American Poetry Lesson Plan

Instructor: John Hamilton

John has tutored algebra and SAT Prep and has a B.A. degree with a major in psychology and a minor in mathematics from Christopher Newport University.

Educate your students concerning American Poetry with this lesson plan. They will study a text lesson and a video lesson, take two related follow-up quizzes, and try three activities that will help them comprehend the material.

Learning Objectives

After studying these two lessons, your students will be able to:

  • Explain four common poetry techniques
  • Identify some prominent American poets
  • Recap some common themes of American poetry


1-1.5 Hours


Key Vocabulary

  • American Poets
  • Contemporary Poets
  • Metaphor
  • Personification
  • Simile
  • Symbolism

Curriculum Standards


Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.


Determine two or more themes or central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to produce a complex account; provide an objective summary of the text.


Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including words with multiple meanings or language that is particularly fresh, engaging, or beautiful. (Include Shakespeare as well as other authors.)


  • Inform your students they are going to be studying several American poets, along with four standard poetry techniques.
  • Ask them if anyone has a favorite American poet.
  • Review the vocabulary terms.

Lesson One

  • Hand out copies of the text lesson History of Famous American Poetry & Poets.
  • Read the introduction and the first section 'Background.'
    • Can you name six American poets?
    • What century did American poetry begin to thrive?
    • On which type of poetry did they base their styles?
  • Now read the section 'Anne Bradstreet.'
    • What hardships did she face?
    • What themes are in her poetry?
    • What are some of her works?
  • Next read the section 'Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.'
    • What were some of his works?
    • What famous work was he the first to translate?
    • What were some themes of his works?
  • Now read the section 'Walt Whitman.'
    • What is his nickname? Why?
    • What were some themes of his works?
    • What did he believe about Shakespeare?
  • Next read the section 'William Carlos Williams.'
    • What was his other profession?
    • What was his poetry style?
    • What were some of his works?
  • Now read the section 'Langston Hughes.'
    • In what era did he write?
    • What were some themes of his poetry?
    • What were the names of some of his works?
    • What awards did he win?
  • Next read the section 'Contemporary Poets.'
    • Who are some of these poets?
    • Why is it difficult to discuss them?
    • What styles have they employed?
  • Lastly, read the section 'Lesson Summary', review the entire text lesson, and answer any pertinent student questions.
  • Have your students take the lesson quiz to demonstrate their understanding.

Lesson Two

  • Now, have your students view the video lesson Analyzing American Poetry: Terms and Examples. Allow them to take notes to use during discussion.
  • Start the video and pause for the first time at :18.
    • Why can studying poetry be intimidating?
  • Restart the video and pause this time at 1:32.
    • What is a simile?
    • How does Whitman use similes to discuss death and spirituality?
  • Restart the video again and pause at 2:38.
    • What is a metaphor?
    • How does a metaphor differ from a simile?
    • How does Sylvia Plath use metaphors in her poem about them?
  • Restart the video and pause at 4:04.
    • What is personification?
    • How does Emily Dickinson employ it in her poem about death?
  • Restart the video and pause at 6:25.
    • What is symbolism?
    • What example of symbolism does the video lesson give?
    • How does Frost use symbolism in 'The Road Not Taken?'
    • What is the message the poem is conveying?
  • Finally, restart the video and play the section 'Lesson Summary.'
  • Recap the complete video lesson, answering any relevant questions.
  • Have your students take the lesson quiz.

Activity One

  • Inform your students they are going to write their very own poems. Give them the following directions:
    • You can review the styles of the American poets in the two lessons, but ultimately you will want to write with your own unique style.
    • Try to rhyme your poems, but you may also write free verse like Walt Whitman.
    • You must use at least one of the techniques from the video lesson, which are simile, metaphor, personification, and symbolism.
    • After finishing your poem, you must also be able to state which technique (or techniques) you utilized.
  • When the students are done have them share their poems and poetry techniques with the entire class.

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