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Lesson Plan

A Poem of Possibilities: Thinking about the Future

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A Poem of Possibilities: Thinking about the Future

Grades 11 – 12
Lesson Plan Type Standard Lesson
Estimated Time Four 50-minute sessions
Lesson Author

Susanne Rubenstein

Susanne Rubenstein

Princeton, Massachusetts


National Council of Teachers of English



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From Theory to Practice



Students are inspired to do their best writing by writing for an authentic audience—their future selves. Through a series of brainstorming exercises, students begin to think about their future. They further explore their thoughts by answering a set of prewriting questions. Next, they read and discuss the poem “Ex-Basketball Player” by John Updike, analyzing the details and the format of the poem. Students are then introduced to a writing assignment in which they write a poem about themselves in five years. They write their poems and go through a series of peer feedback and revisions. Two copies of the final versions of the poem are given to the teacher—one to grade and one to mail to students in five years.

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"Ex-Basketball Player": Poetry Foundation offers this online version of John Updike's poem.

Prewriting Questions: These questions help students to think through the details of what their lives might be like in five years.

A Poem of Possibilities—A Letter to Myself
: Use this handout to present the writing assignment to students.

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By focusing students' attention on meaningful audiences, teachers can more effectively explore writing and publishing with students. This lesson plan concentrates on what I describe as "writing that matters":

Only when adolescents are involved in writing that matters-and matters beyond the quest for the almighty A-can they produce work that speaks from their hearts and speaks to an audience beyond that of the teacher. Unfortunately, most students are all too comfortable with "school writing." Tell them to write a five-hundred-word essay on "My Most Important Decision" and they'll spew it out with ease, the bright ones even remembering to use that sacred five-paragraph format! And when the teacher reads these essays, some will be "good" and some will be "poor," but rarely will there be one that takes her breath away. Even if there is one essay that does, where will it go from there?. . . Certainly there is nothing wrong with teaching students to write personal essays. . . But as a form it is perhaps overused in middle and high school classrooms, and when students begin to see it as "the way one writes in school," they adopt a writing voice that is academic and artificial and calculated to please the teacher alone.

The teacher's task, then, is to design assignments that will have a natural audience-and one that extends beyond the classroom. When the audience is real-and red penless-so too does the writing become real, free of the classroom clichés and studentspeak that spoils good writing.  (Excerpted from Rubenstein 15-16)

Further Reading

Rubenstein, Susanne. 1988. Go Public! Encouraging Student Writers to Publish. Urbana, IL: NCTE.

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