Poetry: Analysis with Half-Hanged Mary

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SWBAT comprehend poems in the complexity band by reading a poem and analyzing it.

Big Idea

Poetry made easy!

Unit Explanation

I group personal essay, memoir and poetry together because they all speak from the soul.  With these three genres, the line between reading literature and reading informational text blends.  Certainly, a memoir is nonfiction.  But reading, understanding, and loving it often requires a literature approach due to it's narrative structure. Students will have more success approaching the text as literature, similar to a short story, than as nonfiction, similar to an essay.  


In this short unit, students will be working on reading skills that can be applied to any genre and writing personal stories/responses. 

Warm Up and Mini Lesson

15 minutes

I used to use this poem with my Junior level English classes.  It's a great way to introduce Scarlet Letter and/or The Crucible.  However, it is also a great poem to practice close reading strategies with.  Years ago, a very smart teacher, annotated the poem with close reading questions and prompts.  I'm not sure where I first encountered the poem, but it is genius and whomever created it, is fantastic.  The poem is the story of Mary Webster who was reportedly hanged, but didn't die.  Rather, she lived for 14 years after the hanging.  The pdf of the poem written by Margaret Atwood can be found on huffenglish.com, a lovely site for English teachers and written by Dana Huff.  The resources at this site are plentiful!


To introduce students to preparing for poetry today, they enter class and answer the prompt:

Tell me about poetry in your life!  What type of poetry have you read/written?  Do you like it?  Is it difficult or easy to read? Explain why (W.9-10.10). 

Student Work Time

30 minutes

Before I turn students loose to work, we read through the entire poem together.  Then, I tell them they have fifteen minutes to read and answer the questions on their own.  They must use textual evidence to answer the questions (RL.9-10.1).  The questions attached to the poem also ask them to evaluate character (RL.9-10.3), determine the meaning of words in the text (RL.9-10.4), and analyze the author's choices regarding the structure of this poem (RL.9-10.5).  This video explains why you should teach HHM, particularly the 3am section

At the end of their fifteen minutes of individual time, I let them compare their answers with a partner.  I tell students,

The group of students who have the most complete, text based answers at the end of ten minutes will win a prize tomorrow.  

I love healthy competition in the classroom and candy is a great motivator.  


At the end of class, I collect the papers and will announce winners during the next class period.  

Here are examples of student work.  They are organized into the individual pages of the poem.  HHM1.JPGHHM 2.JPGHHM3.JPGHHM 4.JPG