Teaching Sonnets Under Pressure
It was my first year teaching and Mr. Sternman sat in the back of the room writing my teacher evaluation. Things were going well until Frankie Ruinlife in the fourth row asked a question. “Mr. Deadmeat,” he said, “This is a great sonnet lesson plan and the poems are pretty good, but why are you even teaching sonnets? When will I ever use this?”
I could have said that writing poetry helps develop word skills and that writing sonnets forces us to use words in ways we never imagined. I could have explained how analyzing and writing poetry helps to develop thinking skills.
Instead, I choked on my spit, passed out, and peed my pants. Mr.Sternman fired me on the spot and my sonnet lesson plan has remained dormant ever since.
Sonnet Lesson Plan Notes
- Sonnets have a specific rhyme scheme, the pattern of rhyme in a poem. To identify rhyme scheme, assign a letter of the alphabet to each rhymed sound at the end of a line. If that sound is repeated later on in the poem, that line receives the same letter (you’ll probably want to give some examples).
- The basic meter in sonnets is iambic pentameter. Each line of a sonnet consists of 10 syllables following a pattern of unstressed syllable, stressed syllable.
There are three main sonnet types:
- English or Shakespearean Sonnet: The rhyme scheme of a Shakesperean Sonnet is ababcdcdefefgg. A Shakespearean Sonnet consists of three quatrains, four line stanzas, and a couplet. Each quatrain is one unit of thought in the poem, similar to a paragraph in prose. The ending couplet comments on the preceding three quatrains.
- Petrarchan Sonnet: The rhyme scheme in a Petrarchan Sonnet is abbaabbacdcdcd. In a Petrarchan or Italian Sonnet, the first eight lines are related. Line 9 is called “the turn,” signifying a change in rhyme pattern and a change in subject matter.
- Spenserian Sonnet: The rhyme scheme of a Spenserian Sonnet is ababbcbccdcdee. It resembles the Italian Sonnet’s rhyme scheme and the English Sonnet’s 12-line problem, 2-line solution format.
- Variations of Sonnets: As long as the sonnet is fourteen lines of iambic pentameter it can have any rhyme scheme (for an explanation of different poetic forms, check out the Bright Hub poetic forms study guide with examples).
Teaching sonnets requires teaching strategies. These procedures incorporate the strategies.
- Read a sonnet–more than once if necessary.
- Identify the rhyme scheme.
- Identify the major units of thoughts.
- Describe the situation or problem in your own words.
- Identify the turning point.
- Describe how the situation is rectified.
- Summarize the message of the poem in your own words.
- Write your own sonnet.
This post is part of the series: Teaching Poetic Devices
- Teacher Tips for Explaining Sound Devices in Poetry
- Teacher Tips for Sonnets
- Figurative Language Lesson Plan
- Poetry Lesson Plans: Speed Poetry Analysis
- Teaching Walt Whitman: Summary and Lesson Ideas