In this first section of the lesson, I want students to really listen to the poem, "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening" and try to figure out why this poem sounds the way it does. I'll start off by reading it aloud so the students can hear the sound and rhythm of it.
I love this poem because of the way it sounds. The rhyming makes it seem bouncy and happy, but the content is a little darker. I find that students can usually pick up on the symbolism and the way Robert Frost uses sounds to create a mood. I know that this poem is often used in higher grades, but I think that, with some scaffolding, sixth graders can handle it. After all, I am trying to boost their lexiles, and poetry is a great way to do it. Since there isn't much to read, they can tackle those big words and concepts without much sweat.
I'll ask them what they notice about the way it sounds? Most likely they will notice that it rhymes. I'll take this opportunity to talk about rhyme scheme, and we'll find the rhyme scheme of the poem.
Next I'll have the students hunt for examples of alliteration, assonance, or consonance with their table groups or alone. They'll share out with the class, and I'll mark them on the smart board.
I'll ask the students what they notice about the way Robert Frost uses sound in this poem. They will likely notice that he uses many repeated sounds.
I'll ask the students how this repeated sounds and rhymes effect the poem.
I decided that I wanted my students to go through this poem stanza by stanza in order to pull out some of the big ideas. I came up with some guiding questions that I thought would help them unpack the poem and narrow their focus.
I want students to discuss the questions with their table groups because this poem is difficult, and I want them to think collectively, and help each other through the task. I realize that I may have to jump into the conversations more often than I'd like in order to help them understand. I will try to ask guiding questions rather than give my opinion if possible.
In stanza 1, I'll focus on the narrator. I'll ask them to discuss with their table groups why the narrator says he thinks he knows who the woods belong to, and why he mentions that the owner of the woods won't see him stopping? I'll have the students keep track of their ideas on large white boards, and we'll stop to share ideas after five minutes or so.
In stanza two, we'll discuss the relationship between the narrator and his horse. After a fun conversation where I explain that queer actually does mean strange (gotta love sixth grade boys), I'll ask them to think about how the narrator knows what the horse is thinking. Is he a horse mind reader or is it possible that he knows his animal that well? I'll have them think about why the horse might think it is queer to stop there, and why the narrator stops between the woods and lake instead of going on through. Finally, we'll discuss the last line of the stanza, and talk about the mood that is set with
In stanza three, the narrator starts bringing up sounds. I'll ask the students to comment on the two sounds, and discuss why the author decides to bring them up now. I'll have students focus on the the sound of "easy wind and downy flake." Living in sunny AZ, some of my students have never had the experience of being in actual snowfall. Hopefully, we'll have a few students who can share about the stillness and how quiet the sound of flakes falling would be. We'll also discuss the word "mistake," and we'll speculate as to why Robert Frost used it here. We'll talk more about that horse why he might think there is a mistake.
Stanza four is where I hope my students will be able to uncover the meaning of the poem. First, I'll ask how the narrator feels about the woods. He says that they are "lovely dark and deep," which sends a bit of a mixed message. Next, we'll discuss what the promises he needs to keep might be. Finally, I'll ask the students to consider why the author repeated the final line.
After we've hacked the poem apart, I'll ask some reflective questions to see what my students can infer about the meaning of this poem. I know that some students will not be able to think this abstractly, which is fine, so I will ask leveled questions to differentiate. Some of my students are not developmentally able to think on the level required to analyze this poem, but once it is explained they will understand.
First, I'll ask the students to define the mood of the poem and support their assertion with evidence from the poem.
Next, I'll ask them to explain the effect the Robert's Frost use of poetic devices and sounds has on the poem. Again, they'll give supporting evidence.
I feel that all of my students will be able to answer those questions.
I'll ask a final question: What could the woods possibly symbolize?
I know that I will get all kinds of answers here, but I want my students to start thinking about symbolism in poetry, and it's a start. We will spend time discussing this question after everyone has had an opportunity to think and write.