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• Teaching Sonnets
Sonnet Unit Plan

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Teaching Sonnets Unit Plan

Many educators have found that the sonnets are a wonderful way to introduce Shakespeare to students because the smaller blocks of language are less intimidating than whole plays. Louisa Newlin, who leads workshops on sonnets for teachers, and Gigi Bradford, who teaches Shakespeare’s Sisters, a seminar for high school students at the Folger, have created a series of lesson plans about the sonnets that concentrate on the Bard but also include sonnets from before Shakespeare as well as contemporary sonnets.


This arc of study provides a context for Shakespeare’s genius, introduces the sonnet’s form and structure, includes language easier to understand than Shakespeare’s, and illustrates his continuing influence. It’s both a lot of fun and a good way to show that sonnets are ways of thinking, not just love poems in archaic language. We hope it provides a template and some inspiration for your own teaching.


The unit contains:


Lesson 1:
Easing into Shakespeare with a Modern Sonnet

Lesson 2:
Petrarch, Father of the Sonnet

Lesson 3:
The English Sonnet: Michael Drayton

Lesson 4:
Spenser, Shakespeare, and the “Blazon”

Lesson 5:
Shakespeare’s Sonnet 138

Lesson 6:
Juliet vs. Laura

Lesson 7:
Close Reading

Lesson 8:
Writing a Group Sonnet

Lesson 9:
Sonnet Performance Festival


Lesson 10:
Sonnets by Women (“Shakespeare’s Sisters”) and Other Modern Sonnets


You can follow all ten plans serially or pick and choose among them to devise a shorter course. (Lessons 1, 2, 4 or 5, and 6.) Each lesson is designed to fit into one 40–45 minute class period; each builds on the last, but the lessons can also be used singly. Ideas for additional lessons are embedded throughout. Have fun and let us know what works for you.

Alberto Sangorski. Songs and Sonnets by William Shakespeare. Manuscript, 1926

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