Unwrapping a Rose: Analyzing Conventional and Literary Symbols in Poetry

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SWBAT analyze images in a poem by looking at the conventional and literary symbols.

Big Idea

What does a rose represent? Is it a flower of love or of death?


Today's lesson is continuing our follow-up from Lesson #5. It will focus on the analysis of figurative language focusing on symbols so that we can develop a deeper analysis of literary text especially after completing claim-evidence-explanation paragraphs in Lesson #6.

At the end of Lesson #4 and Lesson #5, it became clear to me that for my students to develop their positions they needed to have a deeper understanding of themes expressed in the poem. One way to accomplish this goal is to discuss the meaning of the figurative language in the poem.

This task is aligned to RL.9-10.4 and L.9-10.5 which focuses on interpreting the literary and figurative meaning of words in a text.

I have reviewed the following resource in case I may need additional material as a reference for students: Symbols and Symbolism(This video goes into detail about literary and contextual symbols. I found it useful for reviewing the terms as well as a great reference for students who were confused during the lesson. I can pull up the link on an iPad or Macbook and have the students review it at their leisure. If needed, I can make the video accessible for whole-class instruction during the lesson).


Warmup + Share

20 minutes

For this part of the lesson, I want my students to understand the difference between a literary/contextual symbol and a conventional symbol. I feel this is an important distinction for them to know because many images in literature are symbolic as well. In the case of the mask from (We Wear the Mask), it is a metaphoric image as well as a symbol. It is a great reference for us to capitalize on in terms of deepening our understanding, so why not seize the moment!

So, I will start by telling my students that today we will be looking at two types of symbols:

(a) the conventional symbol: the universal or widely accepted view of the meaning of a symbol.

(b) the literary/contextual symbol: The view of the symbol as expressed in the text or by the writer

I have chosen the topic of the GED vs. High School Diploma as a topic for my students and I to discuss symbolism because the diploma is an example of a contextual symbol that matters to them in a psychological and an emotional. Therefore, it is an easier way for me to introduce this type of symbol. For traditional 9th grade classes, I would consider what does a specialized high school or private high school with an entrance exam represent to you vs. a zone school that accepts everyone who lives in the direct community or zone of the school. Whether the child is in an urban, suburban or rural community, these choices are becoming popular as parents consider different way to educate their children.

I will ask my students what do the GED and the High School diploma represent to colleges, universities and other post-secondary institutions. Once they have responded, and most will likely say that it shows the school that you are a high-school graduate, or you have completed high school, I will tell them that the universal or widely accepted view of the GED and the High School Diploma is an example of the conventional symbol.

I will ask them why do teens choose a High School Diploma over the GED? Why does the high school diploma represent to you? What does the GED represent to you? Then, I will give them time to respond  in writing. After they responding in writing, I will have them share their written responses verbally. At the end, I will say, what the High School Diploma or GED represents to you is an example of a contextual symbol because it is based on your individual experience. 

This task is aligned to W.9-10.10 because my students participate in routine writing activities for the warmup for shorter periods of time than extended writing responses entail. The share for this task is aligned to SL.6.1d because my students will be reflecting on the ideas shared and determining how they fit as examples of conventional symbols. L.9-10.5


20 minutes

For this part of the lesson, my students will respond to a journal entry about the significance of the red rose on Valentine's Day. They will share their responses, and as a class we will select key words that stand out in their responses which we will chart. I chose a rose because most people are familiar with the plant and its flower based on well-known cultural references to St. Valentine. Therefore, when a writer changes or twists the conventional definition of a rose, it is easier to identify

I have chosen this approach because I want to build on this idea of using student responses to guide the lesson, which was established in Lesson #5 and developed extensively in Lesson #6, and to use these responses to clarify and to define the literary symbols of a rose.

At this point in the lesson, I will point out to my students that a writer has a choice about how to define his/her literary symbol:

(a) A writer could define his/her literary symbol based on conventional definitions in a community, a village, a tribe, a race of people, a religion, an ethnic group, a social class, a region, a country, a continent or a hemisphere.

(b) A writer could define his/her literary symbol based on the situations (conflicts and challenges he/she has created in his story, poem, play, essay, novel, etc.

At this point in the lesson, I will present the following video (Some Meanings of a Rose) to provide my students with a deeper understanding of the rose as a symbol. At the end of the video, I will have my students share their thoughts and compare their responses  to those ideas expressed in the video.

This task is aligned to L.9-10.5 because we are focusing on the literary meaning of words.

Application + Formative Assessment

40 minutes

For this part of the lesson, I will have my students label the literary/contextual symbols in three poems about the rose. The poems are "A Sick Rose" by William Blake, "A Red, Red Rose" by Robert Burns and "One Perfect Rose" by Dorothy Parker. 

This task is partially aligned to L.9-10.5 and RL.9-10.4 because my students are identifying examples of the literary device, symbolism. 

Then, I will have my students write paragraphs explaining the symbols they identified in their own words. The written paragraph will be aligned to W.9-10.10, L.9-10.5 and RL.9-10.4 because the paragraph are shorter written responses focusing on the literary analysis of figurative language.

I am including samples of student responses: 

Student Paragraph #1

Student Paragraph #2

Student Paragraph #3

Student Paragraph #4

I will introduce the performance assessment for the poetry unit at the end of this part of the lesson as well. Students will have the opportunity to take the assignment home and to think about which texts they will select for their written responses.

I selected new texts such as "Be Drunk" by Charles Baudelaire to assess their application of the concepts and skills, but I have included familiar texts such as "We Wear the Mask," "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night" and "One Perfect Rose" to give some students another opportunity to respond to a task that may have been challenging to them at an earlier point in the unit because they needed either more content area knowledge as well as practice with specific skills.

This task is aligned to L.9-10.5 and RL.9-10.4. I am including a sample student response below:

Student Response (Page 1 of 6)

Student Response (Page 2 of 6)

Student Response (Page 3 of 6)

Student Response (Page 4 of 6)

Student Response (Page 5 of 6)

Student Response (Page 6 of 6)