Setting the Mood
Most “The Road Not Taken” Lesson Plans are based on the false assumptions of the general populace. This one is not. This poem is often used in inspirational writing or speaking as an example of someone who chose the harder path, or the less common path – in fact, the title of this poem is often thought of as being “The Road Less Traveled.”
In fact, though, Frost tells us that neither road is less traveled: “…the passing there had worn them really about the same, And both that morning equally lay [i]n leaves no step had trodden black.” And so even the reputation of the poem has an ironic cast to it.
There are a couple ways students could get prepared for this poem. You could ask them to consider a time when they had two options and no real way to choose between the two. Be sure to have students give context to the situation and explain the resolution. This could be done verbally or in writing.
Another way to start this lesson might be to ask students to tell (or write) about a time when they embellished an experience to make the story sound better, or someone embellished an experience in a story to them.
Coming to the Fork
Make sure that each student has a copy of the poem for purposes of annotation. Then, read the poem aloud, or have students read it aloud. Make sure the students know to place their pauses according to the punctuation, not according to the line breaks. If you would like an audio recording of the poem, one is available here.
As the students hear the poem, have them underline or highlight words or phrases that jump out at them. If you are working on marking rhyme scheme, this is a fairly easy poem for that.
Analyzing “The Road Not Taken”
The following poetic devices should be considered when analyzing “The Road Not Taken."
Rhyme scheme – There are four stanzas in this poem, each with five lines, each with a rhyme scheme of ABAAB. Each line has four accented, or stressed, syllables in a pattern that is basically iambic tetrameter but varies occasionally.
Irony – When one compares line 20 (the road less traveled by) with lines 8 and 9, it is clear that, for some reason, the speaker has decided to change his story for future audiences (line 16).
Theme – What are the nature and purpose of storytelling? Based on the first half of the poem, the speaker goes walking in the forest and comes to a fork in the road. He would like to choose both paths but cannot, and so he chooses one, leaving “the first for another day”(13). It’s not that important to come back, though – as “way leads on to way…[the speaker doubts] if [he] should ever come back”(14-15). However, in the last stanza, the focus turns to how the story will sound: “I shall be telling this with a sigh”(16). Rather than present the simple choice that faced him, the speaker declares that he will embellish it, saying that his choice “has made all the difference”(20). Interestingly, the speaker gives the reader a window on the conscious invention of that embellishment.
An interesting point of discussion, particularly with a higher-level class (Pre-AP or AP in high school) would be about why people come away from this poem blown away by its apparent theme about the importance of being an individual, and avoiding the easy temptations of following the crowd. It is one of these easy temptations, on another level of irony, that lead too many readers away from the true message of this poem.
Once you’ve finished a group discussion about the devices above, have students respond in a number of ways.
For higher-level students, ask for an explanation for the use of emjambment in line 3. This may well serve as an emphasis of the moment of stopping for the speaker. Stopping interrupts what had been a constitutional, just like the enjambment interrupts the flow of the poem.
For middle-school students, ask for a drawing of the scene. If you have a particularly astute class, you could ask for two drawings: one as the speaker actually sees the fork in the road, and one as the speaker will describe the choice he faced.
A cool connection to the media: Find an audio or video commercial for a product that you know most of your students are likely to purchase or at least use. Before you play the commercial, ask students what word or phrase they associate with that product. It is quite likely the word or phrase they name will be the same as the jingle or motto at the end of the commercial. Lead a discussion relating that connection with the false idea that so many have gotten about this poem.
This post is part of the series: Teaching Robert Frost: Lesson Plans
“Acquainted With the Night” and “Mending Wall” here for 10th graders, but activities are easily adjustable for other secondary grade levels. “Nothing Gold Can Stay” and “The Road Not Taken” here for middle schoolers and 9th graders.