Project Description

River of Words Homepage

Overview/Rationale for Lesson:
High school students and elementary school students meet in a garden to read an Emily Dickinson poem about nature and write their own poems inspired by her model and informed by direct sensory observations.


Grade Level:  3 to 5, 9 to 12

Developed by Suzanne Strauss & Susan Ebitz, Northampton High School & Jackson Street School, Northampton, MA, and used in Grade 4 and High School

Community Partners: Emily Dickinson Museum & Northampton Education Foundation

Learning Objective(s):

  • Students will read and discuss nature imagery in a poem by Emily Dickinson.
  • Students will write a poem based on direct observation and inspired by the format, imagery and graphic conventions of Dickinson’s poem.
  • Students will make oral presentations of their poems to the group.

Lesson Plan Procedure:

Preparatory Activity:
Time: 10 minutes (plus travel time to outdoor setting)

Note:  Students meet in an outdoor setting (this lesson took place at the Rose Garden at Child’s Park in Northampton).

Step 1. Introduce the nature poetry session.  5 minutes.

  • Gather students in a circle, explain that they will be reading and writing nature poems outdoors in the garden and set guidelines and expectations.
  • Distribute and read aloud a poem on the theme of nature written by Emily Dickinson: “This is my letter to the World”  (downloadable from Materials Checklist). 5 minutes.

Main Activity:
Time:  40 minutes

Step 2.  Read aloud, “Nature is what We see” (downloadable from Materials Checklist), and give directions for poetry writing activity.  10 minutes.

  • Hand out poem, writing directions (downloadable from Materials Checklist), clipboard, lined paper and pencil to each small group.
  • Read aloud poem several times, inviting students and/or other adults to read aloud individual stanzas.
  • Review directions and expectations for writing a poem inspired by Dickinson’s poem.

Step 3.  Students work in small groups, spreading out around the outdoor area, first completing the handout and then composing a poem on lined paper.  30 minutes.  (Download sample student poems from Materials Checklist.)

Conclusion/Follow-Up to Activity:
Time: 15-20 minutes

Step 4.  Students gather in a circle and do a poetry reading.  10-15 minutes.

Step 5.  Whole group does a choral reading of “Nature is what We see.”  5 minutes.

Additional Notes on Lesson Plan:

This lesson is the culmination of “Emily Dickinson: Person, Poetry and Place,”a sequence of collaborative lessons for high school students and 4th graders.  See Emily Dickinson: Close Reading for background.

Materials Checklist:


Dickinson Electronic Archives

Emily Dickinson Museum Website:


Students re-write final draft of poem on paper with pressed flowers.  (See Sample Flower Paper.)


ENGLISH LANGUAGE ARTS (Connections to the Common Core State Standards,

Reading: Literature » Grade 4 & Grade 9-10

Text Types and Purposes

  • MA.3.A. Write stories, poems, and scripts that use similes and/or metaphors.

Key Ideas and Details

  • RL.4.1. Refer to details and examples in a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.
  • RL.9-10.1. Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

Craft and Structure

  • RL.4.4. Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including those that allude to significant characters found in mythology (e.g., Herculean).
  • RL.9-10.4. Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (e.g., how the language evokes a sense of time and place; how it sets a formal or informal tone).

Writing » Grade 4 & Grade 9-10

Research to Build and Present Knowledge

  • W.4.9. Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

Range of Writing

  • W.4.10. & W.9-10.10 Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of discipline-specific tasks, purposes, and audiences.

Language » Grade 4 & Grade 9-10

  • L.4.5. Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.
    • Explain the meaning of simple similes and metaphors (e.g., as pretty as a picture) in context.
    • L.9-10.3. Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.
    • L.9-10.5. Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.
      • Interpret figures of speech (e.g., euphemism, oxymoron) in context and analyze their role in the text.
      • Analyze nuances in the meaning of words with similar denotations.