Sonnet 18

We’re starting Hamlet next week in my sophomore English classes, so I introduced the Shakespeare unit this afternoon with my sonnet lesson. I’ve taught it before, but I think this was the most fun I’ve ever had with it. Pacing is everything in the classroom, and the lesson just flowed perfectly today.

I stared by having the kids work a jigsaw puzzle that gave them the characteristics of a Shakespearean sonnet:

It’s hard to tell here, but the puzzle gives the rhyme scheme, rhythm, and number of lines in a Shakespearean sonnet. A frame-tray puzzle may seem a little juvenile for sophomores, but the kids enjoy it, and I like the fact that it involves four different learning styles in a single activity.

When I realized the kids needed a refresher on rhyme scheme and meter, I illustrated those concepts using the first poems I could remember off the top of my head.

First, we analyzed the rhyme scheme of this Shel Silverstein gem:

Teddy said it was a hat,
And so I put it on.
Now Dad is saying, “Where the heck’s
The toilet plunger gone?”

(The rhyme scheme, incidentally, is ABCB, meaning the second and fourth lines rhyme.)

Then I gave the definition of an iamb — a metric foot consisting of one unaccented syllable, followed by one accented syllable.

The first iambic lines that popped into my head were from Green Eggs and Ham:

I do not like green eggs and ham.
I do not like them, Sam-I-Am.

Don’t act like you wouldn’t love using Dr. Seuss to learn scansion. You know he kicks Emily Dickinson’s proper Victorian New England butt.

I explained that Green Eggs and Ham is written in iambic tetrameter, which of course led to dissecting the word “tetrameter” to determine what each part meant. We clapped the rhythm, and then once we had established that “tetra” meant “four,” and each line above had four iambic feet, the kids were able to correctly surmise that a poem written in iambic pentameter would have five iambs per line.

Once we understood all the characteristics of a sonnet, I handed out strips of laminated paper, each one containing a line from Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18,¬†and gave the kids 10 minutes to try to put the lines in the correct order, based on the definition of a sonnet:

They didn’t get it 100 percent correct on the first try, but they got pretty close, and with a little prompting, they were able to sort it out and translate it into modern terms.

We had a lot of fun, and it was great to see all the kids engaged in the lesson.

Hope your afternoon was as much fun as mine.