculous things, and defend the point of view to express them selves and to build trust. At the same time, students need to respect each other, and other speakers. A collaborative discussion where the goal is not to find a "right" or "wrong" answer, but to express their own, and react to others', ideas provided this opportunity. As the semester goes on, students will be speaking in front of the class and presenting more. By starting class discussions early, I hope to build comfort and trust between students, taking out that nervousness that comes with speaking in front of a group.

Explicating Poetry: "Upon the Burning of Our House"

28 minutes

We transition from the monetary rewards of work to the loss of property through "Act of God," as we address Anne Bradstreet's poem, "Upon the Burning of Our House."

Students are asked to refer to the explication notes they completed for homework as we review and discuss the content and structure of the poem. I project the poem onto the whiteboard, taking notes on student analysis and summary, and ask for volunteers to read, demonstrating command of Bradstreet's "formal" English and the rhythm and rhyme she uses in the poem (SL.9-10.6). After reading the poem once, I solicit students to come to the board and make an accent mark above the strong or accented syllable in the first line, and the same with marking the rhyme. As students identify these, I point out we are dealing with iambic rhythm and rhymed couplets, and solicit a volunteer to re-read the first stanza playing up or over-emphasizing the rhythm and rhyme. Given that she uses slant rhyme (half rhyme, approximate rhyme, etc.) at points, I explain her use of this poetic technique as well, and ask the students how these devices create the the tone of loss, then realization of faith and her heavenly reward following the shift (turn, volta) where the tone changes after line 35 (RL.9-10.4). Students analyze how Bradstreet's choice of words: listing lost items, recounting her fear and sadness, build-up to to this realization create the powerful effect of the shift in tone (RL.9-10.5).

The second element I address is Bradstreet's diction as a representation of Puritan Plain Style. Students identify the words that list everyday objects, the words that portray a reflection on the poet's faith, and words that clearly express her meaning. As students recognize that "Architect" is a term used for metaphorically for God, I introduce the concept of "conceit," as this metaphor has some of the characteristics of the conceits we will examine with Edward Taylor's poetry. We discuss student impression of the speaker referring to her god as an architect, and the impact it has on the poem (RL.9-10.4). 

Throughout this section, I check for comprehension and pause for students to ask questions. I take a few minutes to gain the students' reactions as well; do they think they could come to accept a loss like Bradstreet's as easily as she seems to? 

We cover a lot of information here, but this is primarily a review of terms and from the students' Freshmen (Grade 9) year. Through a guided lesson like this one, I can ensure the content is getting presented to the students, and by stopping to directly call on students to restate or explain ideas, I can ensure understanding. 


Two Minute Warning: Homework Assignment Wrap Up (Self-Explication)

2 minutes

At the end of class, I take two minutes to assign the homework and ask students for quick questions. In order to continue their exploration of the Puritan impression of hard work, students are asked to read Edward Taylor's "Huswifery" for homework, and continue their explications with this poem, especially trying to explain the conceit (extended metaphor) Taylor uses. Students should also note how the poem utilizes the traits of Puritan Plain Style and the poetic devices noted in SOAPSTone.