In the previous lesson, we tackled stanza's 1, 2, and 3 of the poem "IF" by Rudyard Kipling.
I decided to save stanza 4 for the end because it really unlocks the theme of the poem. Here are all of the things you need to do for successful living. I wanted the students to see it on a completely separate day, so we could focus on figuring out this poems purpose after already deciphering the bulk of it.
Engage New York provides a great outline to help students navigate through stanza 4. It begins with two multiple choice questions.
1. What do you think it means to walk with kings?
2. What does the author mean by "Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it?"
I plan on using the Engage New York handout for this part. I will have students figure out the multiple choice answer with their table groups and then choose a representative to stand up when the group is ready to share. I'll have each representative share out, and I'll record the answer on the Smart Board. If there are any discrepancies between groups, we will discuss the issues and come to a conclusion together.
I'll also have students look at the rules for living laid out in this stanza. Engage NY ties this poem into the novel, Bud Not Buddy, but I don't have a class set of this novel. Seeing that we are studying poetry, it will fit in perfectly. The handouts I am using can be found in the Module 2a in the grade 6 ELA section.
I have students focus specifically on stanza 4. I will read through it again, and ask them to tell me about words that are troubling them. We'll discuss meanings, and I'll record the definitions next to the words up on the document camera.
Next, students will look at the first 2 and last 2 lines of stanza 4 and figure out how they contribute to the overall meaning of the poem. This comes from the Engage handout as well.
Finally, the students will uncover the rules for living given in stanza 4 specifically. They'll analyze each line, and explain what the writer is trying to say.
I will have students discuss the questions with their groups before answering on their own. This poem is difficult, and many students will need my support, as well as that of their classmates in order to interpret it.
Engage NY suggests having students listen to an audio version of the poem and compare that experience to reading it. How is it similar? How is it different? Seeing how complex this text is, I thought that listening to it would possibly help students understand it. They would be able to hear the words pronounced again and catch the rhythm of the words.
I plan on using the Venn Diagram from the Engage site to do this activity. There are tons of audio versions available online, but I am sort of partial to "Chip" from Tampa, Florida reading it for LibriVox. His voice reminds me of a kindly father giving advice to his son. I imagine the son getting ready to leave for college and his father is giving him some last minute rules for life.
I will have my students fill in their diagrams as they listen and give them time to finish afterwards. I'll have them share with a partner and then with the class as a whole.
I asked my students to take it home, read it, and like Engage NY recommends, find one thing they noticed about it and one question.
The next day I asked the students to think about the IF and share with their shoulder partner what they noticed. This was actually awesome, and after the students shared, we basically had the poem interpreted! I really like the open ended term "notices". It allows for the students to bring up so many different angles of the poem.
I also had the students share their questions, and we discussed many of them in class.
I also couldn't resist having students vote on which "IF" they preferred. The overwhelming majority preferred the E.E. Cummings poem. I do think that this is partially because the Rudyard Kipling poem was so difficult for them.