Teaching Shakespeare!

A Folger Education Blog

Does Anyone Teach the Sonnets?

We spend a great deal of time talking about teaching Shakespeare’s plays, but not much about the sonnets.  Until recently, we  hadn’t paid as much attention to teaching sonnets as we might have on our website of resources for teachers.  This month, Folger Education rolled out a series of new web pages devoted to the sonnets:  Why Teach  Sonnets? History of the Sonnet, and Sonnet Structure.  Have you checked them out?  They are part of the introductory material on sonnets available to teachers.  Those pages are followed by a 10-lesson unit plan that includes work by Petrarch, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Rita Dove, Carol Ann Duffy, Billy Collins and, of course, Shakespeare. The lessons can be taught in their sequential order, or teachers can select just a few to use in their classrooms.  

But maybe we’re just not teaching sonnets these days?  Are we?  Which ones? Why is it important to teach sonnets?  Shakespeare’s sonnets? Let’s hear from you!


  • I definitely teach the sonnets. One thing I focus on is sonnet structure: the concept of a problem introduced in the first 8 lines and a solution in the final 6. I show how this works with Sonnet 29. As a culminating assessment, I have them take cut up sonnets and see if they can put them back together based on what they’ve learned about sonnet structure. I think the sonnets are beautiful. Sonnet 29 is my favorite poem, and I think teaching the brilliance of the structure and the language in addition to the message in Shakespeare’s sonnets is worthwhile part of the curriculum.

  • Dana,
    Sonnet 29 is a good sonnet. I especially like working with 55. Thanks for weighing on the question about teaching sonents.

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