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January 27, 2006

Using Poetry as an In-Class Writing Prompt: Frost Part II

Contemplating Robert Frost's "Road Not Taken"

I like to use poetry in my English language writing courses as both writing-prompts, discussion topics and lead-ins to other assignments. In my experience with Western students, it seems that today the majority of them enjoy and have full access to all forms of popular music, much of which - hip-hop for example - is lyric intensive . . .

. . . Once these same students realize that hip-hop and other forms of lyrical music are indeed related to poetry, it doesn't seem nearly as frightening to them. I've found that some of these exercises give students practice in looking closely at examples of classic literature that they might otherwise never be exposed to and they help develop critical thinking abilities useful in other writing exercises and assignments like writing descriptive essays, memoirs and even film or book reviews.

In a recent class, I used the poem "Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost as an in-class writing prompt before the class activities really began. Here is the poem reprinted in full:


Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that, the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
two roads diverged in a wood, and I --
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

--Robert Frost (1874-1963)

Students were asked to freewrite their own resonses to this poem in their journals. Later, they were asked to "clean them up" a bit and then post them online at various poetry sites, this English-Blog being one of their choices. Some of them have agreed to share their remarks below.

This particular entry is a follow-up to the series of lesson planning techniques I began over HERE if you'd like to catch up with the background of this discourse. It was shown in class, firstly, as a simple "response" or "reaction" journal writing-prompt and was later used assigned as a "jumping-off" post for a Descriptive-Narrative essay involving an early "adult" decision in the students' lives. They are asked to reflect on the "consequences" of their choices and where other roads may or may not have led them.

What advice, techniques or tips can you share on using poetry in a writing-intensive learning environment? I'd love to hear your ideas! Please feel free to add your own responses to the ones others have left for this short, but dynamic, example of poetry in the comment box underneath this text.

Posted by lhobbs at January 27, 2006 11:25 AM

Readers' Comments:

The Road not taken is another poem that was written by Robert Frost. This poem just like the other poem Fire and Ice which had a very distinct meaning to it. The Road Not Taken to has a very distinct and very true meaning to it. What I get from this poem is there is a individual, it doesn't really matter who the individual truly is. This individual could be you, me or the person beside you. We all come to this part in our life at least one time when we are on earth. This individual comes to a fork in a road where he or she has to determine which way they wants there life to go. Both ways are untouched roads. Both ways lay uncertainties. This individual thinks to his or herself that they will go down this road and then later on during his life he will return back to the same fork in the road and travel down the other untouched road. He or she thinks this to there self even though deep in there heart they know they will never return back to this part of there life. Every road lies uncertainties but the only way you can continue on with your life. And only you are capable of choosing the one road to travel down all you have to do is to follow and listen to your heart.

Posted by: Jennifer G at January 27, 2006 05:15 PM

The speaker of the poem has a decision to make in life. He can go along with the norm and take the road most frequently traveled or he could dare to be different and take the road that is unworn. Well he dared to be different and does not regret it.

Posted by: Adrianne E at January 28, 2006 11:04 AM

I feel that this poem really reflected life and how people handle life. It seemed to be about how you picture the the road you want to travel on, but fears take over. You choose a road and you can not turn back around.
The author seemed to say that he tried to avoid the roads all together, but everytime he looked the two different diverse roads seemed the same. They never really changed.

Posted by: Kelly J at January 28, 2006 06:35 PM


In an ESL teaching environment, creativity is a must. Creativity here does not necessarily entail a substantially phenomenal high IQ score, which is a good thing to have, or a long list of professional work experience, which is also an asset.

Creativity in the ESL classroom is knowing what works best. I think using writing prompts, like the poem by Frost to help students free write is an excellent idea as long as it works in the class.

This leads of course to asking how an ESL teacher can know what technique works and what does not. It is very important as well to understand that teaching is an accumulative process. Teachers develop materials everyday.

During my experience as an ESL professional, I have always been told by many ESL teachers the many nights they burned the candle on both ends developing and creating materials for their students to help them improve their language skills. However, few of them follow up on the benefits that specific material made available for the students.

Creating materials is one side of the scale. Evaluation is another. Students come from many backgrounds, and they all enjoy different learning styles. As long as the teacher is able to tap into these learning styles of the individual students, creativity lives on.

We as ESL teachers should always experiment with different approaches to learning and teaching. We should always keep in mind that teaching is a challenging endeavor, and therefore, the more challenges we face, the better we become.

So, just because a specific type of material did not work in the class does not mean that it was not worth the effort and time. We have to keep finding new ways to help ESL students improve. Therefore, we always have to be creative, and be able to know what works best for our students.


Posted by: Mahmoud Amer at January 28, 2006 07:16 PM

This poem describes an impass, not only while traveling down a wooded path, but also while making one's way through life. We all must make decisions and choose which path we will take, and sometimes there's no going back. It is common--and perhaps natural--for peopel to follow others, choosing the path most taken or that appears to be the easiest to travel. In any case, Frost presents the problem we all face every day: making decisions. We stop, consider, ponder, and ultimately make a choice, which is sometimes not easily reversed.


Posted by: Sean at January 29, 2006 12:39 PM

In the poem "Road not taken", the speaker is someone who chooses a road in life that was unusually taken and not part of the traditional customs. His decision seems to prove worthwhile but despite all that he envisions himself reminiscing about that place in time where he had the choice to do something that would have perhaps been more popular at the time.

Frost aims to reach a young audience that is currently torn with many important decisions in life, whether it be what profession to pursue in life or if they should go along with the wrong type of crowd. This poem lets the reader know that it is sometimes okay to break apart from the crowd and do whatever feels right.

Posted by: Emily S. at January 29, 2006 02:03 PM

In Class Prompt

Oftentimes in life, we symbolically come across a fork in the road. Upon coming to this fork in the road, we are to choose which path to walk down. There is usually an easier road to travel down as well as a harder road to travel down. The easy road isn’t necessarily the “right” road to travel down, and will not give you the experiences and growth which you could acquire from traveling down the rough road.
Usually when there is a “fork in the road” of your life, it is a point in time where you are faced with something difficult to overcome; an obstacle. Whether it has to do with morals or physical aspects, the decision is always a hard one.
One must ask themselves, “Which road will be more rewarding in the end?” The decision is not always made based on the rewards and personal growth once you’ve completed the journey down the said road. The choice is usually based on which is easiest to overcome.
The easy road isn’t always best; it could have an outcome which was unsuspected. At the same rate, the tougher road, the unbeaten path may prove to be a lot of work for nothing. In the case of Frost, he claims to have traveled down to tougher of the two, and says that it “has made all the difference” in his life. Judging by the tone of this poem, I would venture to say that he is happy with his choice of following the road less traveled. In the end, I believe that it is your choice, and as long as you follow down the road you believe would serve you best, everything will end up being okay.

Posted by: Missy Z at January 29, 2006 04:39 PM

Frost is saying in his poem Road Not Taken that he came to a point in his life one time where he had to make a decision, evidently a big life changing decision with two or possibly more options. He looked into each as far as he could, but both had a cloud of uncertainty down them. He took the path or the decision that most people wouldn’t. And now later on in his life he is very grateful for making the decision that he did. He says that it has changed his life.

Posted by: Sam H. at January 29, 2006 09:40 PM

The speaker in Robert Frost poem "The Road Not Taken" is describing the paths that lay ahead of him. He decides to take the path that fewer people have traveled down. His decision to take the path less traveled could be seen as a way to not follow other people.
Although this is true, the speaker says that "though as for that passing there/ Had worn them really about the same." The speaker realizes that the paths are the same. It does not matter which way he takes. He has no way of knowing what the better choice is. He cannot tell the future. He is able to tell a little of the future since he can see down the path a little way. The speaker does not know where each path will lead, and he has to make a decision that will affect the rest of his life.
He goes on to say how he will save the path he has not chosen for another day, but he doubts he will ever be back. He made a decision to take the path he chose, and there is no way to take that back. In the end, he decides to take the path that has been touched by less people, saying “that has made all the difference.”

Posted by: Ali L. at January 29, 2006 10:35 PM

What I think the speaker is saying how he did something different with his life. He says it was "grassy and wanted wanted wear" which I think is maybe some hardships or challenges he faced by taking this road. Even through all the challenges he made it and it made all the difference. He was happy with his success with the path he chose to take.

Posted by: Thoryn S. at January 29, 2006 11:53 PM

In the poem Road Not Taken By, by Robert Frost, I think the speaker is talking about roads of life. There are many choices to make in life. Some are more difficult than others. I think many people make choices for their own lives based on others. The speaker in this poem chooses to take a route that has not been taken by many others. I feel that it is important for people to make their own decisions.
Being a freshman in college, I have many important decisions to make. I am constantly surrounded by my piers. It is important to me to not be a follower. I have to grow as a person and learn who I am. To do so I have to make my own choices. I listen to my friends and family and take in what they have to say, but in the end I make decisions that are right for me. I am not afraid to make choices that are different. I have gone down many roads that were less traveled by.

Posted by: Cathy at January 30, 2006 12:38 AM

The symbolism in Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken,” is quite obvious. Frost writes of coming to a fork in the road and deciding which path to take. More often than not, there is an easier and harder path. Unfortunately we are forced to make the decision as to which path to choose.

Posted by: Angela H. at January 30, 2006 02:06 AM

In this poem Frost is speaking of a life insident in which a choice has to be made. It seemed like the two roads diverging in the woods symbolized choosing his path in life. He says he looked down as far as possible, meaning he weighed his options by trying to see the outcome, as you do in making a decision. As he looked down one of the paths he noticed nobody had really gone down it. He chose this path for that very reason, he wanted to be different and like he said at the end, "That has made all the difference."

