Sonnet Challenge

For Valentine’s Day I challenged one of my workshops to write sonnets.

This was my first time teaching a form in any of my workshops. I’ve done haiku scavenger hunts before, but those were more about the experiential nature of haiku than any of the form’s diction and thematic restrictions.

To start this sonnet lesson I explained that some poems have rules, which piqued the attention of a couple poets in the room right away. We’ve been writing together as a group for almost two years now and in that time I’ve pretty much let them free write, the exceptions being group projects like our holiday cookie tags, so this was something new.

I had Sonnet and the numbers one through fourteen listed downward on the board as a visual for everyone to reference. I decided to start with the basic rule, that a sonnet is a poem with fourteen lines. While rhyme and meter play a big role in the Shakespearean Sonnet (which is the form I was basing this introduction on) it didn’t quite feel right to dive into that. I wanted this to be a challenge for the poets, but not overwhelm them. Furthermore, I wanted them to be engaged and intrigued and bogging them down with all the details of form would have dimmed the excitement.

on a white dry erase school board the word Sonnet is written at the top with a vertical stack of numbers 1-14 underneath it. All the writing is in blue.

on a white dry erase school board the word Sonnet is written at the top with a vertical stack of numbers 1-14 underneath it. All the writing is in blue.

Next I talked about the theme, sonnets are about someone or something you really like. I got a lot of “blehs” from this as the thought of writing a love poem, or “love letter” as one of the poets said, was off putting. I told them though that it didn’t have to be addressed to someone, it could simply be fun and addressed to a video game the loved, a show, a book, anything is sonnet worthy.

Once that was established and no one felt like they had to write a love poem, the poets set to work and it was amazing! They tackled the challenge so well! Even the poet who was so opposed to writing “love letters” started with Sonic, but ended with an amazing ode to family, friends, and school.

One note, I started off just letting them free write, but it became quickly apparent that encouraging the poets to number one to fourteen down the side of their paper (like I had up on the board) provided a good frame of reference. Aside from this addition to their papers and occasional encouragement from the teachers and therapists supporting the group not much scaffolding took place.


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