Billy Collins Lesson Plan

Instructor: Maria Airth

Maria has a Doctorate of Education and over 20 years of experience teaching psychology and math related courses at the university level.

Learning about old poets may not be the most exciting lesson for students. But this lesson plan uses games and discussion to engage students in the work of American poet Billy Collins.

Learning Objectives

After this lesson, students will be able to:

  • explain Billy Collins' contribution to literature
  • identify characteristics of Billy Collins' work
  • demonstrate an understanding of the use of similes, personification and metaphors in poetry


30 minutes - Instructions

20-30 minutes - Activity 1

10-15 minutes - Activity 2

15-30 minutes - Activity 3

30-45 minutes - Activity 4 (may be given as a take-home project)

Curriculum Standards


Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 6 topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.


Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience. (Grade-specific expectations for writing types are defined in standards 1-3 above.)


Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.


  • Hard copies of the text lesson Billy Collins: Biography & Poetry and the lesson quiz
  • Hard copies of the following Billy Collins poems:
    • ''Design''
    • ''American Sonnet''
    • ''Aristotle''
    • ''Forgetfulness''
  • Beach ball
  • Note cards


  • Begin with a discussion of poetry:
    • What is poetry?
    • What makes poetry different from other literary works?
    • Do you experience poetry in your own lives? (Remind students that song and rap lyrics amount to poetry set to music.)
    • Does anyone know of a famous poet or a famous poem?
    • What about the American poet Billy Collins?
  • Tell students that you will be learning about Billy Collins, his life achievements and his poetry style in this lesson.


  • Hand out the text lesson Billy Collins: Biography & Poetry.
  • Ask a student to read the 'Introduction' and 'Who is Billy Collins?' sections of the text lesson. Discuss:
    • Billy Collins was born in 1941. Does that make him a contemporary poet?
    • Does it matter if he is seen as a contemporary poet or an older artist?
  • Call on another student to read the 'Early Life and Education' section of the text lesson. Discuss:
    • Collins had a Ph.D. Does that mean that all poets must be highly educated?
  • Ask a student to read the 'Career, Honors, and Awards' section of the text lesson.
    • What do you think about the ''Poetry 180'' program?
    • Would you like to see it in our school? Why or why not?
  • Read the 'Style' section of the text lesson. Hand out copies of the poem ''Design.''
  • Have a student read the poem. Discuss:
    • What is this poem about?
    • How do you feel about the fact that it doesn't rhyme?
    • Do you like it? Why or why not?
  • Ask a student to read the 'Use of Figurative Language' section of the text lesson. Ask:
    • So, what is a simile?
    • Can someone give me another example of a simile?
    • Who can define metaphor? Give an example?
    • Does anyone remember what 'personification' means?
    • What example was used in the text to show personification?
  • Read the 'Lesson Summary.' Allow students time to ask questions and review the lesson on their own before handing out the quiz.
  • Hand out the lesson quiz. Go over each question and answer with the class after they have finished it.

Activity 1 - Round Robin Free Verse

  • Students should sit at their desks for this activity. Tell them that you are going to write a free verse poem together.
  • The student in the first seat should begin with the first line of the poem (you can either assign a topic or allow the student to choose).
  • The second student should follow the first student immediately with a made-up second line for the poem.
  • Continue having students compose lines for the poem until every child has offered a line. If possible, write the poem down as the students compose it orally.
  • Have a student read back the whole poem to the class.

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