Meeting the Mistress of Sonnet 130

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Students will be able to analyze figurative language and the structure of a sonnet.

Big Idea

What makes a sonnet a sonnet?

Daily Grammar

15 minutes

Today's paragraph is another review of how commas are used to separate items in a list, as well as commas used to separate introductory phrases from an independent clause.

Apostrophes are another item that I am constantly working with students on.  Some students genuinely believe that every time a word ends in 's', an apostrophe is needed.  No, it's only if the word is possessive.  Only if something belongs to the noun in that word. 

Sentence fragments are another thing that my students constantly struggle with, as well as homonyms (to/two/too).  I came across an interesting interpretation of homonyms later inthe week with the use of 'tow' instead of to.  I've not seen that one before.

Playing with Words in Rhyme and Repetition

7 minutes

I introduced the concept of a sonnet with an example of one stanza from Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe."

One of the things that makes sonnets difficult is that the writers play with language to achieve a certain rhyme scheme or rhythm.  The words are out of order and don't make sense on the first (or second, or third, or fourth, or fifth. . . read). 

Enter "Call Me Maybe" by Carly Rae Jepsen, et al. (Note: I would not actually show the music video to students, but I would play the song. For a much more amusing video of the same song, check out the 2012 USA swim team's version of the music video.)

This stanza is from the middle of the song and I chose this song because of lines one and two.  While both lines are technically  grammatically correct, line two is a bit funky.  Normally, one would say, "I didn't take any time at all with the fall."  However, the authors wanted to achieve a particular rhythm and rhyme scheme.  Therefore, they chose to to play with the language to create the same rhythm as the first line.    The second picture on the right shows the rhythm (pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables) that the word choice, specifically the order of the word choice, creates.









The rhythm is created by using a series of stressed syllables.  In fact, virtually all of the syllables are stressed, except for one word in lines one through three.  Line four mixes it up a bit, but the words are overwhelmingly stressed syllables. This creates a BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG ba BANG mood.  An poppy, cheerful, intensive, propelling, action filled mood, which is directly connected to the main ideas and theme of the song. 

I've been telling students for at least two weeks that the figurative language and poetic devices authors use aren't accidental.  And yeah, they kind of get it, but we've been reading proper poetry with proper rhyme schemes, and how much is that really connected to their lives?  Here we see a "REAL SONG", a real song to seventh graders, a real pop song, in which the authors have chosen words to create a rhythm and rhyme scheme.  Lines one through three all have the same rhythm and rhyme scheme.  It's line four, with the different rhythm and rhyme scheme, that is off.

And the way that this rhythm and rhyme scheme was achieved was largely due to the word choice order of the second line.  If that second line had been 'correctly' written, the rhythm would be totally different.  The bottom line of this mini-lesson, thus, is that authors play with the order of words to achieve rhyme scheme and rhythm.  When students read sonnets, it's critical that they understand that so they don't get overwhelmed by the unfamiliar wordage.

First Read: Main Ideas in Sonnet 130

20 minutes

I gave them copies of two sonnets: 18 (Shall I compare thee to a summer's day) and 130 (My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun). I chose these two sonnets because they are both about love, but have different themes.  Compare and contrast, yo!

I told students to remember what we'd talked about in regard to   authors playing with language to achieve a certain rhythm or rhyme scheme or whatever they want to achieve. And then I asked them to read Sonnet 130 (My mistresses' eyes), fully expecting them to react like this:

And they did not disappoint.

I knew that I was giving them something very difficult.  I knew they would struggle with it.  I also knew that we needed to read and discuss sonnets because it's important to literature and it's on my district's common assessment.  I reminded them about the helium stick activity we did at the beginning of the year.  Some things were going to be difficult, but we would work on it together, we would have productive struggle, and everything would be okay

And we read it again, this time listening to Alan Rickman reading the sonnet.   (Both classes, within ten seconds of hearing the audio, asked if it were Snape reading.  Yes, yes it is.)


I asked the to do a quickwrite, explaining what they thought the author was saying about his mistress.  After a bit of time, I asked them to share out in their groups what they had written about. After a couple more minutes, I asked each group to report back to the entire class.  You could also ask students to write one main idea from their group on a dry erase board.  I wish I'd done that, and I plan to do that with my other classes when we get to this point.



Second Read: Craft and Structure

20 minutes

The next focus was how the author uses language to convey ideas.  We're looking at figurative language, rhythm, and rhyme scheme.  I asked students to write a short, short, short paragraph.  For this, I didn't want a topic sentence, just concrete evidence and maybe commentary.  All I wanted for them to tell me was what types of language they thought they saw in Sonnet 130.

The picture to the right shows the question I asked as well as a list of what students wrote about. I wasn't surprised that they recognized similes, metaphor, imagery, and rhyme scheme, but the inclusion of enjambments pleasantly surprised me.  I could also tell that students didn't quite have a handle on hyperbole and personification, because those devices aren't in Sonnet 130.  This brief writing assignment gave me a starting point for today's lesson.

I started with the easiest device, rhyme scheme, and asked them to annotate it independently first.   I reminded them of what we read about quatrains and couplets and asked them to predict where the quatrains and couplets might be.  The picture to the left shows both the rhyme scheme and the divisions between quatrains and the couplet.




 Next, we looked at figurative language, starting with the devices they thought they saw but aren't actually in the sonnet, hyperbole and personification.  By asking them to cite lines, they could see that those devices weren't used.

Then we moved to simile and metaphor.  You can't read one line without tripping over a simile or metaphor, so we didn't talk about every single one.  The poet compares the mistress' eyes to the sun (simile), her hair to wires (metaphor), and the way she walks to the way a goddess walks (metaphor).   The majority of the comparisons are metaphors. 

Then we looked at rhythm.  Oh iambs, how we missed you!  I assigned each group two lines and then asked them to count how many syllables were in each line.  I took the first two lines in order to model.  Lines one and two both have ten syllables.  Each group counted syllables and reported back--every line has ten syllables.  I asked them to divide that by two, two syllables in a foot.  Ten divided by two is five, so there are five feet in each line. 

Mmmkay.  What type of feet are they? Every foot has one unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable, so therefore, we have iambs.  I asked each group to check their two lines.  Does it follow the pattern?  It does!  So we have iambic. . . something.  If there are three iambs, it's iambic triameter.  Four iambs is iambic tetrameter.  Five iambs is. . . iambic. . . pentameter!  Think about the Pentagon or a pentagram.  How many sides or points do they have?  Five! 

The last thing we did was write another quickwrite about what we'd discovered.  I used the prompt in the picture below.

Third Read: Why Is Sonnet 130 A Sonnet?

20 minutes

The next thing we did was look at integrating our knowledge of what a sonnet is (three quatrains, one couplet, iambic pentameter, figurative language) with the example of Sonnet 130.  

I used this paragraph as a formative assessment to check to see if students had not only grasped the concepts, but also could explain it with cited examples from the text.  You could also give students a different sonnet to analyze, but I'd wait for a summative assessment to do that. 


Lesson Resources

Today's lesson picture is the first line of Sonnet 130.  The picture was created with the help of a PowerPoint template.