Chris Adcock
English Language Arts, Reading Literature
Material Type:
Lesson Plan
High School
  • Grade 11 ELA
  • Poetry
  • Shakespeare
  • Sonnets
    Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial

    Readers Expectations

    Readers Expectations


    In this lesson, students will gain a fuller understanding of the beauty standards for women in Elizabethan England. This understanding will help them appreciate Sonnets 130 and 18 and how Shakespeare plays with his readers’ expectations.


    • Read the lesson and student content.
    • Anticipate student difficulties and identify the differentiation options you will choose for working with your students.
    • Review The Effictio Portrait mini-book and be prepared to offer more examples, especially those relevant to your students and today’s society.

    What Makes Beauty?

    Task 1: What Makes Beauty?

    On the basis of our society today, describe the standards of female beauty.

    • What does mainstream society consider to be the important features of a woman whom we might consider to be beautiful?

    When you’re done, listen to what your classmates have to say.

    • First, have students brainstorm alone, making notes, and then facilitate a class discussion.
      • ✓ Have students identify some of the contemporary standards of female beauty, and encourage them to come up with examples from the arts and entertainment.
      • ✓ Make sure to remind students of the difference between what they might consider beautiful and what is considered beautiful according to mainstream society. They don’t need to agree with these standards to identify them.


    Opening What Makes Beauty?

    On the basis of our society today, describe the standards of female beauty.

    • What does mainstream society consider to be the important features of a woman whom we might consider to be beautiful?

    When you’re done, listen to what your classmates have to say.

    Changes in Beauty

    • Facilitate a group sharing based on the questions. Review with students the concept of an English classed society. Why would pale skin be considered so beautiful? (Because a woman who had pale skin was wealthy enough not to have to work.) Consider why having a great tan today is considered to be beautiful. (For the same reason: a woman who has the time to get a tan is considered wealthy enough not to have to work and can rest by the pool.) Same reason; different result!

    Work Time

    Examine The Effictio Portrait . Then discuss what has changed since the time of Queen Elizabeth I.

    Consider the following questions.

    • What has changed about the mainstream ideal of a beautiful woman?
    • What has remained the same?
    • Would a woman who was considered beautiful by society in 1600 be considered beautiful by anyone today?
    • What are some of the underlying reasons that mainstream standards of beauty have changed—or not?

    The Meaning of Sonnet 130

    • Project or display the student instructions for easier viewing.
    • Circulate through the room and assist groups that are struggling with the poem. Remind them to use their paraphrases as well as the information in The Effictio Portrait.
    • Use the time to listen in on students’ conversations to make sure they “get it” well enough to move on.
    • Go through each of the qualities and comparisons that Shakespeare uses to describe his love. What is he saying here, both about his love and about what poetry usually says? Discuss how he is using understated humor to give meaning to the poem.
      • SWD: Review the meaning of irony , and explain how irony can be used for humorous effect. Support students in determining clues for the use of irony if they struggle with the literal, concrete interpretation of the text.
      • ELL: Clarify the ways in which irony and sarcasm are similar and different. Irony is the use of language in a way that means the opposite of what it literally says.Sarcasm (the word is derived from the Latin “to cut”) is the use of irony to attack or belittle someone. Students who are comfortable in spoken English are probably already familiar with both, even if they don't know the technical terms.

    Work Time

    Using your paraphrase of Sonnet 130, work with a partner to see if you can come up with some ideas about what the poem means, especially in light of what you just learned about Elizabethan England’s concept of a beautiful woman.

    Identify at least one feature or quality of Shakespeare’s love from the sonnet.

    • What is his love not like, and what is sheactually like?
    • Can you come up with a description of what she might look like?
    • How does Shakespeare feel about her?

    Open Notebook

    When you are finished, share with the class.

    Sonnet 18

    • Remind students that Shakespeare’s sonnets are referred to by numbers instead of names.
    • Read the sonnet aloud while students follow along. You may need to read it more than once to ensure understanding.
      • ELL: One way to engage ELLs who may have difficulties with the language is to have them circle new or unfamiliar words to look up and share definitions with the class. When you read the sonnet aloud, dramatically emphasize the stressed syllables so that students have a clear understanding of the way the words should be pronounced.
    • Have students pair up and see if they can find the iambic pentameter in the sonnet. Assign each pair two lines to focus on. You may need to review the main points of what iambic pentameter is.
    • Remind students to make use of the Annotation and highlighting tools as necessary.
      • SWD: As needed, review the pattern and sound of iambic pentameter before students look for it in the lines of the sonnet. You can refer back to the earlier example, “dessert delight dessert delight dessert.”
    • Circulate among the student pairs and help with pronunciation as needed.
    • Facilitate a group sharing.
    • Have each pair of students show the iambic pentameter in their lines. Read the poem aloud again—or have each pair read their lines, in order.


    Now take a look at Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18.

    • Listen and follow along while your teacher reads it aloud. Don’t worry too much about whether you understand it yet. Pay attention to the sounds.
    • Find a partner. Your teacher will assign you two lines to focus on.
    • Read your lines carefully and see if you can find the stressed and unstressed pattern in them.
    • Remember, it may be easier to find the pattern if you read the lines aloud.

    When you’re finished, check in with the class. Listen while your classmates present their lines.

    The Meaning of Sonnet 18

    • Tell students that they now must try to understand meaning. For homework, they will read the poem carefully and write a paraphrase of what Shakespeare is trying to say.
      • SWD: For students who may have difficulties identifying and condensing the main ideas of the sonnet into a paraphrase, review the criteria for an effective paraphrase to clarify expectations. You can also provide an example of a paraphrase of another sonnet, poem, or song to model the process.
    • Tell them that they will submit their paraphrase during the next lesson.
    • Remind students of your expectations when it comes to using dictionaries and other resources to facilitate understanding.


    Read the poem carefully and see if you can understand what Shakespeare is saying.

    • Paraphrase the poem. Be sure to note any questions that you still have.

    Open Notebook

    You will submit your paraphrase during the next lesson.