Poetry Lesson Plan for Homeschool – Free
This free lesson plan introduces students to one of the most popular poems ever written, “The Highwayman” by Alfred Noyes. The plan given here is a guide, and can be adapted for the needs of any home schooling family. You are free to pick and chose the elements you want to use, depending on the grade level, interest, and amount of time you want to spend. This poem is a story, and can readily be understood by middle school through high school age. One thing to consider is that the poem does include the violent death of both the hero and heroine, as well as mistreatment of the heroine by the equivalent of the local police. Some younger students may find it disturbing.
This lesson plan includes:
1) Preparation: what to do before students read the poem
--------A) Setting the scene
--------B) Learning vocabulary
2) Reading the poem
--------A) Reading the poem
--------B) Watching a you tube video of the poem set to music
3) Talking about the poem
-------A) Poetry terms
-------B) Talking about meaning
A - Setting the scene
As the teacher, read the poem through yourself. Before even beginning, set the scene for everyone. Explain that this poem was written in 1906, but takes place in England, in the 18th century, during the reign of King George III. This is the English king which the American colonists fought the Revolutionary War against. Many readers mistakenly think the poem takes place in the American colonies, and that the Highwayman and his love Bess are American colonists, and the Redcoats are the occupying British soldiers. The term "redcoats" does conjure up the American colonial period. But author Alfred Noyes is British himself, and “The Highwayman” was first published in an English journal called Blackwood’s Magazine, which later took the name Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine. In the opening stanza Noyes describes the countryside as a “moor,” which means an area of open land. “Moor” is not used to describe an American landscape: it is a British term.
B - Vocabulary
“The Highwayman” contains a number of words most American students won’t know. You can give some or all of these as vocabulary words to learn a few days before reading and discussing the poem together, or simply explain them quickly before beginning the poem, or even as you read it.
Galleon (noun) A large three masted sailing ship
Moor (noun) A British term for a large, open, undeveloped area of land
Highwayman (noun) Someone who robs travelers
Claret (noun) A type of red wine
Rapier (noun) A long, thin, flexible sword
Plaiting (verb) Braiding
Ostler (noun) Someone who takes care of horses
Casement (noun) A window
Musket (noun) A long gun, loaded through the muzzle and fired from the shoulder
Priming(noun)The explosive used to ignite a charge. When the redcoats “look to their priming” they are getting their muskets ready to fire.
A - Reading “The Highwayman”
Students should have a copy to refer to as you go through it together. First, have them read it through once silently. When they finish you can ask for a quick plot summary to check comprehension.
B - Listening to the poem
Then play the you-tube video for them. The images help make the storyline clear, and the music and singing are lovely, and capture the poem’s mood.
3) Talking about the poem
Before beginning more structured discussion, I like to ask an open ended question like, “How did this poem make you feel?” or “What are your thoughts after hearing the poem?” Poetry is art, and students can have any number of initial responses. I think letting them respond before going through more structured teaching about poetic terms is valuable. Sometimes they say the most surprising things!
A - Discuss the following poetic terms in “The Highwayman”
Foreshadowing is when the author gives clues about what is going to happen next. Explain what foreshadowing is, and then ask the students to look for examples in the poem. If they are uncertain, encourage them to keep looking, and perhaps explain one of the many examples of foreshadowing listed below, then ask them to find others.
· The word “ghostly” in the second line of the poem. Mentioning ghosts this early gives us a clue that the story will probably include death. As it turns out, it includes not only death, but actual ghosts.
· The Highwayman’s statement that he will come to Bess “though hell should bar the way” is a bit ominous, and foreshadows that something violent is likely to happen.
· In the 3rd stanza of Part II Bess herself refers to the Highwayman as “the dead man,” although he is still alive – this foreshadows his death.
· A poignant piece of foreshadowing is the dark red ribbon Bess is braiding into her long hair early in the poem – it foreshadows the red blood that will run down when she is shot.
A Metaphor is a comparison between two things which are not really alike, but have some point of similarity. You might point out the first metaphor of the poem – “the moon was a ghostly galleon” – then ask the students to find more.
· “The road was a ribbon of moonlight” (Part I, stanza 1)
· “The road was a gypsy’s ribbon” (Part II, stanza 1)
A Simile is a metaphor which uses the words “like” or “as.” Again, you can point out one, then ask the students to find others.
· “His hair like mouldy hay” (Part I, stanza 4)
· “Dumb as a dog he listened” (Part I, stanza 4)
Onomatopoeia is when words sound like their meaning, like “plop” and “pow,” or when sounds are written out phonetically like “achoo.” Define onomatopoeia, then ask the students to find examples.
· The “tlot-tlot” of the horse’s hooves as the Highwayman approaches the inn
· “clattered and clashed” of stanza III, Part I.
Repetition is the of repeating words, phrases and sounds in a poem. This is easy to spot in “The Highwayman.” Ask students what purpose they think repetition serves here? (One possibility is emphasis. Words are repeated within the stanzas, but then the last 2 stanzas repeat many of the phrases and images from the beginning of the poem.)
B - Discuss meaning in “The Highwayman”
Here are some possible questions:
1) Find the many different ways the color red is used. (The Highwayman's jacket, the ribbon in Bess's hair, the blood of both of them.) What do you think the poet is saying with his use of red?
2) The highwayman is a robber, though he loves Bess very much. Bess seems like a nice girl, but she has chosen a criminal as her boyfriend. The redcoats are the official soldiers of the monarchy, and should be making sure that justice is done, but they treat Bess very roughly. No one is completely good or bad. Choose one of the characters, and talk about both their good and bad aspects.
3) Who do you think is most responsible for Bess's death? The redcoats, who tied her up with a loaded gun pointing at her heart; Tim the ostler, who probably informed the redcoats of the Highwayman's whereabouts out of jealousy; the Highwayman, who endangered Bess by his involvement with her; Bess herself, who chose to be involved with someone who made a living from violent crime?
4) What do you think of the Highwayman's actions after he learns of Bess's death? Is his motive revenge, anger, love or something else?
5) When the Highwayman rides towards the redcoats why does he brandish his rapier? He knows they have muskets. He is bringing a sword to a gunfight. What does this tell us about the motivation of the Highwayman, and what does it tell us about him as a person?
6) Why does the poem end the way it does? Why do you think the poet chose this ending over any other?
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