Emily Dickinson Lesson Plan

Instructor: Angela Janovsky

Angela has taught middle and high school English, Business English and Speech for nine years. She has a bachelor's degree in psychology and has earned her teaching license.

This lesson plan utilizes a text lesson with discussion questions, as well as a group activity focused on the life of Emily Dickinson. An exit ticket and extension ideas are also included.

Learning Objectives

After this lesson, students will be able to:

  • Describe the life of poet Emily Dickinson
  • Explain how her life influenced her poetry
  • Analyze one of Dickinson's poems


45-50 minutes

Curriculum Standards

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.1

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.

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.10

By the end of grade 12, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poems, at the high end of the grades 11-CCR text complexity band independently and proficiently.

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.9

Demonstrate knowledge of eighteenth-, nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century foundational works of American literature, including how two or more texts from the same period treat similar themes or topics.

Key Vocabulary

  • Poetry
  • Agoraphobia
  • Slant Rhyme
  • Theme (death and immortality)
  • Figurative Language


  • Handouts of Dickinson's poem Success is counted sweetest
  • Handouts of other Dickinson poems as you deem necessary
  • Copy of the text lesson for each student
  • Notebook paper and writing utensils
  • Poster board
  • Access to a printer
  • Markers/colored pencils


  • Before using this lesson, be sure students already have a basic understanding of poetry.
  • To begin, post the first stanza of Dickinson's poem, Success is counted sweetest on the board. (Success is counted sweetest/By those who ne'er succeed./To comprehend a nectar/Requires sorest need.)
  • Ask students to explain the meaning of these lines.
    • This can be an independent journal writing for a few minutes, or an open class discussion. You can also have students state whether they agree with the message or not.
  • After a few minutes of discussion, ask:
    • What metaphor is being used in lines 3 and 4? How does it support the author's message?
  • Now refer to the lesson Emily Dickinson: Biography, Works & Influences
  • Explain that this stanza was written by Emily Dickinson, who they will now learn about along with her influence on poetry.
  • Before reading the lesson, have students set up notes to write down important information about Dickinson.
    • If you already have a procedure for note taking, use that.
    • If you don't, you can create a table for notes with biographical information on one side and characteristics of her poetry on the other. A third column could be for her influence on other poets.
  • Read through the first two sections of the lesson: A Legacy Unknown until after Death and Early Life. Have students take notes as necessary.
    • Point out important information they need to know (date of birth, date of death, family, place of birth, education, influence of death in her life, her agoraphobia, etc.)
  • Now discuss:
    • What is agoraphobia? What do you think a person suffering from agoraphobia would write poems about? Why?
    • What was death's role in Dickinson's life? How do you think it would influence her poetry?
  • Return to the lesson and read the next section, The Poems of Emily Dickinson.
  • Review important information students should write in their notes (her poems, how they were published, when they were written, common theme of death and immortality, her inspirations, etc.), then discuss:
    • How can a poet use formatting to make a point in his/her poetry? How can capitalization be used for emphasis? Punctuation? Length of lines? Etc.
  • Return to the lesson and read the last two sections, Echoes and Lesson Summary.
  • Review any other information that should be included in their notes (Romantic Movement and its focus, her non-conformists style, etc.) then discuss:
    • Do you think Dickinson's agoraphobia and reclusively lead her to focus on death and immortality? Why or why not?
  • Hand out the full poem of Success is counted sweetest. Read it as a class.
  • Now, have a class discussion:
    • Now that you know a bit about Dickinson's life, what can you see of it in this poem? Was she ever successful while alive? How is that connected to this poem?
    • How is this poem non-conformist? How is it different from other poems you have seen and read?

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