End the semester with some standards-driven creativity.
When you hear “winter solstice,” what do you think of?
The longest night of the year? The earth sleeping under a blanket of snow?
More likely, because you’re an ELA teacher, this time of year means squirrely students who have finished their end-of-term assessments and are chock-full of excitement about their upcoming time off. The days before winter break can be tricky. You can’t start anything new, but you want your students to keep learning.
Don’t worry. With our Solstice Poetry Mini-Project, we’ve got your back. Here’s the high-interest poetry lesson I wish I’d had during my teaching days.
ELA Classroom Activity: Read, Write, and Create the Solstice
This mini-lesson is solstice-themed, which is appropriate given that, in the northern hemisphere, the winter solstice usually falls on December 21st or 22nd, when most of us are (just barely) still in school.
Acknowledging the solstice is a great way to be festive without tying the celebration to any particular religion or culture since people worldwide have celebrated the solstice for thousands of years. This activity will introduce students to a beautiful piece of visual poetry and get them thinking about how form shapes poetic meaning. The project will help students work on their literary analysis and discussion skills and let them exercise their creativity through writing and art.
This lesson, which will take between two and five days, depending on how long your classes are, requires almost no prep. And to make it even easier, here’s a slideshow you can copy to walk you and your students through each step of the lesson.
And here are the ELA Common Core Anchor Standards this lesson engages.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.1 Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.4 Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.7 Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.9 Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.1 Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.L.5 Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.
Ready to get started?
Solstice Poetry Classroom Activity Task One: React, Read, Discuss
Step One: Give your students time to soak in “Solstice Blessing” by Monica Ong. Ask them to react to the visuals before they read the words. Here are some questions if they need help getting started.
1. If you had to name the theme of this image in one word, what would it be?
2. How do the colors in this image make you feel?
3. Does this image remind you of anything else you’ve seen? What?
4. How does the image impact how you plan to read the poem?
5. Why might a poet include an image instead of simply writing her poetry on the page?
Step Two: When you’re done discussing the poem's visuals, break students into groups of four or five and ask each student to read the poem silently to themselves a few times. Ask them to look up any words they don’t know. List these words on the board with accompanying definitions so all students can reference them.
Next, ask each student to read the poem aloud once in their groups, emphasizing that they can decide which line to start with, how to combine lines (or not), and how many times to read each line. Once everyone has read the poem, have each student talk about why they read it the way they did. From there, they can discuss some or all of these questions.
1. What is the dominant imagery in this poem? Can you come up with a few words to describe how it makes you feel?
2. The title of the poem is “Solstice Blessing.” Who or what is being blessed? Why are they being blessed?
3. How do you think the poem’s words connect to the image?
Step Three: As group members talk through their answers, have them select their two or three favorite observations and write them on a whiteboard or shared Google Doc. Give your students time to read each group’s comments, and feel free to point out any you find especially insightful.
Solstice Poetry Classroom Activity Task Two: Research Time!
Step One: Ask students to share everything they know about the solstice: what it is, what it means, and how it’s celebrated. Compile a list of responses on a whiteboard or Google Doc.
Step Two: Ask groups to spend fifteen minutes doing online research about the solstice. Here’s one source you can point them to, and here’s another, but it’s also fine to let them find their own information. After the research, have them share their findings with their group and add new information to the whiteboard or Google Doc. Each group can then share their most interesting facts with the class.
Here is some information your students will likely find, but they’ll also surprise you with things not on this list.
1. The word “solstice” derives from the Latin word solstitium, which means “point at which the sun stands still.” On the winter solstice, the sun seems to remain stationary for a few days before reversing direction.
2. The winter solstice is the shortest day and longest night of the year. Since days start to get longer after the solstice, many people celebrate it as the birth or return of the sun.
3. In ancient Europe, the solstice was known as Yule, from the Norse, Jul, meaning wheel. Scholars think this relates to the roundness of the sun but also the cycle of seasons.
4. Some see the solstice as a metaphor for the balance between darkness and light in all of us and the world in general. Others see solstice as the victory of light over darkness.
5. Solstice rituals, which began thousands of years ago, often involve the lighting of candles, lanterns, or bonfires. In some cases, this symbolizes the coming of the sun, and in other cases, it is meant to keep evil spirits away on the longest night of the year.
Solstice Poetry Classroom Activity Task Three: Reanalyze
Step One: Have students read “Solstice Blessing” silently to themselves once more. Also, have them review the class’s original observations about the poem.
Step Two: Ask them to discuss these questions:
1. Now that you know more about the solstice, how has your interpretation of the poem, title included, changed or deepened? What would you add to what you and your classmates initially noted about the poem?
2. After your research, has your understanding of the poem's format changed? How about your understanding of the image? Any new insights on how the image works with the text?
Step Three: Let each group share their most interesting discussion takeaway with the rest of the class.
Solstice Poetry Classroom Activity Task Four: Brainstorm and Draft
Step One: Reiterate that Ong probably chose to emphasize themes that mattered most to her in “Solstice Blessing,” and tell your students that they will now write a short poem (three to six lines) celebrating the winter or holiday-related themes they care about most.
Step Two: Ask students to brainstorm for ten minutes in response to some or all of these questions:
1. What types of rituals, activities, or traditions do you participate in this time of year?
2. What thoughts and feelings do you have during this time of year?
3. Is there something that happens at this time of year that you look forward to?
Step Three: Ask students to scan their list or free write and look for one theme or topic to focus on.
Step Four: Once they’ve chosen a topic, ask them to craft three to six lines expanding on or exploring the topic. If they want to write a blessing mirroring the original poem, they can. Or they could write a chant, a call to celebration, an ode, or even a simple description. Depending on how much work your class has done with poetry, it might be a good idea to provide them with a quick refresher on poetic devices.
When students have drafted their poems, they can do peer review if you’ve established a writer’s workshop model in your classroom. If you’d rather keep the assignment more personal for each student, you could walk around and give feedback while they revise.
Step Five: Once students have a reasonably polished draft, ask them to list possible images or layouts for their poems. You can ask them to consider these questions:
1. Is there one image that would go particularly well with your poem’s topic?
2. How would you like your text to interact with the image? Would you like to set your poem up so it can be read several ways, as Ong did, or do you prefer something more straightforward?
Solstice Poetry Classroom Activity Task Five: Get Artsy!
Step One: Once your students have sketched designs for their visual poems, let them bring their visions to life! Using the materials in your school’s art closet is just fine, but if you can, provide them with heavy cardstock and an assortment of colored pens or markers to write out their poems.
Given the festive time of year, I endorse the use of foil, glitter, sparkly paper, pom-poms, pipe cleaners, fabric scraps, tinsel, and ribbons. You can use cotton balls for a snow theme or let students gather natural materials such as holly leaves, twigs, or evergreen boughs. The idea is to let the visual art follow the poem's lead, so give students as much decision-making power as possible when choosing their supplies.
If you want this part of the process to be more festive than your average ELA lesson, consider bringing in snacks and letting students listen to music as they create their visual poems.
Step Two: Once projects are complete, have students post their creations on an easel or the wall and read their poems aloud.
There you go! Your students thought about poetic form, conducted research, collaborated with group members, analyzed language, and got to be creative.
Now enjoy that time off. You’ve earned it!
Teach Poetry Year Round!
Bringing more poetry to your classroom is good news for you and your students. It lets learners focus on standards-driven skill-building, like analyzing literary devices, tracing themes, and building evidence-based interpretations. Contemporary poets (and even some older ones!) often engage in issues kids care about and let them see how art can serve as both a means of self-expression and a vehicle for social justice.
Looking for more great poems to teach? Check out our five mini-lessons on Amanda Gorman’s inaugural poem, “The Hill We Climb.”
Before joining Carnegie Learning’s marketing team in 2021, Emily Anderson spent 16 years teaching middle school, high school, and college English in classrooms throughout Virginia, Pennsylvania, California, and Minnesota. During these years, Emily developed a passion for designing exciting, relatable curricula and developing transformative teaching strategies. She holds master's degrees in English and Women’s Studies and a doctorate in American literature and lives for those classroom moments when students learn something that will forever change them. She loves helping amazing teachers achieve more of these moments in their classrooms.Explore more related to this author