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

    Benchmark Assessment (Cold Write)

    Benchmark Assessment (Cold Write)


    In this lesson, students will take the second in a series of three Cold Write assessments in the narrative genre. The Benchmark Assessment (Cold Write) is an unassisted and unrevised piece of writing whose purpose is to provide a quick gauge of the student’s mastery of the characteristics of a given genre. Today’s Benchmark Assessment (Cold Write) measures and provides a benchmark of students’ mastery of narrative writing. Following this, students will analyze the basic parts of a sonnet and learn how they, too, can create one.


    • Read the lesson and student content.
    • Anticipate student difficulties and identify the differentiation options you will choose for working with your students.
    • Think of ways to help students recall what they already know about writing a narrative piece.
    • Familiarize yourself with the writing prompt and the scoring guide.
    • If you have students on an Individualized Education Program (IEP), check to see whether they get extended time or test setting. Work with the professional supporting SWDs to make sure student needs are met.
    • Prepare activities for students who finish early.
    • Prepare to introduce the basic structure of a Shakespearean sonnet. A document called “Introducing the Sonnet” is available for you to reference or share with students.

    Narrative Writing

    • The purpose of this Benchmark Assessment (Cold Write) is to assess what students have learned about narrative writing since you last tested them.
    • Have a conversation with students about what they already know about writing a narrative piece. Tell them that a narrative is often called a story. If students have trouble identifying what they already know about writing a narrative piece, gauge their recall by asking what stories they read last year or what stories they wrote.
    • In the next task, students will take the assessment. Be prepared to do the following:
      • ✓ Answer any questions that are not of a substantive nature, providing no additional guidance about the prompt.
      • ✓ Do a quick thumbs-up/thumbs-down check to ensure that students understand the prompt and are ready to begin writing. Remind students that they will have only 20 minutes to write.
      • ✓ Tell students to begin working. When the allotted time has elapsed, tell students to stop working.
      • ✓ If students finish before time is up, direct them to other activities.


    Since you began school, you have used your imagination to write many stories. These stories are called “narratives.” Today you will write a narrative so that your teacher can see how much you know about writing a good story.

    Write a brief response to this question.

    • What should narrative writing include?

    Open Notebook

    Discuss your thinking with the class.

    Benchmark (Cold Write): Narrative

    • Direct students to take the assessment. They will be responding to the following prompt:
      • As we grow up, we increasingly come in contact with people whose beliefs or cultures are very different from our own. Imagine that your class is preparing a collection of writings about these experiences.
      • Write a story about an experience you have had with someone whose belief or life is very different from your own. Be certain to give ample details so that the reader clearly understands the experience and how the experience increased your awareness of how people differ.
    • After class, assess each student’s narrative piece. Students will have opportunities to write narratives throughout the year during which they will have instruction on how to revise and edit their pieces. The information you gain from scoring this benchmark piece of writing will guide you in tailoring your writing instruction to individual student needs.
    • If students finish before time is up, direct them to other activities.

    Work Time

    Now you will write your narrative. Remember that a narrative is a story about events, both real and imaginary.

    You will have 20 minutes to write your narrative.

    • Write a brief narrative in response to the prompt.

    The Theme of Sonnet 18

    • Reiterate for students the distinction between theme and topic.
    • Give students a brief time to share.
    • Tell each group to assign a reporter.
    • Make sure that they know they will be reporting out on their findings.
    • After all the groups have reported, make sure to add to their understanding of the poem. Of special interest are the two last lines, in which Shakespeare indicates his knowledge of his own importance: as long as this poem lives, his love will live (metaphorically). He clearly had self-knowledge of his own worth as a poet. He was not self-effacing!
      • SWD: If you have students who struggle with abstract and metaphorical thinking, one way to support them within their groups is to have them work as the reporter. You can also conduct a small Guided Reading Group as needed.

    Work Time

    On the basis of your paraphrasing in the previous lesson’s homework, respond to the following questions.

