Sonnet Activities

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

Learning about sonnets can be such an exciting experience for students of poetry! This lesson offers hands-on activities for helping your students learn more about sonnets.

The Importance of the Sonnet

Are your students learning about different kinds of formal poetry? If so, one of the kinds of poems you are sure to introduce them to is the sonnet, a type of lyrical poem that usually has 14 lines. When students understand what a sonnet is and how it works, they will be equipped to participate in all sorts of cultural conversations about literary classics.

Yet teaching sonnets is not usually something you can do with a simple one-off lesson. To get students engaged in learning what a sonnet is and appreciating the challenges involved in sonnet-writing, you might want to try incorporating activities into your instruction. The activities in this lesson are designed to appeal to a variety of learning styles while still helping students understand what a sonnet is, why it matters, and what makes it such a special form of poetry.

Reading Sonnets

Much of what students can learn about sonnets, they will learn from reading as many different ones as possible! This section offers activities that get students thinking actively while you expose them to the different sonnets you want them to read.

Mark It Up

This is a great activity for those visual learners in your class. Break students up into partnerships, and give each pair a specific sonnet to work with. Explain that they should read their sonnet one line at a time. After reading the poem twice, they should use different colored pencils to mark the poem up with their thoughts. For instance, they might use specific colors to:

  • circle unfamiliar vocabulary
  • make note of the rhyme scheme
  • jot thoughts about the message communicated through the closing couplet
  • highlight imagery or symbolism used in the poem.

Then, have each pair gather with another pair to present their sonnets and the markings they made.

Sonnet Discussion and Presentation

It can be really helpful for students to read several sonnets by the same author such as William Shakespeare, Pablo Neruda, Marilyn Hacker Elizabeth Bishop or James Weldon Johnson. Break students into small groups, and assign each group a focus poet. Students should read and discuss at least three different sonnets by the author. They should create a poster showing characteristic themes, language choices, and image types among all three (or more) sonnets. Give students a chance to share their findings and presentations with their classmates.

Oral Reading

This activity will benefit all of your students, but it is especially meaningful to those who love to perform. Have each student choose a particular sonnet to learn well. Students should read their sonnets multiple times, think about their meanings, and learn all of the vocabulary they contain. Then, have a sonnet reading day. One at a time, give each student a chance to read or perform their sonnet for the rest of the class. After each performance, other students can ask the reader questions about the poem and their reasons for selecting it.

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