Curriculum Projects from NEH Teachers

In 2009 and 2011 the Emily Dickinson Museum hosted a National Endowment for the Humanities Landmarks of American History and Culture Workshop for Schoolteachers.  Below are links to curriculum projects developed by participants.

teachers transcribing a poem
photo by Steve Fratoni

Teachers transcribe a Dickinson poem




DICKINSON TEXTS:  All lesson plans refer to specific texts by Emily Dickinson.  In most cases, for copyright reasons, the full texts of poems are not included with the lesson plans. Each teacher provides a list of resources with the lesson plan.

TO VIEW PROJECTS:  Curriculum projets are saved as PDFs.  Click here to download the latest version of Adobe Reader.

COPYRIGHT:  These educators have kindly made these lesson plans available for the use of all teachers, but all publication and distribution rights are reserved.   Inquires to individual teachers can be directed to  Please include "question for educator" in the subject line.

FEEDBACK:  We would be delighted to hear about your experiences with these lesson plans, or about your own ideas!   Please e-mail us.


Emily Endures

Grade 3

Bonnie Raines, Santa Rosa Charter School for the Arts, Santa Rosa, California (NEH 2011)

This is a six-week unit focused on the life and poetry of Emily Dickinson.  Students memorize some poems, write about and discuss others, learn about her life, create visual art, and finally perform in an alphabetical performance piece including three poems put to music that I composed on the piano.

For complete lesson plan, click Emily Endures (PDF 1 file, 15 pages,  1 MB)

Emily Dickinson’s Poetry: The Senses Create a Vision

Grade 4

Diane Moller, Library Media Specialist, Lewisboro Elementary School, South Salem, NY (NEH 2009)

Emily Dickinson’s poetry was integral to her environment. While her themes are universal, readers can get a unique understanding of her poetry by understanding where and how she lived. Her poetry appeals to the senses with her use of precise language. Hearing her poetry helps to illuminate her words and deepen our understanding of her work. At the end of this unit, students will be able to explain how Emily Dickinson’s life influenced the themes in her poetry. They will also be able to create a digital representation of one of Emily Dickinson’s poems using the program Photostory3 with appropriate images and music. Students will be able to mark a poem for words that evoke the senses.

For complete lesson plan, click Emily Dickinson’s Poetry: The Senses Create a Vision (PDF 5 files, 18 pages total, 336 KB)

To view three student samples, click here.

Emily Dickinson and the Meaning of Friendship

Grade 6-8

Lynette Miller Gottlieb, Ashbrook Independent School, Corvallis OR (NEH 2011)

This series of lessons explores the nature of friendship as seen through the words and descriptions of Emily Dickinson in her letters and poetry. Students will not only develop their understanding of what friendship meant to the poet, but also develop their own personal ideas about what friendship means to them in their adolescence. In celebration of their learning and the beauty of friendship, students will create a friendship token and bestow it on someone special to them.

For complete lesson plan, click Emily Dickinson and the Meaning of Friendship (PDF 1 file, 12 pages, 675 KB)

What Inspired Emily?  What Inspired You?

Grades:  9-12

Cherise Lopez, Hinsdale Central High School, Hinsdale, Illinois (NEH 2011)

After an introduction to Dickinson’s life and work, my students had to choose one poem to analyze. The analysis included a poster creation wherein the students identified the poetic devices in the piece and discussed how these devices achieved the writer’s purpose and message. On this same poster, students also reflected on what they believed inspired Dickinson to write it based on the background knowledge they received regarding her life. In addition to this reflection, students had to identify a source of inspiration for themselves and create their own piece of poetry or art.

For complete lesson plan, click What Inspired Emily?  What Inspires You? (PDF 1 file, 4 pages, 301 KB)

Editing Emily's Way:  An Exercise in Diction and Its Implications

Grades 9-12, literature classes, writing classes, creative writing classes

Cynthia Storrs, The Classical Academy, Colorado Spring, CO (NEH 2009)

In this series of lessons, students will examine the poetry of Emily Dickinson and explore the diction of poetry: how words change not only meaning, but tone and style. They will experience the differences made by word choice, and propose reasons for editorial choices made in Dickinson’s work. In classrooms where students compose their own poetry, students can also repeat the experimentation with their poetry, and dialogue with fellow writers about what would be the best word choices for their poetry, and why.

For complete lesson plan, click Editing Emily's Way:  An Exercise in Diction and Its Implications (PDF 1 file, 4 pages, 66 KB)

"No Prisoner Be": Exploring Freedom and Limitation in the Work of Emily Dickinson

Grade 11 Honors American literature

Rosemary Loomis, Lexington High School, Lexington MA (NEH 2009)

This 7-day unit gives students the opportunity to study and understand Dickinson and her work from a variety of perspectives. Students will reflect on the topic of Freedom and Limitation, learn something of Dickinson's relationship to that topic, discover poems of Dickinson on that topic, interpret and analyze those poems, and produce original poems that “echo” some of Dickinson's style. While the lesson can be adapted, it is preferable that both teacher and students have access to computers and the Internet for maximum impact.

For complete lesson plan, click "No Prisoner Be": Exploring Freedom and Limitation in the Work of Emily Dickinson (PDF 3 files, 11 pages total, 136 KB)

Dickinson’s “Loaded” Words: A Critical Essay Assignment

Grades 11-12

Elizabeth Sokolov, The Madeira School, MacLean, VA (NEH 2009)

This assignment is a critical essay where students will craft an argument that traces Dickinson’s intellectual, spiritual, or emotional journey using a recurrent and meaningful word across three of her poems.

For complete lesson plan, click Dickinson’s “Loaded” Words: A Critical Essay Assignment (PDF, 1 file, 5 pages, 45 KB)

Emily Dickinson:  Luminous Letters

Grades 11-12

Courtney Rein and Jonathan Howland, The Urban School, San Francisco, CA (NEH 2009)

Dickinson’s letters comprise form of self-publication, even as her poems constitute a form of private inquiry, a conversation with the self. The learning goal is to help students construct an understanding of these overlapping dimensions of Dickinson’s poetry and persona.

Students will read selected letters and poems of Emily Dickinson and construct their own understanding of the ideas and questions at play therein.

For complete lesson plan, click Emily Dickinson:  Luminous Letters (PDF, 1 file, 6 pages, 465 KB)