All lessons in this unit are
designed to introduce some of the basic elements of poetry (simile,
metaphor, alliteration, sensory language, etc.), while exposing students
to a realistic slice of Appalachian life. For many students, the recognizable and familiar themes and ideas
of Miller’s poems will encourage them to want to read more poetry
instead of viewing poetry as something over their heads. See Additional Resources below and AppLit's Author Links for background on Kentucky poet Jim Wayne Miller (1936-1996) and his writings.
Levels: 4 – 6
Subject: Poetry and Poetic Devices, Life in Appalachia
45-minute periods (Adjust
time and number of periods based on needs of your class.)
Virginia Standards of Learning:
English 4.6 The student will
read a variety of poetry
the rhyme scheme (approximate, end, and internal)
the sensory words used and their effect on the reader
rhymed, unrhymed, and patterned poetry
5.5 The student will read a variety of literary forms, including
fiction, nonfiction, and poetry
character development in fiction and poetry selections
the characteristics of free verse, rhymed, and patterned poetry
how author’s choices of vocabulary and style contribute to the
quality and enjoyment of selections
6.6 The student will read and write a variety of poetry
the visual images created by language
how word choice, speaker, and imagery elicit a response from the
and contrast plot and character development in narrative poems, short
stories, and longer fiction selections
One copy of The
Brier Poems by Jim Wayne Miller published in 1997 by Gnomon Press,
P. O. Box 475, Frankfort, Kentucky 40602 – ISBN 0-917788-62-1.
of “Fish Story,” “A House of Readers,” “Skydivers,”
"Winter Days,” “The Brier Breathing,” “The Brier Losing Touch
With His Traditions,” and “The Trade.” "Winter
Days" is reprinted in the Jim Wayne Miller web site.
important that you give the students photocopies of selected poems or read
them the poems rather than giving them the entire book. Many of the poems in this work are not suitable for students at the
elementary/middle school level. Please
note that the following two poems contain words that may cause conflict in
your particular school.
“The Brier Losing Touch with His Traditions” the word “beer” appears.
- In “The Trade” the word
“bitch” (in reference to a female dog) appears.
plans are given for poems in the order in which they appear in the book. This may or may not be the order in which you would choose to do
them with your class. Please
decide what works best for you and your students.
cases, I have given a synopsis of the poem or other information as I
felt it might be helpful.
I: "Fish Story"
of Poem: a
comparison of kite flying and fishing; how children creatively compensate for not being able to do a
specific activity when they want to do it
- Before reading the poem,
have students tell you what they think the poem will be about based
on the title.
- Have students read the poem
aloud, noting that the poem tells a story.
- Discuss the differences or
similarities in what students expected the poem to be about versus
what it is actually about.
- Discuss the creativity of
the children in the poem. Use the poem to introduce the
concept of stanzas – have the students number the stanzas in the
- Have the students pay
particular attention to the way Miller breaks his lines and
stanzas – the end of a line or stanza does not necessarily
signify the end of a sentence or the end of a thought.
- Write a class poem with
several stanzas that tells a story.
- Introduce the concept of
alliteration – the repeating of initial consonant sounds in a line
- Divide the class into
groups and assign them a stanza.
- Have each group work
together to find and circle/underline/highlight all instances of
alliteration in their stanza.
- You might want to
have the students use different colors to note alliteration
with different letters in the same stanza. For
example, in stanza 9, line 2, the alliteration of the
“t” continues into line 3, but you also have
alliteration of the “p” in line 3.
What would the children in the
poem be like? Write a
paragraph or another poem describing them as you would imagine them to
House of Readers"
concept of simile – a comparison of two things or ideas using
"like" or "as"
students some of examples of similes, such as
were as gray as a cloudy day.
spilled tube of glitter sparkled like colorful jewels on the
Note – I
think it is very important to get students to use detail when
writing similes. Using ideas like “The pillow was soft as a feather”
is okay for a start, but students need to move beyond that so
their writing will not sound trite and uninteresting. Lead them to write something like “My grandma’s old
pillow was as soft as ducks’ feathers against my cheek.” Take them as far as they are willing to go with it!
students come up with some similes of their own. Make a list on the board or on a large piece of paper that
you can display for future reference.
