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"My ___ is nothing like ___" Sonnet 130 and Building a Poem

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Shakespeare. The Songs and Sonnets of William Shakespeare. London, 1915

November 2011

Dr. Barbara Cobb is the Associate Professor, English and Education Coordinator, Murray Shakespeare Festival at Murray State University, Kentucky


Plays/Scenes Covered
Sonnet 130
What's On for Today and Why

This lesson explores Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130.


Students will recognize the way that Shakespeare uses contrast to describe the speaker’s “mistress” in the poem and to explain why she is “rare” or uniquely beautiful.  


The lesson covers parts of speech, as well as imagery terms: visual, auditory, olfactory, gustatory, tactile, organic, kinesthetic.


This unit covers 4th Grade Common Core Standards for Reading Literature  1,2,4,5,6, Foundational Skills 3,4, Writing Standards 1,3, as well as a number of the Language standards.


This lesson may be completed in a 90-minute class period, with additional time allotted for revision and peer editing, or it may be divided into several shorter lessons.


What You Need


MySonnet 130

Sonnet 130 Lesson Plan Notes

Copies of Sonnet 130 Mad Libs form

Copies of Sonnet 130 Fill In Sheet


Sonnet 130, Folger Edition
Sonnet 130 Lesson Plan Notes
Sonnet 130 4th Grade Fill In
Sonnet 130 Mad libs Form
What To Do

1. Introduce the Sonnet: Explain what differentiates a sonnet from other forms of poetry. Read the sonnet, pausing between quatrains to break down the quatrains by asking the questions below.Throughout the reading, ask students to identify each image: visual, auditory, olfactory, gustatory, tactile, organic, kinesthetic.

  • First quatrain: Students should be encouraged to recognize the contrasts that the speaker makes in the first four lines. What does the subject of the poem look like? How do we know?
  • Second quatrain: What contrasts are made? What does the speaker say about the subject’s “cheeks” and “breath”?
  • Third quatrain: What contrasts are made? This is a good time to turn the conversation to stereotypes of beauty. What stereotypes does the speaker introduce? How does the speaker “explode” those stereotypes, or demonstrate the falsity of them? What is the speaker saying about the subject? 
  • Rhyming couplet: Have students define “rare” and “belied” using context clues. What is the speaker’s point?

 2. Explain that this poem is a blazon, a description of the subject referring to particular body parts.  How many parts are described? What comparisons are used? Review with the students the definiton of simile. Choose a few and play with other similes: His/her eyes are like what? Which similes create a positive image? Which similes create a negative image?


3. Students will move to a poetry-writing workshop. First they will work in teams on a “mad libs”-type activity, creating nonsense poems using Sonnet 130 as a template. Then they will use the same template to write their own contrast poems.


4.Divide students into groups of two or three. If needed, review the parts of speech included on the "mad-lib" word fill-in handout. Do NOT tell them that this activity is based on Sonnet 130! Have students fill in words.


5.Hand out the Sonnet 130 template with the blanks. Have the students fill in the blanks using their word fill-in handout. Have them read their “Mad-Libs”-type poems. Usually these are VERY funny. Ask them WHY the poems are funny.


6. Finally, give them another clean Sonnet 130 template. This time, ask them to choose a subject and to create a poem about that subject.  The goal is to choose words that will make this poem make sense! (Be flexible with the template - encourage them to make subtle changes to it as needed, in order to make their own poems make sense. Give them ownership of the form as they need it!)


Lesson Extensions

Try including a drawing exercise, in which students draw a creature and use similes to describe several of its parts. The creature could be an alien, a robot, or an imaginary pet!

How Did It Go?

Do students recognize the stereotypes of beauty that are often praised?


Do they recognize that most people do not fit these stereotypes, but are still wonderful?  


Was each student able to use contrasts to describe a subject?


Were students able to use parts of speech properly, both in the “Mad-Libs”-type exercise and in their own poems?



If you used this lesson, we would like to hear how it went and about any adaptations you made to suit the needs of YOUR students.

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  Common Core State Standards

There are no standards associated with this Lesson Plan.
Additional Information

A Short History of the Sonnet

Why Teach Sonnets? An Overview

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Performing Sonnets

Writing a Group Sonnet

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