Emily Dickinson's Simplicity of Language: "I heard a Fly Buzz--"

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SWBAT interpret Emily Dickinson's use of figures of speech in context and analyze how these figures of speech contribute to the meaning and tone of the poem, "I Heard a Fly buzz--".

Big Idea

The stillness in the room was like the stillness in the air--Dickinson's simile sets the tone for the moment of death.

Welcome & Introduction: Happy Birthday, Byron & Howard!

3 minutes

As we begin class, I wish a happy birthday to authors George Gordon, Lord Byron and Robert E. Howard, informing students Byron will be a Romantic that they look at their Junior year--the creator of the broody, moody "bad boy hero"; and Robert E. Howard is the creator of Conan the Barbarian; if students like "Sword and Sorcery fantasy," they owe a debt of gratitude to Howard. 

I also point out a trend that we will see a lot of in authors second semester, both of these men died tragically young: Byron at 36 and Howard at 30.  

As always, Daily Holidays serve to encourage students to participate and to build a sense of community and trust within the classroom.

Reviewing Figures of Speech: Seeking Student Examples

20 minutes

I ask students to look to the notes sheet on figurative language they began in class yesterday, and completed for homework. To review students' understanding of these items, we go through the definitions, projected in the front of the classroom. I've hidden the definitions (changed to a white font), and ask students to define each term, revealing the definition as they get them correct.

In order to demonstrate understanding of these definitions, and begin to interpret their use (RL 9-10.4), I ask students to share their homework examples. By sharing these, students can have "specific" class definition model to check their own ideas against.  I ask a volunteer to add them to the guide under the definitions; having a student do this gives my high-energy "distraction" kids something to focus on, as well as freeing me up to move around the room and look for good examples they may have not wanted to share. 

It is important to reinforce students' understanding, and reviewing the in-class work and homework from last night provides students with an opportunity to further move toward mastery. Throughout this unit; into Realism, Regionalism, and Naturalism in the American short story; and in "The Great Gatsby," we will continue to explore figurative language in greater depth. 


Crash Course on "I heard a Fly buzz--": Figures of Speech in Practice

25 minutes

As noted yesterday, (see "Emily Dickinson: A Life in Isolation"), "Crash Course: The Poetry of Emily Dickinson" presents the entirety of Dickinson's poem, "I heard a Fly buzz--when I died--" (this poem is in the student's textbook, but I provide a copy in order to allow students to annotate the work). As I pass out the copies of the poem, I remind students the definition of annotate: "to add notes to a poem in order to give explanation or to comment." 

We explore examples of figurative language and their role in Dickinson's poetry, in order to prepare students for analysis (RL 9-10.4). I show students the section of the "Crash Course" video reading the poem (5:30-6:20).

I ask students to listen, and then mark on their notes what "figures of speech" they see/John Green points out. Following the video, students turn to partners, draw on their reading and what they saw in the video, re-read the poems, and exchange ideas identifying and evaluating the use of the other figures of speech they may see (SL 9-10.1a).

I ask students what they found, and, projecting the poem on the board, underline each example. Student explain what role these figures of speech play in the poem.

  • simile: "The stillness in the room was like the stillness in the air between the heaves of storm"
  • synecdoche/metaphor: windows (for eyes, also symbolic), 
  • idiom: "I could not see to see" 
  • metaphor: King (Green addresses this one)

I then continue the view with a look at how these things appear in the poem, with John Green reporting on much of what we've just discussed, for reinforcement. 

As noted yesterday, we move into the second semester, students will be looking beyond the meaning of a story, poem, or piece or non-fiction, and exploring the craft of writing in more detail. Students need an understanding of the major figures of speech used in writing, and this lesson serves as refresher for many, but an introduction to for some, these concepts. Dickinson's poetry is many-layered, and on the surface, easy to interpret, we'll look into her language and themes in the homework and more in class tomorrow. 


Wrap-Up & Reminders: Annotating Homework

2 minutes

I ask students to pass in the notes sheet they completed, so I can grade their research efforts.

For homework, students are to read and annotate Dickinson's "Because I could not stop for Death--" provided on the back of the handout featuring "I heard a Fly buzz--". I ask students to identify and interpret the impact of the literary same devices we have already addressed: metaphor, simile, personification, hyperbole, synecdoche, and the use of idioms (RL.9-10.4). We will review this poem and students will share their thoughts on the impact of these figures of speech on meaning and tone tomorrow.