Letter poems are a particularly apt medium for exploring a defining characteristic of poetry—line breaks. As students work to transform narrative-style letters into poetic format, they are forced to think carefully about where to end each line. Students begin by discussing letters they have written and working with an online tool as an introduction to letter poems. As a group, students look at a letter form of “This is Just to Say” by William Carlos Williams and add line breaks to turn it into a poem. They then compare the poem they created with the original, discussing why the poet made the line break choices he did. Next, they work in small groups to rewrite another letter as a poem and then compare the various groups’ results with the original poem. Students then use a Venn diagram to compare letters and poems. Finally, they compose their own letter poems.
In this lesson, students will have opportunities to:
- Explore and discuss various poems to demonstrate a growing awareness of how line breaks affect rhythm, sound, meaning, impact, and appearance, and can substitute for punctuation in letter poems.
- Demonstrate their understanding of line breaks and how format creates dramatic effect by writing their own letter poems.
To teach this lesson, you will need:
- “This is Just to Say”: William Carlos Williams’ poem is an excellent example of a letter poem.
- Letter Poem Creator: This online tool demonstrates for students how to rearrange words from a letter to make a poem.
- Line Break Explorer: The interactive explores the ways that poets choose line breaks in their writing. After viewing the demonstration, students are invited to experiment with line breaks themselves.
- Venn Diagram: This interactive tool allows students to create Venn diagrams that contain two or three overlapping circles, enabling them to organize their information logically.
- Copies for each student of the poem “Dear Grandma” written as a letter and on a separate piece of paper as a poem. Alternatively, you can select a similar poem from the The Academy of American Poets Website, from Chapter 2 of Getting the Knack: 20 Poetry Writing Exercises (Dunning and Stafford 1992), or use a letter poem you have written to model your literacy for students.
- Chart paper or board space for writing ideas
- “Dear Grandma” as Letter and Poem
- Sample List of Letter or E-mail Addresses and Purposes
- Rubric for Letter Poems Lesson