What is a Sonnet?
A Sonnet is a type of lyrical poem that has a very rigid organization. It is 14 lines and has a formal rhyming scheme - expressing thoughts and moods that are usually wound to a close with a couplet - two lines that have the same rhyme scheme.
There are several different types of sonnets - the Italian Sonnet, the Spenserian Sonnet, and the most famous, the English or Shakespearean Sonnet. Each sonnet style is unique. By far the most widely known sonnet, however, is the English Sonnet, which is the "default" style of sonnet.
Each Sonnet is unique because of the rhyming scheme. Most sonnets encountered are going to be Iambic Pentameter, although a few may use other meters, including but not limited to tetrameter and hexameter (although these are more common with the Italian Sonnet.)
The Italian Sonnet
The Italian Sonnet is also called the Petrarch Sonnet. It is distinguished because of the first eight lines, called the Octave (from "octo" meaning "eight"). They have the following rhyme scheme:
A B B A A B B A
The second set of six lines are called a sestet ("sest" from "sex" - Latin for "six") and have a myriad of different rhyming sounds. This pattern can be flexible, unlike the Octave which cannot be changed.
C D C D C D
C D D C D C
C D E C D E
C D E C E D
C D C E D C
Finally, the Italian Sonnet does not, in theory, have a couplet. However, in practice, many poets often give the Italian Sonnet a couplet.
The Spenserian Sonnet
the Spenserian Sonnet was invented by Edward Spenser and grew from the pattern he used in the Faery Queen. It has a unique rhyming pattern, and features a viola.
A B A B B C B C C D C D E E
The A B A B sets up distinctive four-line patterns, each of which is used to develop a separate idea. Unlike the Italian Sonnet, the Spenserian Sonnet makes use of a couplet in both theme and practice, rathern than just in practice.
The English Sonnet
By far the most flexible of all the sonnets, the English Sonnet is also the most famous. It was made popular by English Playwrite, William Shakespeare. It consists of 3 quatrains of alternating rhyme and a couplet:
A B A B
C D C D
E F E F
Like in the Spenserian, each quatrain develops a different idea. Note that this type of sonnet is also most flexible in terms of the placement of the viola as well - generally speaking, Shakespeare places it around Line 9, as in the Italian Sonnet. Most, if not all, of the sonnets encountered or questions on tests based on sonnets will be English Sonnets.
Iambic Pentameter: (noun) - a specific type of meter consisting of five feet - that is, five sets of stressed-unstressed syllables.
Octave: (noun) - the first eight lines of an Italian Sonnet. They always have an ABBABBA rhyme scheme.
Sestet: (noun) - the second set of six lines in an Italian Sonnet. They have a variable rhyme scheme.
Couplet: (noun) - the last two lines of the sonnet, that have the same rhyming ending.
The Sonnet Lesson Plan
1: Introduce the students to the concept of the Sonnet
2: have the students take notes on Sonnets, what types of sonnets exist, and how the sonnets are written.
Standards, Benchmarks, and GLCEs (grade level content expectations)
2.2, 3.5, 3.8, 5.1, 7.1, 8.4, 10.1
R.WS.08.07; R.CM.08.01; L.RP.08.02
“Poetry is what gets lost in translation” ~ Robert Frost
“What do you think the above quote means? Why? What do you think that Mr. Frost is trying to tell us about poetry? Do you think the language of the poet affects the poem? Why or why not?”
Ask the students if they have any poems that they would like to share, or if they’d like to share the answer to their question from the day before.
Start the PowerPoint presentation. Pause to explain iambic pentameter and reflect on the concepts of meter, feet and rhyme, which are inside of the PowerPoint notes document.
While you’re going over the presentation, pause to explain to the students what the rhyming scheme means using the board. Write on the board, and have the students take notes, on the nature of sonnets and what sonnets are. They’ll be writing one later.
At the end of the presentation, have the students find a sonnet that relates to them in someway and include it in their poetry notebook with a brief description as to why it relates to them.
Extensions and Differentiated instruction:
Explain rhyme scheme on the board using a drawn out sheet of paper; have the students choose words and use that to explain how rhyme works, and how the rhyme scheme ABAB CDCD EFEF GG, etc works.
Use the drumming technique to explain meter and feet again.
Direct: have the students write out what they learned about Sonnets and what they didn’t understand.