Death and Dickinson

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SWBAT determine two or more themes or central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to produce a complex account.

Big Idea

Why the dickens does Dickinson delve into death?


This lesson examines the themes of death and solitude in the poetry of Emily Dickinson.  Students will consider how her portrayal of death is consistent with the Transcendentalist depiction of death.  They will also consider how her poetry is an expression of solitude. The Common Core alignment will be expressed as students compare Dickinson's view toward death to Whitman's view.

Read "Because I Could Not Stop for Death"

15 minutes

 We will read "Because I Could Not Stop for Death" by Emily Dickinson.  I usually pull a popsicle stick and ask students to read a stanza.  Once students have read the poem once, I like them to read it again.  That's the purpose of the attached video version of the poem.  Students can simply just follow along.  Once we have read the poem twice, I give them a few minutes to try to decode the poem's message and answer questions.  We then review their answers in a whole-class activity.  Again,. I pull popsicle sticks to solicit answers from the class and generate a discussion.

I would like students to make the connection to Dickinson's laissez faire attitude toward death, which is probably brought about by the tuberculosis epidemic of the nineteenth century and the unfortunate numbers of people she knew who died from it.  I also want them to think about Dickinson's life of solitude and how she incorporates it into her poem.

This activity relates to the Common Core because I am taking a central theme (death) that has been portrayed by other Transcendentalists and uncovering how Dickinson treats the same subject matter.

Poem Illustration

30 minutes

In this next section, I want students to equate the ideas attached to each stanza to a visual.  To achieve this, I have students illustrate the main idea of each stanza in the comic strip handout.  At the bottom of each cell, students will explain in their own words what is happening in the stanza.  Students will extract a key word or phrase from each stanza and use it as the title of each cell.  This portion of the assignment is the most Common Core aligned because it asks students to analyze the stanza, arrive at the main idea of the stanza, and then equate that main idea to a piece of the text.  This part of the activity also identifes with the fact that Dickinson did not title any of her poems.  Finally, once students have completed their illustrations, they will create a title that best expresses the theme of the entire poem.  The title will appear at the top of the graphic organizer.




Read "I Heard a Fly Buzz"

20 minutes

Once students have finished their comic strips, the class reconvenes for a reading of " I Heard a Fly Buzz."  Again, students will become acquainted with Dickinson's accepting nature toward death.  The fact that the speaker focuses on a fly buzzing around while he or she awaits death provides another example of Dickinson's relaxed attitude toward death.

To provide a Common Core alignment, I will have students create/write a more apt title to the poem and list words or phrases from the work which provide a basis for their title.

Finally, I will ask students to write a reflection comparing and contrasting the tone in Dickinson's poems to Whitman's "Song of Myself."  What is the speaker's attitude toward death and solitude in all three poems? Again, I will ask students to use text support; which lines/phrases from each poem support tone?  How does the tone in each differ?  Again, they will use text support to back up their answers.

Students may complete for homework if they need more time.