Extended Metaphor with the Puritans & Shel Silverstein

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SWBAT draw evidence from varied texts to support extended metaphor analysis while defending interpretation of text in whole-class discussion.

Big Idea

Life is a notebook, my parents are trees, and Jonathan Edwards wants to be a spinning wheel. Can you hold your own with extended metaphors?


This lesson occurs near the end of a collection of texts from the early Americans.  We have already looked at origin myths by Native American tribes, exploration documents from the early explorers, slave narratives, and early colonial accounts from John Smith and William Bradford.  Prior to this class period, students were to view a short film,  "Puritan Family in Early New England" (10:29), to learn more about the family structure and ordinary life of Puritan colonists.  Additionally, they were to create a Venn Diagram which compared and contrasted Puritan life with modern life.  We have already talked briefly about the Puritan values that became central to American culture, and I would like to frame conversation today about the video on our similarities rather than on our differences.  We will begin the hour by taking a short quiz to confirm that students have watched the required video, then segue into reviewing student-created Venn Diagrams.


20 minutes

I will begin the hour by having students take a very brief Socrative.com quiz to ensure that students have completed the video homework.  If you would like this quick 10-question assessment, you can sign up for a free account at Socrative.com and enter SOC-1994532 to "Import" this assessment into your quizzes.  See the screencap below for a better idea of what this quiz looks like.  As students complete their quizzes (which will be monitored through Socrative.com to ensure students are working at an appropriate pace), they should review their Venn Diagrams from the homework to be ready for class discussion and ensure that they are in their shared folder for later grading.

After the quiz, we will run through the questions be sure that all students are aware of the correct answers before moving on.  Then, I will ask three students to volunteer to compile a class Venn Diagram on the board (each taking a category heading of "Puritans," "Both," or "Modern").  To ensure that everyone participates in discussion, we will go around the room to gather suggestions for the whole-class diagram.  It is vital to my classroom and the Common Core that students arrive to discussions prepared to participate, so I will often assign small writing projects like this Venn Diagram just to ensure that students have something to say when called on.  As ideas go onto the board, we will discuss them as a class if there is some debate on which column suggestions fall under.  A copy of a student Venn Diagram is below with student suggestions incorporated into their own work.  Though students need to have this homework completed upon entering class, great value can still be taken by amending their documents to including the ideas of their peers.  The Common Core asks arguments to be made to support points and for students to update work reflecting new information and feedback, so encouraging this habit is a wonderful way to stress this point.

Building Knowledge

15 minutes

In order to transition to the next part of the lesson, I will explain to students that we are going to continue looking at Puritan literature written in the "Plain Puritan Style."  I will show students "Huswifery" briefly on the projector to let students get a look at the challenge before them, then explain that part of the irony of this project will be that the "Plain Puritan Style" isn't always so plain to the modern eye!  I will also explain that this poem uses an extended metaphor to create a fabulous image for the reader and give deeper meaning.  In order to refresh students' memory of metaphor, I will ask them to remind me what a metaphor is, give me a few examples of metaphors, and predict what they believe an "extended metaphor" or "conceit" might be.  When students have guessed at the definition of an extended metaphor, we will work together to build an example.

In order to create an example that students relate with, I will choose a very familiar object to them and transform it into an extended metaphor with their help.  The progression of questions and student responses will go something like this:

