As many of us have experienced, love can surprise us, take many forms, and be returned, or not. In this set of activities, your students will first explore the two-way love exhibited by one of poetry’s most famous couples—Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Then they will explore three poems where they will know only one side of the love conversation, and write their own poems in response.

The Literacy Common Core Standards in the areas of Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening are aligned with these activities. Feel free to break these activities up, use them as a self-contained unit, or differentiate them for your students’ specific needs. They are templates for your imagination!


Literature Common Core Standards Addressed in These Activities

Reading, Key Ideas, and Details:

Craft and Structure:

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:

Writing, Text Types, and Purposes:

Speaking and Listening, Comprehension and Collaboration:


Part I: Two-Way Love

Studying the Poems

Love in a Life by Robert Browning
How Do I Love Thee? (Sonnet 43) by Elizabeth Barrett Browning


Students will:

  • Hone their visual noticing and questioning skills
  • Identify connections and metaphors
  • Understand two different perspectives expressed by people in love with each other


Whole Class Warm-up:

  • Ask your students to complete the following sentence in a whip-around: Love is….
  • They are to complete it with one word or a short phrase
  • Write these on the board in the front of the room so your students can refer to the list later

Small Group Noticing Activity: The Clasped Hands of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Harriet Goodhue Hosner (1839-1908)

Note: For this activity you will need either a SmartBoard or a computer with internet connected to a projector.

The Clasped Hands of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning is a sculpture in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Please make the image full screen, and as you ask the questions below, you can pan the image, and zoom in on particular parts of the sculpture, as you like. Give them several minutes to look over the image from different vantage points.

In their journals, ask your students to write answers to the following questions:

  • What do they notice (see)? Ask them to be as specific as possible.
  • If your students give you an interpretation, ask them what in the sculpture leads them to that interpretation.
  • How are the hands clasped?
  • What does this sculpture tell you about the relationship of the two people? What details in the sculpture tell you this?
  • What does it tell you about their love? Again give details to back up your interpretation.

Place your students in heterogeneous groups of no more than four. Ask them to share what they wrote, and have one person act as a recorder/reporter for the group.

Ask the recorder/reporters to tell the whole class the results of their discussion.

Write what the reporters say on the board in the front of the room for future reference.

Collaborative Reading

Ask students to re-form their small groups. Give half of the groups the poem by Robert Browning; give the other half the poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

In their groups, ask:

  • One person to read the poem out loud, while the others in the group read and listen.
  • A second person to read the poem out loud while the others in the group read and listen
  • A different person to be recorder/reporter
  • All the people in each group to write down what jumped out at them in what they heard and read
  • What more did they learn about how their poet loved the other?
  • What descriptions or symbols in the poem back up their new understandings?

As a whole class, ask the Robert Browning groups to report in. Ask the Elizabeth Barrett Browning Groups to report in. Record key ideas on the board.

After Reading the Poems

Conduct a whole class discussion around the following question: What were some of the characteristics of the love between Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning? How do you know?


Ask your students to keep a running list on the front board in the room of the words in the poems they do not understand. These may include:



Part II: Responding to One-Way Love

The Fist by Derek Walcott
The Forms of Love by George Oppen
No, Love is Not Dead by Robert Desnos
   translated by William Kulik


Students will:

  • Identify key symbols and images
  • Write a poem that uses images and symbols, in conversation with one of the three love poems

Note: Any, or all, of the activities in Part I can serve as pre-activities for the writing activities. Also, you may want to read each of these three poems collaboratively in small groups following a similar protocol to that used in Part I.

Writing Activity

Give your students copies of all three poems. Ask:

  • one person to read "The Fist" aloud to the whole class; another to read it aloud again.
  • another to read "The Forms of Love" aloud to the whole classand a third to read it aloud again.
  • a fourth person to read "No, Love is Not Dead" aloud to the whole classand another to read it aloud again.

While the poems are being read, ask the other students to read along, listen carefully and write down the images, words and phrases that jump out at them.

Have them turn and talk to a neighbor about the images, words and phrases.

Go quickly around the room and ask one member of each pair to report on what they discovered. Write these on the board in the front of the room.

Conduct a whole class discussion about how each of the poets feels about love. Make sure your students provide examples of words, images and phrases from the poems to back up their assertions.

After this discussion, tell your students they are going to write their own poem that is the “other side” of one of the love relationships in the poems, similar to the way the Browning poems are two sides of the same love. Each student should pick one of the poems with which they want to work. Their response poems should include images, phrases and words that help them describe the feelings this other side of love has.

Your students should write a draft for peer comments and revision, and then a final draft. (If you have not done peer review before, see some ideas are available in the lesson Letters to Poets.)You might want to compile the final poems into a class book for sharing.


Ask your students to keep a running list on the front board in the room of the words in the poems they do not understand. These may include:

Boulevard Malesherbes
A la mysterieuse