In this lesson, I open with a writing challenge to demonstrate the importance of writing with descriptive details. I want students to notice how Emily Dickinson uses descriptive details in her poems.
I open by asking students to close their eyes and imagine a bird (give a good 30 second pause to make them understand that this part is important). I now tell them that when I ask them to open their eyes they are to write as many descriptive details as possible on their white boards to describe their bird. I then have them change boards with their partners and give them a sheet of blank paper. I share that they are to read the details given and then to draw the bird described by their partners using their markers or crayons (colors are important here to make the point). 2 minutes set on the timer.
When the timer sounds they turn and talk and compare the drawing to what pictures were in their minds.
We do a quick discussion on how similar or dissimilar their pictures were and why this happened? What could have been done to help their partners draw better pictures? This sharing helps them to build a basic understanding of the importance of writing with detailed descriptions.
I now introduce their objective for the lesson - today we are going to analyze Emily Dickinson's poem "A Bird Came Down the Walk poem" to learn how she uses few words but many descriptions to create a visual picture of the bird and its actions in her poem.
I share the A Bird Came Down the Walk poem with the class and we review what a simile and personification is before we even dig deeper into the poem stanzas. I then discuss the rhyme scheme which is a newer concept to them - ABCB and identify rhyming words in the poem. I also discuss the stressed syllables per line and how they create the sing-song quality of the poem. We also do a discussion of how poets can adapt spelling of words to better fit this scheme. I use the words "halves, softer, plashless" to demonstrate this point with the poem. Lastly I review that poets can adapt grammar and punctuation rules to demonstrate meaning and emphasis in their poems - I use "fellow, raw; abroad,--; danger; cautious, butterflies, off the banks of noon" to demonstrate the point.
I then introduce them to the A bird came down the walk analysis worksheet and share that we will discuss and respond to the first questions together and then they will be asked to complete the rest by themselves.
We reread the first stanza together and I model questioning text by asking "Why do you think the poet said that the worm was a fellow?" and "If she had said it was a gal what would have changed in the way you felt about the bird? Why?" after we have a good discussion on this....
We review the questions asked on the worksheet and I ask students who the "I" in the poem refers to? They quickly get that it is the author watching the bird hopping down the path. I did have to share with students that the "walk" was referring to the path rather than a "walk down the street'. I am always surprised where misconceptions can come into a lesson.
The personification question stumped students a bit because it's not explicitly stated. It took the group discussion for them to bounce ideas off of each other to realize that the bird was being compared to a human with his walk down the path and his uncaring eating of the worm. Students said it was "like a man eating a steak".
I shared that their written response would use the question words "Personification is used to describe the bird and the worm because...." and then adding the answers that they feel were found in the poem. We discuss and partner share and then they write their responses.
Lastly I ask students why the author added the part about the bird eating the worm. How does this connect readers to nature? How does it affect readers? I take different reactions and share that it affects different people in different ways, but in all the examples it shows that nature has a system of dominance - food chain levels.
I have students share their writing aloud so that those who struggle with this question can use others responses to complete their own.
Ok, they are ready to try it on their own. Surprisingly this poem seems very straight forward but has many messages implied within identified by punctuation and change of verbs (commas and dashes to signify pauses and changes of mood)
figurative language (comparisons made with similes, metaphors and personification)
and another student figurative language discussion
and mood changes (natures innocence to human dangers)
I have students work independently on the rest of the A bird came down the walk analysis worksheet except for a small identified group that works with me and three partnered struggling/ ELL learner groups.
I anticipate that students will struggle with specific parts of the poem such as were the "grass being convenient", the eyes "hurried all abroad" and describing how a bird is like a rowing boat. I will circulate to help students better understand what these phrases mean in the context of this poem.
Students continue to share out their responses and we have a discussion of the sections that caused confusion. My objective is to build a basic understanding of the underlying theme of man vs nature and of the struggles for power in the animal kingdom according to each animals ranking in the food chain (a science topic we are currently covering). This was a lesson that I threw away my scripted lesson plan to have a group discussion on the carpet because the student peer-to-peer discussions were so good.
I also want to interest them in the author and why she wrote poetry. I close by asking students how Emily Dickinson feels about nature? and What made them believe this in the poem?