A Lesson Plan For

Poem 7 - An Exercise in Story

The Exercise Square_Maze310.gif (122 bytes)Ballad Form Square_Maze310.gif (122 bytes)Poetry Study With Mrs. Mac

Objectives: To introduce students to the ballad form and some of the story-telling elements (repetition, dialogue, lack of exposition, escalation of events) which are found in story-telling poems, both humorous and serious. To underscore student understanding of rhythm and rhyme, alliteration and form. To share some humorous poems. To practice memorization.

Class Periods: five 40-minute class periods - this lesson can be an independent unit.

Essential Materials: Poems to Remember. Edited by Dorothy Petitt. NY, Glencoe, 1984, access to an Internet computer and a word-processing computer, paper, pencil or pens


  1. Explore traditional ballads by reading at least two of the following (page numbers refer to the text): 
    The Streets of Laredo (p.87),
    Sir Patrick Spens,
    Johnie Armstrong (p.83),
    Barbara Allen
    - this site opens with a recording - hear two different recordings from the American Memories Collection),
    Lord Randal
    , - opens recording of melody
    Edward, Edward (version attibuted to Thomas Percy, version as adapted by E.Sky-McIlvain),
    Get Up and Shut the Door by Iam Serraillier, a rewriting of the traditional Get Up and Bar the Door (Word '97)

    Identify in each ballad the traits of the traditional ballad.  Summarize the plot line. Explain the "oral tradition" and discuss how the 3-R's (rhyme, rhythm and repetition) make memorization easier. Students should be asked to memorize and recite all or part of one ballad.
  1. Explore literary ballads by reading at least three of the following:
    The Wreck of the Hesperus by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow,
    What Has Happened to Lulu? by Charles Causley (Word '97),
    The Mistletoe Bough by Thomas Haynes Bayly (Word '97),
    The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes,
    Danny Deever by Rudyard Kipling,
    The Tale of Custard the Dragon by Ogden Nash,
    Cremation of Sam McGee by Robert Service,
    Oh What is That Sound? by W.H. Auden (Word '97),
    The Sands of Dee by Charles Kingsley (Word '97),
    Casey at the Bat
    by Ernest Thayer - a lesson plan for the poem

    Identify both the traditional and the literary characteristics of each ballad.   Focus attention on detail and development of plot, on the use of figurative language, and upon theme, tone and meaning.  I save my favorite, The Ballad of Birmingham by Dudley Randal, for a test.  Others may want to explore this poem and include it in the lesson. Essay on The Ballad of Birmingham

    Students should be asked to memorize and recite all or part of a literary ballad.
  1. Explore narrative poems which use dialogue, repetition and other elements of the ballad form.   Select from the following:
    Soldier's Song (p.68),
    Dinky (p.36),
    Incident (p.97)
    I Saw a Sad Man In a Field
    by Joan Batchelor,
    Overheard in a SaltMarsh by Harold Monro,
    The Walrus and the Carpenter from Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll

    Many of the previously read poems are also narrative poems.  These should enter into discussions.

    For each poem, ask students:  What ballad techniques are used in the poem?  What story is told?  What is the theme, or lesson, of the story, if any? What "modern" poetry techniques are used?  How do they contribute to the telling of this story? What is left "unsaid" in the poem?  Have students ask questions of the poet or the characters in the narratives.

    Ask students if they could retell one of the poem stories in traditional balled form.   If you have time, let them give it a try. The poems which result can also be posted on the Original Narrative Poems & Ballads page.
  1. Have students complete the Poem 7 exercise, which is also a poem-writing exercise.
  2. Follow up - After an intense unit, I like to read some lighter narratives.  Dr. Seuss (I prefer Horton), Eloise, or Madeline are good bets, as are the longer of the Berenstein Bears books or Shel Silverstein (try Hungry Mungry from Where the Sidewalk Ends).  Any of these will provide a review of the plot diagram, of rhythm & rhyme, of word choice, and of many ballad characteristics.
Least Tern