Metaphors and theme are difficult, yet integral, parts of literature. In this poetry analysis lesson, students will read "A Noiseless Patient Spider" by Walt Whitman. To begin the lesson, students will personally connect with the narrator of the poem by correlating the idea of fortitude and chance to their own lives. After reading the poem, students will identify metaphors and use the metaphors to develop an understanding of theme. Once metaphor and theme are practiced, students will develop an interpretation of the poem and defend their interpretation using the C.E.R strategy. While this lesson is currently aligned only to 11th grade standards, it would be appropriate to teach in grades 10 through 12, adjusting standards as needed.
How much should you try before you give up?
Students create a Quick Write to begin their thoughts about their own fortitude and personally connect to the poem.
Students will do a Card Sort activity to familiarize themselves with advanced vocabulary within the piece to support deeper analysis of the poem later in the lesson.
Students read "A Noiseless Patient Spider" and describe some of the terms/phrases from the poem they can relate to, in order to recognize metaphor within the poem.
In small groups, students complete a 4-2-1 of the themes they recognized within the text.
Students will develop an interpretation of the poem's theme and support their interpretation with a C.E.R strategy.
Paper, pencil, text version or online version of "A Noiseless Patient Spider"
Copy of the Poem
Poem Vocab Card Sorts
Students will begin the lesson by completing a 2 minute Quick Write. A Quick Write is a brief brain storm where students can unload any and all ideas about the subject. Students dump their thoughts onto the page without worrying about grammar and spelling, focusing only on their ideas.
Use the following prompt for the Quick Write: Tell about a something you attempted; something that you may, or may not, have accomplished.
After completing the Quick Write, allow students to get with an elbow partner to share their personal story of something they had to attempt multiple times before they did, or did not, succeed. An elbow partner is someone close to them that they can quickly turn to meet.
Once students have shared their personal stories of fortitude, inform them that they are going to be reading a poem with similar issues. The ultimate goal is to be able to place themselves in the position of the spider.
Before students can dive into poetry analysis, it is helpful to support their understanding of the poem by allowing them to explore potentially difficult vocabulary. To help familiarize the students with the more advanced vocabulary within the piece, they will perform a Card Sort activity. The Card Sort strategy will allow students to explore vocabulary by activity engaging with the words. Before the Card Sorts activity, you will need to print the vocabulary words and cut them out into cards. If you have 5 groups doing Card Sorts, you will need 5 sets of cards.
The terms chosen for the poem may depend on the needs of your classroom. However, the following terms have been chosen for this lesson and already created in the handout titled Noiseless Patient Spider Vocab: promontory, isolated, vacant, vast, filament, unreeling, detached, ceaselessly, musing, ductile, gossamer.
Use prepared cards provided with 1 word and 1 definition already printed on each. (For added rigor, give the students blank cards to look up the definitions of each word on their own.) Then, split the students into teams of 3 to sort the terms. Students can choose their own 3 categories in which to arrange the cards. Give students 3-5 minutes to arrange the terms into their designated categories. Then, share out the categories they created and why the words went in each category. After this activity, teacher should write the terms and definitions on the board for the students easy reference while reading the poem.
Card Sort explained
In this portion of the lesson, allow for students to briefly describe their thoughts or ideas of the definition of a metaphor. Ask them to share their understanding of metaphors with the class. Teacher should confirm there is a general consensus of the idea.
Next, have one or two students read the poem aloud. After hearing the poem aloud, each students should read it again silently to themselves. Then, have each student write down at least 2 words or phrases from the poem they believe are a metaphor. Allow about 7-10 minutes for this and have a few students share out what they chose and why. With each of the examples provided, the teacher will be able to expound the concept of metaphor and help assist the students to recognize them within the piece.
For ELL and SPED students, this could allow for additional scaffolding by using sentence frames such as: I think the spider could be the same as ________________________. I know this because ___________________.
Before students begin the Extend section, connect the idea of metaphors to theme. Remind students that the theme of a piece can be found by examining things like word choice, symbolism, structure, etc... Metaphors are one way to gain an understanding of a theme. If all the metaphors symbolize uniqueness, the theme might be something like "It's okay to be different".
Students will now explore possible themes of the poem by engaging in a 4-2-1 strategy. This activity allows students to collaboratively share their thoughts with their peers and narrow down the groups' thoughts through evaluation.
First, allow students to get into small groups. The group should create 4 possible themes of the poem. These themes should be based upon the metaphors in the poem. Next, the partners will narrow down their 4 themes to just 2. These should be the 2 strongest of the 4 discussed originally. Encourage the groups to choose the 2 themes that could be best supported by the metaphors in the text. Last, the groups will have to debate which of the 2 remaining themes is the absolute strongest and most significant in the poem. They will need to choose just 1 theme as their final answer.
4-2-1 Activity explained
The last 10 minutes of class will be a discussion of the students' various interpretations of the themes in the poem. Allow students to briefly share out the 1 theme they all agreed upon in their group and why they felt this was the major theme.
Next, students will complete a C.E.R. paragraph arguing their idea of the poem's metaphor/s. In a C.E.R. paragraph the "C" stands for claim, the "E" stands for evidence, and the "R" stands for reasoning. The C.E.R. instructional strategy assist students in identifying a claim, evidence to support the claim, and reasoning for the evidence. This will allow for students to showcase their understanding of metaphor and theme while also writing a well-developed expository paragraph. Additionally, this will give the opportunity to allow for any additional guided explanation of the content/concepts needed.
Inform students that they should first write down their stance on the overall theme. This is the theme they discussed and finalized in their small groups during the 4-2-1. Next, they should discuss the metaphors that support this theme. Last, the students will provide reasoning for how the metaphors support that theme. The reasoning section of the paragraph is essentially the commentary of the students- their own thoughts on how the metaphors connect to the overall theme of the poem. (Distribute the C.E.R Template, attached to this lesson, if students need additional support for writing the paragraph. This C.E.R. template will assist students in building their paragraph.)
Students will then turn in their completed sheet with all of the following: their initial free write, 4-2-1 exercise, and final literary analysis C.E.R. paragraph.
For added rigor: Have students circle back to the initial EQ "How much should you try before you give up?", give a brief personal answer and then connect their personal experiences to those of the spider in the poem.