A Valentine's Sonnet: Writing Sonnets After Examining Shakespeare's Sonnet 116

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SWBAT apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading and listening by examining Sonnet 116 and mimicking the format.

Big Idea

How do I love thee? Let me count the... syllables and write to try a sonnet to express it.

Getting Started

5 minutes

In the first few minutes of class, I will go over the plan for the hour: Ultimately, we are going to be writing our own Shakespearean sonnets, but in order to do that, we will examine the meter and rhyme scheme of one of Shakespeare's love sonnets.

Sonnet 116

20 minutes

Every student will receive a copy of Sonnet 116, so that they can annotate it. We will read through it twice aloud before annotating it; two different students will read. I like to read through poems at least twice before talking about them because, for teenagers, they are a foreign entity. The words seem impossible upon first read, but often become a bit clearer the second time around. Then we will read sentence by sentence, working through the meaning. At this point, I often read. Reciting the lines with appropriate tone and inflection aids understanding. And it will help students annotate: they will start by writing a "translation" or objective summary of each line (RL.9-10.2) that they understand, and then will add notes based on our conversations about imagery, rhyme scheme, and meter.


We will briefly analyze the rhyme scheme and iambic pentameter. It's worth noting that sometimes Shakespeare forces a rhyme, or because of accent, the lines may not seem to rhyme, such as with the rhyming couplet in Sonnet 116" "proved" and "loved" seem to be stretch (RL.9-10.4). We can keep this in mind during the next activity, during which time, we will write sonnets, but it also important to note that Shakespeare gets to break the rules and make new ones. We don't get quite as many liberties. Once we have worked our way through the poem, we will discuss what Shakespeare is trying to say overall about love and it's timeless qualities (RL.9-10.2).


Sonnet 116 is a great one to use as an example because it's approachable. None of the words in this poem are completely foreign to students-- "impediments" may be the hardest word-- but it will still take some time, working sentence by sentence, to clarify meaning, using the context and imagery as a guide. In 20 minutes, we can read to understand the poem itself and the genre.

Writing Sonnets

20 minutes

Students will pair up and will write one sonnet about the pair to their left (W.9-10.3). It certainly doesn't have to be a love sonnet, but it does need to be complementary. I have arranged it this way because they need to start with a topic (otherwise they use half their time deciding what to write about), but it's boring if they all write about the same thing. This method includes everyone and offers a personal touch. Also, this arrangement seems to be a good compromise: the students get to work with someone they want to work with, and I am happy knowing that everyone will be included during the share out time.

Students are writing sonnets because it's the best way for them to understand how hard it is to write in iambic pentameter. They will have to think about syllables and rhyming words, imagery (W.9-10.3d) and description (W.9-10.3b). I expect that they will have to consider flipping the order of words in order to fit the perimeters (L.9-10.3). I think that this activity sets the right now for the beginning of the play, but it's also fun.

Sharing Sonnets

15 minutes

I have left 15 minutes at the end of class to share the sonnets (SL.9-10.1). It would be a pity to write a poem for someone else and not share it. I also think that this is a nice way to leave each other before a vacation week.

Students share their sonnets about the pair to the left: Sonnet 1, Sonnet 2