Lesson Plan: Robert Frost's "Mending Wall"

By Peter Boysen

This lesson plan is designed for a regular 10th grade English/Reading class. Many elements are adaptable to make it more or less difficult, however. Theme, devices, and poetic elements are all covered.

Setting the Mood for "Mending Wall"

At the beginning of your class period, as an introduction to Robert Frost's "Mending Wall," post this writing prompt on your multimedia projector or overhead screen: "What are the purposes of a fence? Make a list of as many jobs that a fence can perform as you can -- at least 10." If you have the flexibility within your classroom, arrange student desks to where students are facing away from another. You could cluster desks so that they are in groups of four or five, but all face away from the center -- the opposite of cooperative learning, at least for the purposes of this activity.

Give students about 5 minutes to make their lists, and then have a brief discussion of the lists that the students made.

Bring on the Poem

Make enough copies of "Mending Wall" so that each student has one. For now, keep the unusual seating arrangement if you had room to set it up. Then, either read the poem aloud to the students, or ask for volunteers to read. If you have students read, remind them to base their pauses on the punctuation, not on line endings. Ask the students to annotate as they hear the poem, marking devices that they recognize and words or phrases that they either do not understand or that jump out at them.

If you haven't introduced free verse yet, you may want to do so before you read the poem. Free verse, of course, refers to poetry with no rhyme scheme and no set meter. Robert Frost wrote that "writing in free verse is like playing tennis with the net down." His work shows the ability to work with just about any rhyme and meter schemes, so you might want to ask students why Frost might have chosen to write this poem without any of those strictures.

"Mending Wall" Analysis

Here are some literary devices that should come up in your large-group discussion of the poem. If your class is more advanced in terms of finding literary devices, you could split your class up into partners or small groups, have them look for the devices, and then have them share what they found.

  • Personification -- "Something there is that doesn't love a wall,/That sends the frozen ground-swell under it,/And spills the upper boulders in the sun" -- a force is at work that opposes boundaries, an unseen force in nature.
  • Personification -- "My apple trees will never get across/and eat the cones under his pines, I tell him." -- The speaker feels that the wall is silly.
  • Irony -- The speaker claims to be against the wall, to question the need for the wall, and yet he is the one who instigates repairs each year: "I let my neighbour know beyond the hill" -- Is this force of habit? Is the speaker pulling our chain? Does the speaker do this because he enjoys giggling at the neighbor's seriousness about this wall?
  • Repetition -- "To each the boulders that have fallen to each" -- The speaker almost descends into elementary-school discourse to ridicule the "fair" assignment of responsibility for erecting this arbitrary boundary.
  • Metaphor -- Some boulders are "loaves" and some "so nearly balls" -- This shows the different shapes of the various rocks, and, especially in view of the temporary placement of the roundest rocks, this shows how silly it is to force such diverse objects into a homogenous barrier.
  • Metaphor -- "Oh, just another kind of out-door game,/One on a side." -- Clearly, the speaker takes this far less seriously than does his neighbor.
  • Metaphor -- "Spring is the mischief in me." -- Who doesn't feel like this? Warmth returns after the long, cold winter, and brings energy and whimsy to the ways that people interact.
  • Metaphor -- "He moves in darkness as it seems to me,/Not of woods only and the shade of trees." -- The neighbor's preference to maintain this wall between the two properties shows the speaker a moral or emotional sort of gloom.
  • Simile -- "I see him there/Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top/In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed." -- The neighbor's vigor in reconstructing the wall makes him seem primitive to the speaker.

Student Response

Here are several ideas for ways you can have students respond to this poem.

1. Have students draw a series of concentric circles on a piece of plain white paper. In the center circle, students should write their own name. In the circles that radiate outward, they should write names of people that they permit to get within various distances of them, either physically or emotionally. Best friends, and closest relatives, should be in the first section outside the center circle; people with whom they feel the least comfort should be in the outer ring.

2. Have students discuss how they feel in this new seating arrangement. Other than facing a new direction, how does it make them feel? What is the biggest change for them in their new positions?

3. Have students draw a wall of bricks. Each brick should be labeled with something that students do to keep others out, or reasons that students keep others away from them, emotionally or physically. Words like "shy," "bullies," or "keep my iPod on and turned up loud" would be examples.