    • What do you think the theme of Sonnet 18 might be?
    • What is Shakespeare saying in this poem?
    • Do we get a glimpse of his personality here?
    • What does that say about him?

    Open Notebook

    Next, discuss your thoughts with a small group, and be sure to choose a group member or two to be your reporter. When your teacher instructs you, you’ll share with the whole class. Did you come up with any of the same ideas as your classmates?

    What Makes a Sonnet a Sonnet?

    • Review the important parts of a Shakespearean sonnet (14 lines of iambic pentameter with a strict rhyme scheme: abab ,cdcd ,efef ,gg ) with your class. Add the concept of enjambment, or continuing a sentence over a line break in poetry.
      • ELL: Many other languages have poetic forms that follow similarly strict rules, though these rules and forms vary with the language in question. Consider asking ELLs what they know about poetry in their primary language, or bring in examples of what a stanza can look like in other languages. For example, some languages count only syllables, some count stresses, others count lines, etc.
    • Show some of the more modern types of sonnets and how they aren’t just about love.
    • Have the class make a list of topics that can be included in a sonnet. This can be written on the board, and they should copy them on their tablets.

    Work Time

    Review the parts of a sonnet with your teacher. Pay special attention to how Shakespeare wraps his lines; he doesn’t just finish a thought at the end of each line. This is called “enjambment” and is used often in poetry of all kinds.

    Next, take a look at five more modern sonnets by Robert Frost, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Edwin Arlington Robinson, Paul Laurence Dunbar, and Amy Lowell.

    • How do they differ from those of Shakespeare?
    • Which do you like better, and why?
    • Is the language of Shakespeare more difficult?
    • What kinds of topics might sonnets be written about?

    Open Notebook

    Share your list of topics with your classmates, and see what they’ve come up with.

    A Sonnet of Your Own

    • Give students time to come up with at least two lines for the opening of their sonnet.
    • Getting started might be the hardest part for some students; you can give them a choice of opening lines, if necessary.
    • Have students share these first two lines: have the partners check to see if they are in iambic pentameter.
    • If they see problems, have them work together to fix them.
      • SWD: For students who may have difficulties with this exercise, you can begin by modeling the writing process, using the Think Aloud technique. You can invite student participation and create a “class sonnet” as a model.

    Work Time

    Now that you have a better idea of how sonnets work, it’s time to start writing your own Shakespearean sonnet!

    • Begin by writing two lines of iambic pentameter, the first two lines of your sonnet.
    • When you’re done, share your first two lines with a partner.
    • Are both partners’ first two lines in iambic pentameter? If not, help each other fix them so they comply with the requirements.

    Open Notebook

    Lines 3 and 4

    • Give students time to come up with the next two lines of their sonnet, completing the first quatrain.
    • Remind them of the necessity of the rhyme pattern.
    • Have students share these first four lines with their partner. Have the partners check to see if they are in iambic pentameter, with the rhyme scheme abab .
    • If they see problems, have them work together to fix them.
      • ELL: This can be a good place to check in on ELLs’ progress and offer any guidance as may be needed while they’re working.

    Work Time

    Now write the next two lines of iambic pentameter to complete your first quatrain. Make sure that the rhyme scheme is abab .

    • Share your first quatrain with your partner. Do these first four lines fit the proper pattern? If not, help each other fix them so they comply with the requirements.

    Open Notebook

    Sonnet Debrief

    • Help students make suggestions (and supplement those suggestions with your own ideas) about how to make this assignment easier and more enjoyable. One way to do this might be to begin a class sonnet, written with contributions from everyone, that you build throughout the episode.


    As a class, have a conversation about what you found easy about writing the first part of your sonnet and what you found difficult.

    • Make suggestions to your classmates about ideas you have that might make this assignment easier.

    Your Sonnet?s Second Quatrain

    • Let students know that they will use their second quatrain for a peer editing session in the next lesson.


    • Work on your sonnet. Write the next quatrain at home, and bring it to class for peer editing in the next lesson.