  • So what if I said "my life is a notebook"?  What would that say to you?  What does that mean?  (Usually students will sit dazed because it's a terrible metaphor that really says little.  I will capitalize on this by waiting for them to comment on the uncertainty of the metaphor.)
  • It's really not a great metaphor.  So let's flesh it out and see if we can't do better with an extended metaphor to give it some actual meaning.  So if this notebook is my life, what would the pages be?  (Experiences, days, etc.)
  • How about the spiral?  What's binding the "pages of your life" together?  (Family, friends, and culture will all be common answers.)
  • And the pages that are written on?  What are those?  (Memories)
  • And the blank ones?  (Your future)
  • Okay, so that part was pretty obvious.  So let's try something tougher.  How about the blue lines on the pages?  (Students could guess a lot of things that are wonderful.  If they struggle with this, suggest that there are approximately 24 lines on wide ruled paper, which most students will put together as hours in a day.)
  • And the red margin?  (Rules, guiding features, etc.)
  • And how about the front and back covers?  What is unique about those that we could use to really add some amperage to this conceit?  (The front cover, which is unique and usually snazzy, could be birth or your unique life beginning.  The back cover, which is typically your standard brown, plain cardboard cover, could be your death.  This is a particularly nice aspect, because despite all the frills on and in notebooks, back covers are all the same, therefore, we're all on an even playing field in death.)
  • And this could go on and on!  How crazy is this?!  Who knew we were all happy little notebooks?  How about the crumbly edges that exist when you rip a page out?  And what's a ripped-out page?  (Missing pages might be things we've forgotten--by choice or otherwise.  The crumbly edges are the leftover memories that can never quite be fully erased.)
  • Want to get really crazy?  What if your notebook has multiple sections like a 5-subject notebook or a 3-subject notebook?  (It could be chapters in your life like childhood, young adult, adult, etc.)
  • And what if they are the kind that have spots for you to tuck in extra pages?  What are those?  (Typically students will offer additions like spouses or children as possibilities.)  
  • When I was a kid, I always got the cheap notebooks.  About 2 months in, the front cover was always peeling off, leaving the white, fuzzy internal part of the cover exposed.  I always decorated it with about a zillion colors.  What might that be?  (Recreating yourself)
  • So as you can see, you can suddenly get very, very deep with metaphors when you extend them.  Our original "life is a notebook" was very weak, but this is getting pretty mind blowing.  Let's go one step further.  So up until now, we've just been looking at your notebook...your life...as an individual.  What does it say about your life if you write that your notebook is kept on a happy shelf with other well-used, well-loved notebooks?  It could be that you're happy and have found other diverse "notebooks" to spend your days with!  And if your notebook ends up forgotten about?  Chucked under the stairs to collect dust?  Bad sign.  Does extended metaphor make a little more sense now?  (Students will be humming with how much their lives are like notebooks, and that's exactly how you want them at this point!  Feel free to explore any other student suggestions and extensions of this metaphor.)



35 minutes

To capitalize on the student interest in metaphor at this point, we will continue down our "fond memory" adventure to explore Shel Silverstein's The Giving Tree.  To introduce the application activity, I will ask students if they have any favorite Shel Silverstein works, and we will briefly discuss what we recall about them.  I always share "Boa Constrictor" as one of my favorites!  Then, I will cue up the YouTube reading of "The Giving Tree" on my projector.  I will also emphasize that the story they will be listening to is literally about a little boy and a tree, but there is a big gap between what is "said" in the text and what is "meant" by the text.  It will be our job to work through that gray area to distinguish the deeper meaning of the story!

While listening to the story, I will instruct students to write down a few things that we will later discuss, which I will list on the whiteboard before beginning the clip:

  • Remembering that in our first extended metaphor example, LIFE=NOTEBOOK, what is the extended metaphor in this story?  TREE=?
  • Why do you feel the extended metaphor is as you described it in the first question?  What evidence points to this interpretation as opposed to some other interpretation? 
  • What is the overall meaning or theme of the story as you've explained the metaphor?

While the story is playing, students will be writing down their ideas about what the tree represents and what evidence led them to believe this.  While the video is playing, I will also create a short outline for students to review with me on the whiteboard before we begin analysis as a class.  The outline will simply summarize the plot and includes how the tree feels (in a smiley or sad face after the statement) to make understanding the metaphor easier.  Inserting this step allows students to have their own time to think about the larger-scale messages in the text while viewing, but it also forces students to consider the actual simple structure of the story before launching into a big dissertation on what the story was about.  Omitting this step simply summarizing the story opens up the classroom discussion to ideas about allegory that are not at all supported by the progression of the text.  If the outline is on the board, however, if students veer off on an unsupported or unrelated idea for the allegory, I can quickly redirect them by pointing out that their allegory interpretation must be followed through every stage of the story.  The outline will look like:

  • Young Boy plays with the tree, rests, relaxes.
  • Older Boy wants _______________, tree gives ______________.  :)
  • Older Boy wants _______________, tree gives ______________.  :)
  • Older Boy wants _______________, tree gives ______________.  :(
  • Old Boy needs _________________, tree gives ______________.  :)


We will review the plot, then I will allow the students to offer their perspectives on what the extended metaphor could mean and what the tree could represent.  There are numerous interpretations of the story, but the most important item that the students must have is evidence to back up the metaphor completely from start to finish.  I will ask probing questions to students to have them clarify their points, and all perspectives which can be reasoned through evidence will be accepted.  This activity will allow for healthy debate and discussion over how students see the tree and interpret the evidence.  

