I open the lesson by writing “A picture is worth a thousand words” on the board and asking students what the expression means? I then ask, “Can words be like a thousand pictures?” We discuss this question but leave it open-ended and unanswered.
Then I explain that authors write poems using figurative language and imagery—words that “paint a picture”—to express something in words. Sometimes, poems have messages that are not clearly stated—we call this in implied meaning. Readers can visualize (or create pictures of what is happening like a movie in their minds) to help them understand what the author is trying to say. We infer a theme or a big idea of what the poem is all about by connecting to the feelings and images the author is expressing in words.
I tell students that they are going to listen to a famous poem called “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost. You can build interest here by asking for predictions about what the poem will be about based on the title.
I distribute copies of the poem and tell students that, as they listen to me read it the first time through, they should try to create visual pictures from the words to help them understand what the author is saying. I also suggest that they write questions and inferences in the margins and underline words or phrases they don’t understand.
I begin reading the poem, modeling inflection and pausing as needed to help with understanding. For the first reading, I read very slowly.
After finishing the poem, I ask students to think through what they have heard and consider what may be some big ideas the author is trying to convey? I ask questions about each stanza and take responses from students.
"What is the speaker doing in this poem?"
"Which road did the traveler take?"
"What did the speaker do in respect to the road he didn’t take? How did you infer that?"
"What is the author trying to say to the readers in the first stanza?"
"What time of year is it? How do we know this?"
"What is the author thinking/doing when he looks at the roads? How do we know this?"
"Why do you think the speaker chose the road he took?"
"Why might someone want to do something others had not done?"
"How old is the speaker when he is talking to us in the poem?"
"Do you think the speaker wanted to go back and take the other path? Why do you think this - proof in the poem?"
This may end up being a drawn out discussion, but since it’s the last lesson in the unit, I want to make sure that students have time to process the information.
I like to reread each stanza and ask students to think about and respond to what the author means in each line. I encourage deeper thinking through higher level and open-ended questioning.
I end by asking students to take the words and connect them to their own lives to make the poem more meaningful. I ask them to share choices they have had to make. (There is always one student with a story about his or her dad getting lost while driving somewhere. I just say that he had to make a decision where to go and what to do next . . . and smile.) I share my own example of having to make a choice of what path to take—college or job—and how it affected my life and caused some hardships but turned out to be the best decision.
I gather students together to talk a bit more about choices they have had to make and the consequences of their decisions. I ask them to imagine what might have been different in their lives if they had made another choice. This is a great way to get them thinking about the consequences of their choices in general and to allow them to feel successful about understanding the big idea of the poem.