“A House of Readers,” having students listen to and enjoy the
students share how they feel about the poem and about reading.
Read the poem
again, having students listen for, look for, and/or underline the
similes in the poem.
Talk about the
similes. What is being compared to what? Do these comparisons affect the way the students respond to
the poem? What would the poem be like without them?
class poems using similes.
write their own poems using similes.
What is the house
of readers being compared to? Why do you think the author chose to make this comparison? Write 2 or 3 paragraphs explaining your answer.
one is very good for discussing how to convey feelings in poetry, using
imagery to help convey those feelings, and doing so in a fairly concise
the concept of imagery.
– can be seen
– something you can touch and feel
that involves other senses such as smell, taste, hearing
the vocabulary words "prone" and "corridor."
may look these words up and do definitions, use them in sentences,
create word webs, or use them in any other creative vocabulary
activity that you design.
students read the poem aloud or listen as you read it for them.
what students think the poem means.
are the separate days compared to? How does this make you feel?
what images the author uses to get his point across.
the images visual or do they call on other senses to understand them?
Images are mostly visual,
although some tactile images do occur such as the feel of the chair
lift tipping and rising, feet swinging and dangling, floating in
continue the poem. What happens as the skydivers touch down? Does each
go his/her separate way or do they come back together?
to continue exploration of imagery from Lesson 3 or to introduce imagery
before beginning Lesson 3. This one also makes a nice art connection.
vocabulary words ricocheted, quarry, and sycamore.
students of definitions of imagery. (Or introduce those definitions if
using this lesson before Lesson 3).
Read the poem
aloud to the students. They should just listen and think about what the
poem makes them see, hear, taste, feel, and smell.
students draw the scene being described in the poem. Display the
you hear in this poem? Broom straw hissing, cattle, sounds of the
you smell in this poem? Smells associated with cattle
What might you feel in this poem? Warmth of the sun,
What might you taste in this poem? Cold, icicles
What images do you see in this poem? There will be
term "brier" as defined by Jim Wayne Miller in The Brier Poems.
discuss the meaning of the term. What negative feelings do they have? Is
there anything good about being a brier?
discussion that gets the students thinking about imagery and dreams.
students identify images in the poem.
students think about the different types of breathing in the poem.
or feelings might students associate with the different types of
Does the poem
leave the reader with a peaceful, satisfied feeling? Why or why not?
What kind of
person do you think the Brier is in this particular poem?
Brier Losing Touch with His Traditions"
This poem is
not especially good for teaching the poetic devices involved in these
lessons. However, it works well for teachers wanting to teach a little
about what has happened to Appalachian people and can be extended to
include anyone who has had to hide who they truly are in order to be
accepted by others for what others perceive them to be.
vocabulary lathe, brier, and traditions. Have students
work with these words in whatever manner you choose to familiarize
themselves with the meanings.
Read the poem
aloud to or with the students.
students read the poem silently.
happened to the "brier" in this poem?
How does he
How did the
"people up North" think that the Brier should make his chairs?
technology necessarily mean we are losing our traditions? Could
technology help us start new traditions?
When do you
think the Brier was happiest— when he was being himself or when he was
being what the "people up North" wanted him to be? Why?
Write a poem, story, or paragraph about a time that you could not be
yourself. What put you in this situation? How did it make you feel? What
can we do to allow people to be themselves? Share with the class if
poem is not especially helpful with the poetic devices found in the
earlier poems. There is some nice imagery that you can discuss with the
students. And it is a wonderful slice of life poem that many students
can understand and will enjoy reading.
vocabulary words baying, clamor, and cove. Have the
students work with the words in whatever way you choose so that they can
be familiar with their meanings.
discussion about age differences. Some things to ask or think about
do you have of your grandparents or another older person that you may
know? Are they good, bad, or scary memories for you?
How are you
different from older people?
Do you have
anything of value to offer to older people? Do they have anything of
value to offer you?
Active participation in class and
Puts form effort on poetry
Passes teacher-designed tests and
quizzes on poetic devises, vocabulary, etc., with a percentage that is
in line with school system or state standards of learning.