We will close this activity by deciding what impact the ending of Silverstein's story had on its overall meaning.  This is a very important question for any story, but since this entire piece is developed around a larger metaphor, it is crucial that students understand that had the ending been different in some way, so too would have been the larger metaphor and theme.  It's a rather dark story in some perspectives (and a wise tale of being selfless for others!), but in either case, the ending is important to note.


15 minutes

As a final element to this lesson, I will ask the students to define "allusion" as a literary element.  I will first point out that an "allusion" is different from "illusion" and "elude," since these are both extremely common answers that students tend to give.  Since we will have just completed an in-depth look at The Giving Tree, I will take this opportunity to showcase the powers of a well-placed allusion in text.  In this case, it will be a song entitled "The Giving Tree" by the Plain White T's.  Before we listen to the song, I will ensure that all students are aware of the power that allusions lend to text by using an example of inserting the words "I have a dream" into a speech.  I will ask students what this immediately calls to mind and explain that this connection is intended to strengthen the message by giving it additional context and background.  I will also point out that allusions don't always have to be understood in text to understand the text itself.  To demonstrate this, we will discuss how the film Shrek is entertaining to both children and adults because of allusions.  Though kids think the movie is funny for all kinds of physical humor or other features, older viewers can appreciate the film more deeply by understanding more of the allusions made in the film.  

After a clear understanding of allusion is demonstrated through class discussion, we will listen to "The Giving Tree" while viewing the lyrics.  While watching, students should be thinking about the following ideas, which we will discuss after the song:

  • Summarize the plot and characters of the song.  Who is the narrator?  To whom is the narrator speaking?  What happens?
  • How does the allusion to Shel Silverstein's The Giving Tree strengthen this song's message?  (Students will likely say that they feel worse for the narrator because of their feelings for the tree.  If they are having issues understanding how this changed their understanding of the song, I will ask them if they typically would feel bad for a man who kept taking back his girlfriend after she repeatedly breaks his heart.  If the answer is no but they feel bad for this man, that's likely a leftover emotion about the tree.)
  • How did this song's writer interpret the extended metaphor in Shel Silverstein's version of The Giving Tree?  (Students will choose the metaphor which relates a relationship where one party feels used.)
  • Though we don't know exactly how this story ends for the couple, what can you infer about how they will end up based on his allusion to The Giving Tree?  (In the story, the boy and the tree end their days together.  This means that if we carry out the allusion, we can infer that the man and woman will also end their days together rather than continue in their different directions.

Next Steps

5 minutes

For homework, students will practice their decoding skills by reading through Edward Taylor's "Huswifery."  While reading, they should practice the same procedure in analyzing the text as they did in the Silverstein piece.  Stress that they almost certainly have to use outside sources to clarify the meaning of several terms specific to spinning wheels and looms (unless we have experts in the fabric arts present!).  They may also have to do outside research to find out more about how a spinning wheel or loom works.  In our video from last class period, students did get to see a spinning wheel in action, so that will help with this activity.  While they may scoff at the idea of using dictionaries to read or doing research to better understand text, this process is one of the key language standards for this grade level.  The prompts I will give my students to answer during and after reading are:

  1. In our examples, we have seen that Life=Notebook and Parent/Significant Other/Friend/etc.=Giving Tree.  What is the base for the extended metaphor in this poem?  Narrator=______________  (hint: this will be different in stanzas 1 & 2)
  2. What evidence supports this?
  3. In the notebook example, we defined multiple aspects of the paper and related them to "life."  Be sure to match the parts of the metaphor in the same way.  (hint: you'll probably need to use a dictionary to understand parts of a spinning wheel and loom)
  4. What is the overall meaning or theme of this poem?

Students are to bring back their completed extended metaphor analyses next time so we can go over them as a class.  To further illuminate this, I have made a Google Drawing that shows the extended metaphor as it progresses that I will share with my students next time.  This visual example will help all students, especially my visual learners, to get a clearer grasp on the poem and to see some possibilities for making poetry analysis more friendly with their learning style.