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Shakespearean Sonnets and Iambic Pentameter

Jordin Carmichael, Jane Baber | Published: November 17th, 2020 by Nanakuli Wai’anae Complex Area, Hawaii

  • Grade Level Grade Level 9th
  • Subject Subject English/Language Arts
  • Course Course
  • Time Frame Time Frame 1-2 class period(s)
  • Duration More 120 minutes


In this lesson, students explore the patterns of rhyme and syllables in Shakespearean sonnets in order to understand iambic pentameter. Students compose their own original sonnets.

Essential Question(s)

How does the meter and rhyme of iambic pentameter help convey Shakespeare's meaning in sonnets? How does it help us compose original sonnets?



Students collaborate in a discussion and writing activity to brainstorm what constitutes a rhyme and how syllables function in poetic meter.


Students are given the scrambled lines of Shakespeare's Sonnet 18 in the form of a Card Sort. With a group, they sort and organize the lines according to the sonnet's rhyme scheme.


Students learn about the rhyme scheme iambic pentameter and Why-Light Sonnet 18 to discern the poem's meaning.


Students compose their own original sonnets using iambic pentameter. Then, students collaborate to peer review a partner’s poem.


Students read and display their original sonnets in a Poetry Cafe.


  • Sonnet 18 for Why-Lighting (attached; one per student)

  • Sonnet 18 Card Sort (attached; one per group)

  • Peer Review Form (attached; one per student)

  • Lesson Slides (attached)

  • Sticky notes (one per group of three students)

  • Highlighters (optional)

  • Pencils or pens


Begin by engaging students in questions that gauge their understanding of two poetic devices: rhymes and syllables. Using the Elbow Partners strategy, have students find a partner sitting near them. Display slide 3 of the attached Lesson Slides, which shows the following questions:

  1. What is a rhyme?

  2. What is a syllable?

After students have had time to respond to the question and a satisfactory whole-group understanding is established, invite students to participate in an activity called “Rhyming Round Robin.”

To begin this activity, display slide 4. Put students in groups of three. Pass out one of the prepared rhyming word sticky notes to each group. Give groups thirty seconds to list as many words as possible on a spare sheet of paper that rhyme with the word on the sticky note. Once thirty seconds are up, have groups pass their papers and sticky notes to another group. Restart the timer and repeat the thirty-second rhyming exercise with each group adding on to the last group’s list of rhymes. Then, have students pass on their sticky notes and papers again. Repeat until each sticky note and paper have cycled through each group. After each group has gone, ask each group to edit their original lists to make sure that all words rhyme. Then, ask each group to read their list out loud to the class.

After students have completed the Rhyming Round Robin, hold a whole-class discussion that connects the activity to the first questions asked on slide 3. Then, display slide 5, and engage students in a quick discussion to follow on what qualifies a word as a rhyme by asking them to examine their sticky notes and consider the following questions:

  1. Does it have to be spelled the same?

  2. Can certain letters sound the same and therefore rhyme?

Display slides 6-7 and review the lesson’s essential question and learning objectives with your students.

Display slide 6, and briefly read aloud the essential questions: How does the meter and rhyme of iambic pentameter help convey Shakespeare’s meaning in sonnets? How does it help us compose original sonnets? Move to slide 7 and review the lesson objectives.


After establishing a few agreed-upon (and accurate) rules regarding rhyming through class discussion, pass out a set of the prepared Sonnet 18 Card Sort to each group. Display slide 8.

To facilitate this activity, students should read through the fourteen lines of “Sonnet 18” by William Shakespeare, as shown in the Card Sort. These lines are out of order. Using the Card Sort strategy, ask students to 1) sort the sonnet lines into categories (by rhyme), and then 2) put the lines in order according to the rhyme scheme.

Give groups some time to complete this task. Consider allowing no more than 10 minutes. Then, invite students to explain how they ordered the lines.


Next, students should be introduced to the key concept of this lesson: the rhyme scheme of a Shakespearean sonnet, iambic pentameter.

Display slide 9, and inform students that iambic pentameter is a type of meter used in writing poetry. Iambic pentameter is a single line of verse consisting of five metrical feet (10 syllables). Each of these contains one unstressed (or short) syllable, followed by one stressed (or long) syllable. An image illustrating iambic pentameter is shown below, and may help students visualize the pattern used by Shakespeare:

Display slide 10 to show students a visual of what a line of verse in iambic pentameter looks like. Read the line shown out loud as a class, emphasizing the "unstressed" "stressed" pattern.

Display slide 11, and pass out one of the attached Sonnet 18 for Why-Lighting handouts to each student. Invite students, using the Why-Lighting strategy, to read Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 18” and highlight (or underline or circle) five lines that contribute to the message of the sonnet. Students should explain the meaning of those lines in margins of the page.


Next, invite students to write their own original sonnets. These sonnets should focus on a typical Shakespearean theme like love. To begin this activity, scaffold the writing process by having students break into pairs or small groups.

Display slide 12. Instruct each group to write only half of a sonnet. To structure this, each group should either write eight lines following the ABAB-CDCD rhyme scheme (the beginning of a sonnet) OR six lines following the EFEF-GG rhyme scheme (the end of a sonnet). Assign groups to be composers of either the beginning lines or ending lines. With this activity, tell them not to worry about perfection, but rather to focus on the theme shown on the slide and the rhyme scheme. This is just practice!

Once groups have composed their beginning or ending lines, pair groups to match their lines (these directions for pairing groups will appear on slide 12 when you click). Ask groups how their sonnets turned out—nonsensical? Beautiful? Both? Ask groups to read their collaborative sonnets, and as they read, to identify the iambic pentameter and rhyme scheme present in their compositions.

After this collaboration, judge whether or not students are ready to write their own sonnets. They may need more practice, or may be ready to go! If students are ready, move to slide 13. To begin, students should hand-write their sonnets, practicing writing in iambic pentameter and the ABAB rhyme scheme.

Next, integrate a peer review process into the writing process by having students ask their peers to help them with suggestions on 1) how to change any lines that are not in iambic pentameter, or 2) the ABAB-CDCD-EFEF-GG rhyme scheme. For a formative assessment, consider using the attached Peer Review Form for students to complete and turn in after they collaborate.

Once students have hand-written the first draft of their original sonnets and received peer feedback, they should type their sonnets and make edits based on the feedback received from their peers.


To evaluate the original sonnets composed by students, invite students to participate in a Poetry Café, where students can read their sonnet to the class. Sonnets can be posted on the walls of the classroom so that students can read the sonnets of their peers in other classes as well.

As a final reflection, ask students to write about the process of writing a sonnet. Consider the following questions for an Exit Ticket reflection activity:

  • What did you learn about yourself through writing this poem?

  • What parts were the most difficult?

  • How did you overcome challenges like following iambic pentameter and the ABAB rhyme scheme?