What Is A Sonnet?

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Students will collaborate in table groups as they analyze the components that make up a sonnet.

Big Idea

Alright, Shakespeare, Show Me What You've Got!

Anticipatory Set

10 minutes

I start this lesson by doing a review of Poetry Powerpoint notes the students took a few days prior. I introduced sonnets to the students at that time, but we did not spend much time discussing the concept beyond that. I organized it this way in order to develop a stronger foundation for the students before we got into this concept, which is entirely new for many of them. I find this work with sonnets helps students to better adapt to and understand Shakespeare's dramas, not only because the formatting and structure aligns with much of it, but also because the particular style of the language and word choice does as well. This helps to alleviate some of the anxiety and resistance students have to Shakespeare's other works as they move forward in their education.

I begin by asking the students, by raising their hands, to share the things they remember about sonnets from when we took notes. The students were not really able to tell me much that was specific, mostly that it followed a very specific rhythmic pattern, and that William Shakespeare was well known for writing many of them.

After we reach the end of that rope, I have the students take out their notes and review that section of them, specifically. I find that the students are more engaged with the task once they realize just how much or how little they were able to recall. 

Instructional Input

15 minutes

When I feel the students have had an ample amount of time to review (about 3-5 minutes), I ask them to set aside their notes and tell me what they recall now. At this point, students talk about iambs, iambic pentameter, the format, potential rhyme schemes, and again, a mention of Mr. William Shakespeare. They now appear more confident, which is important was we embark on an analysis of one of Shakespeare's sonnets. 

I project the Sonnet 29 on the Smart Board and then talk them through my process of labeling and analyzing the various structures, like we have done with other poetry formats before. We number the lines, label the rhyme scheme, divide it into the stanzas, and then look to the text itself, on a hunt for iambs. It has been my experience in the past that students either expect that it will follow that format perfectly, or they simply do not persevere and try to figure it out accurately. I purposely show the students examples of lines where it follows perfectly iambic pentameter, which no added syllables remaining. I also show them a sonnet example where there is extra. We discuss how to address that "problem." What I tell them is that it is best to hear how the words are more naturally stated, in order to see where and when syllables are emphasized or not. This is something they will need a great deal of practice with to really "get," but we make a solid start.

Guided Practice

25 minutes

I then give the students time to work in their table groups on replicating the process I led them through, using Shakespeare's Sonnet 18. I allow them to use their notes during the process. The students are allowed to ask me questions, but only if they are unable to find the information in their notes. I do this so the groups will talk things through and utilize their resources fully, rather than just depending on me to come to their rescue. Each group member has his or her own copy of the sonnet to mark up and annotate, in case there are disagreements that they cannot resolve at the time. 

I have attached the Understanding Shakespeare_Sonnet 18 file that I came upon a couple years ago that I use as a support structure when students have struggles with any portion of the activity. It has portions that address different aspects of the analysis process we have participated in during the practice and that the students are replicating now with this portion of the lesson. Depending on the skill level of the students, portions of this document can be given to the kids to facilitate their learning.