O Captain! My Captain! Lesson Plan

Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught history, and has an MA in Islamic law/finance. He has since founded his own financial advice firm, Newton Analytical.

Help students link one of the greatest works of Walt Whitman to a very real event in U.S. History, the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. The accompanying activity will allow students to create their own poems using iambic pentameter.

Lesson Objectives

By the end of this lesson, students will be able to:

  • Discuss and summarize the plot of Walt Whitman's O Captain! My Captain
  • Analyze the structure and meaning behind the poem


30 minutes plus 30 minutes for the activity

Curriculum Standards


By the end of grade 10, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poems, at the high end of the grades 9-10 text complexity band independently and proficiently.

Key Terms

  • Elegy
  • Extended Metaphor
  • Dirge
  • Iambic Pentameter
  • Couplet


  • Start the lesson by asking:
    • Have you ever lost something or someone important to you? How did you handle it?
  • Discuss this as a class.
  • Start the video for the lesson: Poem Analysis of O Captain! My Captain. Watch the section 'Origins of 'O Captain! My Captain'. Discuss:
    • How did the poem become an elegy? How did it affect the rest of the country?
  • Watch the section 'Extended Metaphor', discuss:
    • What metaphor can be found between the ship in the poem and the U.S. after the Civil War?
  • Watch the remainder of the lesson, discuss:
    • What is the best example of iambic pentameter in the poem?
    • Where can you spot the chorus in the poem?

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