These lessons focus on poems about light and darkness:

There’s a certain Slant of light (258) by Emily Dickinson
Acquainted with the Night by Robert Frost
Those Winter Sundays by Robert Hayden
The Coming of Light by Mark Strand

Around the world, December is a time when light and dark are at their peak. In the northern hemisphere, the Winter Solstice gives us the shortest day of the year and the transition to longer days with more light. In the southern hemisphere, we experience the Summer Solstice with the longest day of the year transitioning to days with less light. Our poems mark these transitions, not only in their planetary manifestations, but also symbolically. As your students work with the concepts of light and dark, they, too, will understand that they can create powerful symbols.

The lessons below, aligned with the Common Core Standards, ask your students to look at light and dark in different settings, experiment with how light and dark change the mood of a place or object, then read the poems collaboratively. After reading the poems and coming to an understanding of their meanings, students will write their own poems using light and dark.

A note about lesson integration: The study of light and dark can integrate with Science lessons. You may want to alert the Science teacher on your grade team that you are thinking of teaching these poems and coordinate the timing of your lessons with hers in order to enrich assignments in both subjects.

As in other lessons, in order to reach diverse learners, you should look at the activities as suggestions from which you can choose in order to help all your students learn. You can always modify the warm-up to reach more students in your class. The same is true for pre- and post-activities.

Literature Common Core Standards Addressed in These Activities

Reading, Key Ideas, and Details 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy. RL.9-10.1 and 11-12.1

Reading, Craft, and Structure 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy. RL.9-10.4 and 11-12.4

Writing, Text Types, and Purposes 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy. W.9-10.3d and 11-12.3d

Speaking and Listening, Comprehension, and Collaboration 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1d and 11-12.1d

Studying the Poems


Students will...

  1. Hone their skills of perception and description
  2. Make connections among prior knowledge, how they feel, and what they see
  3. Understand and synthesize multiple interpretations
  4. Provide evidence for interpretations
  5. Understand the concepts of symbol, simile and metaphor
  6. Create symbols, similes and metaphors for their own poems


Whole Class Warm-Up

  • Ask students to take out their journals or an appropriate piece of writing paper.
  • Tell them you are going to pull down the shades and turn out the lights in the class (and that you would not like them to respond verbally)
  • When the lights are out, ask them to sit quietly in the dark for 2 or 3 minutes and write words that describe how the dark makes them feel
  • Ask them to think about other words—objects or places—that make them feel the same way, and write those down
  • Turn on the lights (again, ask them not to respond verbally)
  • How did they feel the moment the lights came on?
  • How do they feel when they sit in the light for 2 or 3 minutes
  • Ask them to think about other words—objects or places—that make them feel the same way as the light, and write those down

Small Group Work:


  • One flashlight for each small group
  • Cardboard
  • Poster Board



Ask your students to bring in a common object they think has an interesting shape. Some examples are a rock, a stapler, a pinecone, or a pair of eyeglasses. They should stay away from things that have a regular shape, such as a ball or a picture frame.

In Class

  • Divide your class into groups no larger than four students each.
  • Give each group one flashlight, some different size cardboard rectangles, and different size pieces of poster board.
  • Make sure each student has an object they want to explore
  • Tell your students you will be turning out the lights in the room (again with no verbal reaction from them) and that they will be using the flashlight to highlight their objects in different ways.
  • Ask one student in each group to hold the flashlight, another to hold and move their object, a third to position the cardboard or poster board, and the fourth to take notes on what the group sees.
  • To model the process:
    1. Go to one group and ask the person with the flashlight to start by holding it above the object, and the person with the boards to position it/them so there is some kind of shadow.
    2. Ask all of the students in the group to say what they see.
    3. The recorder should write down these responses.
    4. Then ask how the positioning of the light and the resulting shadow makes them feel about the object. If they need examples: Warm? Cold? Scared? Like they want to shake the object? Etc.
    5. Ask the recorder to write down the group members' responses.
    6. Ask for questions about the process and clarify so the students can proceed.
  • All the other groups should follow this process.
  • Then ask each person in the groups to shift roles and to shift the positions of the light and the card and/or poster boards.
  • They should continue the process until each person has had a chance to assume all four roles.
  • Ask the members of each group to consolidate the four lists of light positions (using words like above, below, afar, etc), what they saw, and the feelings evoked into one list that will be presented to the whole class
  • Call on the recorders to present their lists.
  • Write the results on the board in the front of the room

Collaborative Reading:

This reading activity focuses on the poems as a group. You, of course, can teach them separately, if it better meets your needs.

  • Divide your students into different groups of no more than four students each, if possible
  • Give each group a copy of one of the four poems
  • Ask each group to pick a recorder/reporter and a facilitator who will make sure each person in the group speaks
  • The facilitator asks
    1. One person to read the poem out loud for the group
    2. Another person to read the poem out loud
    3. What jumps out at you in the poem? What do you see?
    4. What kind of light is in the poem?
    5. Where is the light coming from? Where does it go?
    6. Where is the dark in the poem?
    7. What associations are made with the light?
    8. What associations are made with the dark?
    9. What do you think the poem is about?
    10. What is your evidence?
    11. What questions do you have about the poem?
  • The recorder/reporter takes notes on what the group says and checks back with the group members to make sure her notes represent what the group wants to say.

After Reading the Poem:

Whole Class Activity

Make sure all students have copies of all four poems. Ask each recorder/reporter to answer the following questions:

  • What kind of light is in the poem?
  • Where is the light coming from? Where does it go?
  • Where is the dark in the poem?
  • What associations are made with the light?
  • What associations are made with the dark?
  • What do your group members think the poem is about?
  • What is their evidence?
  • What questions does your group have about the poem that you would like to share with the class?

Facilitate a discussion to develop a shared set of understandings about each poem. In addition, introduce how students can create symbols, similes and metaphors from their own associations.

Writing Activity

After reading and discussing the poems, ask your students to go back to their original list of associations with light and dark and add others from the light explorations and reading activities. Then ask them to write either a short poem about the object they brought into school for the light exploration and how the light and/or dark affects the feelings of that object or a short poem about something that happened to them and how the light and/or dark affected them. They are to use their lists of associations and feelings to help them create symbols, similes and metaphors to express what they want to say.

Vocabulary Words

Ask your students to list words in the poems they do not understand. These might include: