Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Dec 12 2012

I <3 Robert Frost

After winter break, we are going to be reading a poem-based novel that refers to a lot of poems, so we are previewing these poems with the kids to get started. We’ve read “Dog” by Valerie Worth and “The Red Wheelbarrow” by William Carlos Williams, and the kids wrote their own wheelbarrow-style poems which I may put up sometime because they came out awesome. Today we read “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost.

You have to remember that most of my kids are reading at a beginning-third grade level at this point. Words like “queer” and “downy” are totally unknown to them (though we made them vocab words this week) and backwards sentence structure, like “Whose woods these are I think I know” is really confusing. When I read it out loud the first time through, they were all like, “Um…what? Also, did you make a mistake, ‘cuz you said that last line twice.”

But then we went through it, line by line. We figured out all the confusing pronouns (“he” means the woods owner, now it means the horse. Geez, Bob, make up your mind). We figured out the setting and made a mental picture, and then we started slowly adding to it with each line. They got really into the idea that the horse and the man were a team, and that the horse was confused to stop without a farmhouse near. We talked about what it sounds like when it’s snowing, and how even that quiet can be so still it feels like a sound itself. They totally got that the narrator wants to stay there in the woods.

Me: “Well, so why can’t he stay there?”

(I’m expecting things about how it’s so cold, he has no food, and so on, and they did mention that eventually, but this was the first answer, from one of my typically low comprehenders.)

Student: “He can’t stay, because he made a promise to somebody. So now he’s got to go miles and miles away so he can keep his promise.”


After we had totally discussed the meaning and exactly what is happening in this poem, painted our mental picture and all, I told them we were out of time but we were going to read it one more time today. Tomorrow we’ll talk about structure and rhyme and so on. I invited them to close their eyes if they wanted to, and picture in their head.

And I read it out loud.

“Whose woods these are I think I know.

His house is in the village, though;

He will not see me stopping here

To watch his woods fill up with snow.


My little horse must think it queer

To stop without a farmhouse near

Between the woods and frozen lake

The darkest evening of the year.


He gives his harness bells a shake

To ask if there is some mistake.

The only other sound’s the sweep

Of easy wind and downy flake.


The woods are lovely, dark and deep.

But I have promises to keep

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep.”


Dead silence. My students are lying on the carpet, eyes closed, picturing the dark, snowy woods. Nobody moves. Nobody talks. Just breathing. And for one brief, peaceful moment, my little classroom in Gallup, New Mexico, 2012, is transported to Robert Frost’s beautiful, haunting woods.

But all too soon we broke the silence, moved back to our desks, and took out our reading books to learn about generalizations. After all, we’ve got some promises to keep ourselves.

5 Responses

  1. ezLarsen

    This is my favorite poem in the world. I wish I could have been in your classroom for that wonderful moment. However, you’ve written this so well I feel as if I had been. Thank you for a much needed peaceful moment.

  2. MZParks

    Beautiful! What a gift you are giving to your children! I am a teacher in CT (Difficult right now) and was so impressed by the way you recreated the atmosphere in your classroom for your readers.

    You said beginning third grade reading level…what ages? I, too,am reading a poem-based novel to my students, ages 9-10. (Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate.) It’s amazing what children can get if you take the time to delve into it.

    • eminnm

      Thank you :-) My students are fourth graders, so 9-11 year olds, we’re just a little behind (though not so behind as we once were!). I’ll have to look into Home of the Brave. We will be reading Love That Dog by Sharon Creech, and I’m really excited to see what they make of it. Hang in there. We’re all thinking about CT and sending our thoughts and support your way.

  3. Lee Berkowitz

    I wish I could have been there — how fortunate you and the children are to have each other — you have given each other a most memorable present — and thank you ever so much for sharing. Love, Lee

  4. Rhiannon

    This is a poem that has stuck with me my entire life. I read “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” as a third grade student almost 20 years ago. My teacher made us each memorize it and recite it in front of the class. I know I did not fully understand the beauty of Frost’s winter scene at the time, but I remember I enjoyed just saying the words aloud. I think of this poem often now. When I am bored and my mind wanders off, I fully immerse myself in the scene, picturing the snow gently falling, the silence of the woods and the jingle of the horse’s bells. I think of how peaceful it would be to experience such a night, but also how frightened I would be to be so utterly alone.
    It moved me to read that you had your class close their eyes to let the imagery sweep over them. I wish my teacher had done the same. This seems to me like the beauty of teaching and why I have applied to TFA. Thanks so much for sharing!

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In which I muse about New Mexico, teaching, and life in general.

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