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If you are teaching “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost, you may be looking for tips and ideas to make the most of this beloved poem in your ELA classroom. Whether you are building an entire middle school poetry unit or looking for a standalone series of lessons, I’m sharing my best tips for teaching every aspect of this classic text.
“The Road Not Taken” centers around an unnamed traveler, who comes across two paths in a forest. In making his decision about which path to take, he ponders the importance of choices in determining the path of a person’s life.
So, where to begin when teaching this famous American poem? Here are my best tips to bring this classic text to life for your middle or high school ELA students.
Begin by building anticipation for your ELA students. Either at the beginning of my middle school poetry unit, or the day before I teach “The Road Not Taken,” I often hang a poster on my door or somewhere in my classroom.
Even a simple quote from the poem, out of context, might result in some lively discussion! At the very least, students will wonder what their teacher is up to.
Next, I like to start my lesson by building background information on Robert Frost himself. I tell students that Frost was an American poet who is highly regarded for his realistic depictions of rural life and that he is one of the most popular and critically respected American poets of the 20th century. I also tell them about the interesting story behind the poem, and how it may have been a deciding factor that would send one of Frost’s close friends to war.
From there, you can involve your middle school poetry class in pre-reading activities related to the poem itself. If your focus is on vocabulary, you could explore some of the more complex terms from the text. Alternatively, you could lead a guided discussion about the “big choices” a person has to make in their life. For a different angle, you might also chat about the consequences of inaction – of not making a choice at all.
Finally, encourage your ELA students to make predictions about what the poem will be about, based only on the title and background information you have provided. Ask them to save these predictions – later, they can check how accurate they were!
I find that students generally need to experience a poem three or four times before the meaning really starts to sink in. First, let your middle school poetry class read the text quietly on their own.
Read “The Road Not Taken” again, this time to the whole group. You know your own ELA students best – you may want to read the poem out loud, or a brave student could read the poem to the class.
This creates a natural opportunity for a poetry discussion. One idea is to break students into groups and have them use poetry discussion cards to guide the conversation.
Now it is time for your students to read the poem again. This is a great time to discuss elements of poetry, including the rhyme scheme, meter and stanza formation.
From here, I might prompt my students to answer a series of comprehension questions. I find that many middle school ELA students struggle with “what’s actually happening” in the poem. It often helps to break it down into stanzas and ask them to read closely and carefully.
Lastly, extend the second reading of “The Road Not Taken” by asking your students an opinion-based question about the poem. This sets them up for the third and final reading, in which they dig even deeper into Robert Frost’s meaning.
When students read the poem again, encourage them to now move beyond basic comprehension. For example, I often ask them questions like:
You may also want to prompt your middle school poetry class with questions about the language, symbolism, or themes of the poem, such as the importance of decisions in shaping a person’s life as well as the power of individual choice over conformity.
As a culminating activity, your students may like to give “The Road Not Taken” a modern twist. Working alone or in pairs, students can cut out and rearrange the words from the poem to create an entirely new one!
I encourage my ELA class to be as creative as they like. For example, their new poems may not have anything to do with the original themes of “The Road Not Taken,” and could instead be entirely original creations.
This idea lends itself especially well to a classroom or hallway display. Put your students’ work up on a bulletin board (maybe with a copy of “The Road Not Taken” for a before-and-after comparison) to celebrate National Poetry Month!
I hope that gives you plenty of ideas for teaching “The Road Not Taken” in your middle school poetry unit.
Looking for more resources to help you with middle school poetry? Click here
Also, check out this post for more ideas to spark your students’ interest in poetry!
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