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Lesson Plan

Comparing William Carlos Williams's Poetry with Cubist Paintings

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Comparing William Carlos Williams's Poetry with Cubist Paintings

Grades 9 – 12
Lesson Plan Type Unit
Estimated Time Eight 50-minute Sessions
Lesson Author

Bruce Goebel

Bellingham, Washington


National Council of Teachers of English



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From Theory to Practice



In this lesson, students are introduced to Cubist and Precisionist painting, and they explore how the poetry of William Carlos Williams adapts similar artistic strategies.  Students learn how to analyze a painting, create Cubist- and Precisionist-inspired drawings in response to Williams's poetry, and write an essay comparing Williams's poem “The Great Figure” to Charles Demuth's ekphrastic response to that poem in his painting The Figure 5 in Gold.

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Visual literacy can serve as a valuable springboard to understanding literary texts. John Golden makes this claim in his book, Reading in the Dark, in relation to transferring the skills of interpreting film to print text. Golden states thats “the skills [students] use to decode the visual image are the same skills they use for a written text” (xiii), and he offers a variety of strategies for teaching literary terms through film.

Gloria Shultz Eastman makes a similar claim, arguing that by combining the examination of visual art with poetry, teachers provide an important bridge to understanding an often difficult literary genre. She says that as

students interact with messages, whether visual or textual, they learn that each form of communication has unique techniques. They become more skilled at understanding the subtleties of the author’s purpose. Classroom experience has shown that students can become quite skilled at interpreting visual images. They enjoy the visual work and feel confident in their interpretations. When teachers explain transfer and show students that they can think about poetry in much the same way that they were able to analyze visuals, resistance is reduced and barriers are removed. (45)


She offers examples of linking poetry to a wide variety of visual art forms. This sequence of lessons builds upon this idea of using visual art to help students understand poetic craft.

Golden, John. 2001. Reading in the Dark: Using Film as a Tool in the English Classroom. Urbana, IL: NCTE.

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Eastman, Gloria Shultz. 2015. Making metaphor visible: The Common Core, poetry, and visual Literacy. English Journal 104.6: 40–46.

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