Today’s class begins by rereading “Mother to Son” by Langston Hughes, which we read and analyzed the previous day. For homework, students answered the questions and so we review their responses. Be sure that everyone is aware that this poem offers a clear example of the use of metaphor in its comparison of life and a staircase. The next step is to discuss the arrangement of ideas in this poem: the first line identifies who the speaker is addressing; the second line introduces the metaphor (life to a staircase); lines 3-7 list the difficulties the stairs present; lines 8- 13 detail the speaker’s will to overcome; lines 14-19 offer advice and encouragement; and line 20 repeats the metaphor.
Having activated prior knowledge, now ask the students to think about other things one could compare to life. Put “Life is…” on the whiteboard or use a document reader and add the students' responses. List 5 to 8 items, if possible. Some likely suggestions include “life is a roller coaster” and “life is a race.” From the list select one to expand on together by noting details that could be considered as shared elements of both. For example, a list for “life is a roller coaster” may include both have ups and downs; sometimes it is scary; there are slow times and fast times. Of course, the real writing cannot begin until the class decides who to address in the poem: another teacher? the principal? Each is a great option. Shortly before this lesson one class learned that a student would be moving to another town within a few weeks time and decided to address the poem to him, which I thought is a wonderful idea. During this guided practice challenge students to come up with the most descriptive language possible that is related to the topic. I provide students with a thesaurus and dictionaries for reference.
Two completed examples are included here: one for a roller coaster and another for an ocean voyage. You may choose to offer students a template or encourage them to refer to the original for suggestions but to develop their own style.
After the class poem is complete, I assign students to small groups or to work individually to create a metaphor poem. A template is available here.
Each individual or group selects one of the “Life is…” comparisons from the master list, or comes up with one of their own. Next it is time to brainstorm a list of commonalities to develop the comparison. It is important to check in with students at this point to make sure that they are not repeating phrases. We make the connection that in essay writing details should not be repeated and that the same applies here in order to make the writing more interesting.
After revising and editing (with a particular focus on word choice), final copies of the poems are to be neatly written in ink on lined paper. Each poem needs a title and should include an illustration related to the topic.
At the end of class, students are excited to share their completed poems. Some examples are included here: 1, 2, 3 & 4. We hang them up around the room and offer compliments to one another that include a specific detail that caught their attention. Then to reflect on the overall purpose of the lesson and this writing activity, students complete an exit ticket, as explained in this video.