Teach Robert Frost's Poetry With Multimedia
Robert Frost's Poetry Has Timeless Appeal
I was seven when I memorized my first poem. It was a school assignment, but also a source of pride. I recited the piece for my family, not once but over and over until Robert Frost's words lodged somewhere in my mind, remembered to this day: "...The woods are lovely, dark, and deep, but I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep."
Several years after learning "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening", I found myself drawn to another Robert Frost poem: "The Road Not Taken". I had a sense that that poem was about something more than just a road in a wood, even if I was too young yet to express what that something was.
Ah, metaphor! I believe that poetry has timeless appeal, but there are so many latest and greatest things out there to catch kids' eye and ears. How does the timeless compete with the latest? And how do we introduce students to classic pieces, like those of Robert Frost, that might speak to them yet?
Every teacher has a different method for speaking to the new generation. One of mine is, quite literally, to speak to them: to speak the classic words myself. I still love the taste of the words, I still love imbuing them with meaning, and I want that enthusiasm to find its way to my students. And I wish for my students to imbue the classics with their own timbre. I wish to hear their voices, too.
Here is an introduction to teaching Frost, with a particular focus on multimedia. I'll begin where I began: on a snowy evening.
Stopping By Woods On a Snowy Evening: With Photos Taken in Seattle's Ravenna Woods
Teaching Frost's Poetry to Students in the Primary Grades
"Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" was in my second grade reader. I imagine many other second graders will encounter it at that level, following its inclusion in the Common Core standards.
I think children need some understanding of the historical period to understand the narrator's feelings. (I was discussing what life was like 100 years ago with my niece, a second grader. She reported that she didn't think there were many cell phones back then.)
I think children will respond especially well to illustrated copies of the poem. There is a hardcover picture book of the poem -- my library has a copy.
"Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" is a natural for the 2nd grade objective of understanding how rhyme, beat, and repetition contribute to rhythm and meaning. I think children will understand better if they perform the poem as well as listen to it. They can record themselves and create a video using a tool like Animoto. This can provide a context for repeated readings (and really internalizing the literary devices).
I made a simple printout of the poem with fairly large text and a box for children to draw the visual details. (I created it in Google Docs and published it to the web -- you should be able to access it without being signed into a Google account.)
Revisiting 'Stopping by Woods' in the Middle Grades
Of course there is a lot that little ones will miss in their readings Of "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening"! That's one reason teachers and curriculum developers revisit this famous poem at the middle level school level.
I recently came across a set of lessons that I liked on the Edsitement site: Middle school students are invited to explore the persona: a character who seems to conceal a good deal about his life circumstances. Through study of this and other Frost poems, students learn to distinguish the conclusions that are stated from those that may be inferred and those that can't be substantiated.
Ultimately, they bring their new-found skills to poetry performance, delivering a more nuanced recitation than they might have given back in second or third grade. After all, it's easier to speak as a character if you know the character -- and if you've done a close reading!
Another Take on "Stopping By Woods..."
There are plenty of interpretations of "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening". You'll see some creative twists -- like this one, which is set to music. Compare and contrast! Which are your favorite versions -- and why?
Literary Criticism in the High Schools
In 2010, Schmoop sponsored a contest for high school students: literary analysis of 'Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening". Over 500 students entered by submitting an essay on Frost's classic poem. It was no easy feat to win. You can read the selected essay on theSchmoop site.
Winner and runners up of 2010 essay contest.
A Bit More Multimedia: Now Close the Windows
"Now Close the Windows" is another poem about hunkering down for the winter, albeit a less famous one. This is my read of the chill Frost poem, again set against a background of Seattle photographs. This time, we see Lake Washington, Ravenna, and the U-District.
Some students are more motivated to do a close read if they can create a digital product of their own. They can make the selections more relevant by setting them against a backdrop of their own pictures. They don't need to be computer experts either, not when there are so many excellent video-making sites out there. Animoto, Stupeflix, and Fotobabble are all excellent choices.
Poetry By Robert Frost
This beautifully illustrated hardcover book captures the essence of Frost's poetry for young people: twenty-nine poems arranged by season. Each poem is accompanied by a few notes from the editor -- these give the reader/listener context as well as occasional thoughts to ponder. (A paperback version is also available.)
Going For Water
"Going for Water" is a fun piece to record. It will be necessary to do a close reading to capture the mood and the sense of excitement that accompanies finally seeing the brook and finding it -- yes! -- still running.
Here are some questions to begin tackling this late autumn poem.
- Some of the language in this poem is archaic, but you can use context to figure out what it means. What do you think "not loathe to have excuse to go" means? (Hint: Think about the last two lines in that stanza. What is the mood?)
- Look for an example of personification. (Hint: Robert Frost describes something that is not human as if it were human. What is that something?)
- What is the speaker's attitude toward the woods? Which particular words or phrases let you know?
Another Digital Teaching Idea - For Robert Frost's Poetry
Students can also search for photos that represent images or themes from the poem, then assemble them in their own creative work. This picture reminded me of "The Road Not Taken".
For creative works that incorporate only visuals, Glogster is an excellent choice. Educators can get free accounts.
The Road Not Taken
"The Road Not Taken" has been placed in the Common Core at middle grade level. Again, there are plenty of teaching resources.
The English Teachers' Network has provided a high school lesson for writing about themes found in "The Road Not Taken". Each student first writes a simple sentence about what he or she thinks the poem is about; later, the responses are all written on the board, and students select their favorite to develop into an essay.
The video below is also provocative. Does "The Road Not Taken" celebrate individual difference? Is it ironic? There are multiple interpretations for this poem. Here's a less common interpretation.
Here is "The Road Not Taken" spoken by a master performer.
More Middle and Upper Grade Lessons
There are plenty of good lesson plans on the web for students in the middle and upper grades.
The International Reading Association has provided a week's worth of Frost-inspired middle school lesson plans, aligned to the Common Core; the mini-unit culminates with students writing their own original poems.
ELA Common Core has provided resources for the 9th and 10th grade band.
And from Web English Teacher come more resources for teaching Robert Frost's poetry to high school students: links to lesson plans and analysis from around the web.