The Components of a Ballad

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Students will be able to analyze the makeup of a ballad by examining form, rhyme scheme, and rhythm.

Big Idea

The rhythm and rhyme of a ballad.

Daily Grammar

10 minutes

Oh, apostrophes.  Not flying commas, apostrophes.  The two biggest things to one uses an apostrophe for is in showing possessiveness and in contractions.  Sometimes an word that ends in 's,' however, is just a word that ends in 's' because it's plural or because it just ends in an 's.' We see the first (possessiveness) in paragraph one with the phrase "this year's crop."  We see the second (contractions) in paragraph three with "why don't you."   We also see the third (a plural word) in paragraph two with the word "potatoes."  Potatoes is just plural, and does not require an apostrophe.

Paragraph two is one run-on sentence.  "They barely" starts a new sentence.  The first sentence has two independent clauses joined with a conjunction.  The comma comes before the conjunction.

The Parts of a Ballad

15 minutes

A couple of weeks ago, we read "The Jabberwocky" as the first part of our poetry unit. While we were discussing the language used in the poem, we examined rhyme scheme.  I told students that that wasn't by accident, but I didn't go into it any deeper than that. 

Today we went deeper. I reminded students of that conversation and told them that today we'd be looking at why Lewis Carroll used the ABAB and ABCB rhyme scheme. 

I gave students two brand new reference sheets--one for ballads and one for sonnets.  (We didn't get to sonnets yet, and we won't get to them until after the winter break, but they have it.)  I created the reference sheet using critical information from three different poetry websites:,, and The Smithsonian Folkways website.  I placed four paragraphs that contain the same information on the right and paraphrased the information in student-friendly language on the left side. 

We read the paragraphs.  They legitimately had no idea what those paragraphs said, which didn't surprise me at all.   I walked them through the "cheat sheet" on the right side of the paper.  The first three parts were more easily attainable for students. 

The ballad uses an ABAB or ABCB rhyme scheme.  We looked at our annotated "Jabberwocky."  Sure enough, Lewis Carroll used both.

The ballad is written in quatrains.  Yup, Lewis Carroll wrote his stanzas with four lines.  At this point, I asked students how to say four in Spanish.  "Quatro!" they exclaimed.  "Oh!"    We also looked if there was repetition.  Duh, Ms. DeVries, the first and last stanzas are repeated. 

The ballad tells a tragic, comic, or heroic story that focus on a dramatic event.  Hey, "The Jabberwocky does that! It tells a heroic story!  When the boy kills the Jabberwock!" 

At this point, I asked them to take a deep breath because things were about to get real. 

Examining Rhythm in "The Jabberwocky"

15 minutes

When I told a few people that I'd be teaching my seventh graders about rhythm, specifically iambic triameter/tetrameter/pentameter, I got a few wide eyes, a few "they're not ready for that!" and a few tears.  I know that this concept is difficult.  It's difficult for me.  One of the great things about language arts is the spiraling curriculum. This isn't the only time they're going to be exposed to rhythm.  They'll learn about it as freshmen when reading "Romeo and Juliet."  They'll learn about it as seniors because a major focus in twelfth grade is British literature.  They'll see it again.  I'm merely introducing the concept. 

So we took another deep breath.  And then I took another one.

I told them about feet. No, not the feet you walk on.  A foot is a group of two syllables.  Feet is plural, so there's more than one foot, more than one group of two syllables.  Within feet, there syllables can be either stressed or unstressed.  Stressed syllables are hard syllables.  Unstressed syllables are softer. 

One of the most common types of feet is iambic.  With an iambic foot, the first syllable is unstressed and the second syllable is stressed. (Aren't you glad that your first grade teachers taught you about syllables?)  This creates a baBAM baBAM rhythm. 

Let's look at "The Jabberwocky." I chose the second stanza because the first stanza is filled with "slithy toves and borogoves" and sometimes I don't pronounce borogoves right.  This lesson is NOT the time to mispronounce words, so I went with stanza two. 

Beware.  That word has two syllables.  Be and ware.  The second syllable is heavy and accented.  It's stressed.  The first syllable is not accented.  It's unstressed.  So we've got two syllables, unstressed and stressed.  That's an iamb.  Where else do you see a word with two syllables?  Go find one.  They found "awhile' and "uffish."  Those are iambs. 

But guess what?  An imab isn't limited to words.  It's syllable based.  An iamb may consist of one word, but it may consist of two words or part of a word. 

Look at line 5.  "Beware the Jabberwock my son." That line has eight syllables.  If there's two syllables in a foot, how many feet does this line have?  Eight divided by two is four.  There are four feet, and they are iambic feet, so the first syllable is unstressed and the second syllable is stressed.  The line is read "beWARE theJAB berWOK my SON" because the first syllable of every foot is unstressed.  The second syllable is stressed.



Look at line six.  "The jaws that bite, the claws that catch."  Each word is one syllable, but there's eight, so there are still  eight syllables. There are still four feet. The line is read "the CLAWS that CATCH, the JAWS that BITE."





Look at line seven.  "Beware the Jubjub bird and shun" Same thing.  Four feet, stressed syllable comes second. When lines have this pattern it's called iambic tetrameter.  Iambic means that there are two syllables and the first syllable is unstressed. Tetrameter means that there are four feet. 




Look at line eight.  "The frumious Bandersnatch."  This line only has three feet.  There are only six syllables.  The syllables are still iambic, though.  This line is iambic triameter.  Tri means three (think of tricycle). 






That's rhythm.  Did their brains explode.  Yes, oh yes, they did.

I discuss lines five and eight in the video in this section.  I know the quality of the video is pathetic and I apologize for that.  I've been having technical difficulties.

Writing a Response

10 minutes

To close today's lesson and to check for student understanding, I asked students to write a paragraph about ballads, rhyme scheme, and repetition.  I asked students to respond to the following question:

Why is "The Jabberwocky" a ballad?  Focus on rhyme scheme and rhythm in your response.

I directed students to write one set of concrete evidence and commentary about rhyme scheme and the other set about rhythm.  I reminded students that they could use their brand-new reference sheets as well as the actual poem "The Jabberwocky," and that these paragraphs would be due tomorrow.

Lesson Resources

Today's lesson pictures is by John Tenniel, the illustrator of Alice in Wonderland