Posted by: P. Beckles at January 30, 2006 09:46 AM

In the poem “The Road Not Taken” the character is torn on which way is best for them to go. The character cannot decide between the two roads. One road has been traveled on many of times and the second road has not been traveled on as much from the look of them from the character.
Torn on which way that the character needs to go he decided to take the road that was less traveled on. By making this decision the character has made the conclusion that the road that was less traveled on was the best.
I think the poem is saying not to follow everyone else and by making your own choices that might be the best decision. Following the crowd is not the best way to go for most people and by choosing which road you take will determined so major outcomes.

Posted by: Liz L. at January 30, 2006 10:49 AM

The road not taken, the one Frost says he travels, is creativity. People don't want to be different, they don't do things that are considered out of the norm so they travel on the other path; the well trodden one.

Posted by: Rachael T. at January 30, 2006 10:59 AM

Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken,” depicts the speakers decision to choose between a fork in the road. If he goes one way he will travel familiar territory and may experience guilt from not taking the other path. The speaker debates these two ideas, and final decided to travel the one less traveled.
This poem has a very obvious literal meaning, but its also possible to see a more symbolic meaning. The speaker my have encountered a crossroads in his life. If he chooses one way he may be bored and familiar with his decision. But, if he chooses the other direction, he may experience excitement in the unknown. It’s a decision many people encounter throughout their life, and it may de difficult to decide. In the end, is it worth not trying and spending the rest of your life regretful.

Posted by: Samantha V. at January 30, 2006 12:20 PM

I think the speaker is using the roads as a methaphor of the roads of life. When growing up, everyone has to choose a path for their own identity. You can either take the less traveled path, or the worn one. The less traveled is chosing a path that is unique and different, ultimately being yourself. The other choice is following everyone down the worn path. It is chosing to be like everyone else to fit in.

Also the paths could represent making a very important decision. You can take the easy route or chose the more difficult way. No matter what you chose, once you start, theres no turning back.

Posted by: Brendan at January 30, 2006 12:30 PM

In the poem “Road Not Taken”, by Robert Frost I believe that the “speaker” is a young man, standing before his entire life with an important decision to make. He could take the safe, old worn down path, or the one which is still grassy because it hasn’t been trod upon very often. He has to decide whether he would rather be an individual and all alone and most probably subject of ridicule, or just become another statistic. The safe one will surly be more popular and acceptable, but instead he choses to be an individual and make a choice for himself, not for what will make others happy. In the end, it turns out that by not taking the easy way out and following the crowd down the beaten down path, he is the better man, and unfortunately the better man is of the minority, however, he wouldn’t have it any other way.

Posted by: Kelsey L. at January 30, 2006 12:34 PM

In the poem, "Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost, he is trying to identify two different paths or choices that is given to him. This has a symbolic meaning, because it is not about which road he has to choose, but it is about what he wants to do with his life. For example, he could be like everyone else and choose one path in his life that is easier and the one that looks less intimidating. Or he could be a risktaker and take chances for once in his life by choosing the path where he does not know how good or bad the outcome of it is.

In the end, Frost chooses the one less traveled, and it had made all the difference. He chose to take a risk and was successful at it. He could have gone through a lot of challenges on his way down that "path" but he was able to overcome it and was rewarded in the end for it. If he had taken the easier path, he probably would have come out unhappy, boring and regretting it, and he would probably wish that he had chosen the more exciting route.

Posted by: Linda M. at January 30, 2006 01:14 PM

This person in this poem is going through a delima. What ever the situation is, the person has two options. The person is pondering which path in life to take with this delima. The person already knows if he chooses a certain path that person knows how its going to end. The person chooses to take the path not choosen before. I think this person does that because the other path might be better or a totally new experience.

Posted by: David R at January 30, 2006 05:51 PM


Using poetry in a writing-intensive learning environment...

Obviously if your students are in a writing intensive learning environment they have acheived at the least, a mid to upper intermediate level of English.

The wonderful thing about poetry is how it uses language. Good poets not only write rhythmically, but they also introduce unusual uses of language, and some even create their own words.

Keeping this in mind, poetry can be used to develop a deeper understanding of vocabulary, sometimes going even deeper than your average native speaker's understanding. It can also be used to understand the subtle connotations of the English language.

Keeping rhythmn in mind, even though the class is writing-intensive, a good oral reading of the poem can be used to demonstrate native speaker rhythm and pacing, and through repetition and mimickry, it can be used as an opportunity to practise oral skills!

And of course, in any ESL classroom, it can be used to discuss grammatical structure.


Note from Lee:

All excellent points Alison, thank you for your remarks.

Posted by: amb at January 31, 2006 01:21 PM

In Robert Frost’s poem, “Road Not Taken”, he is trying to point out the difficulties in making decisions on your own. He describes the one road as, “it was grassy and wanted wear” which indicates that it had been traveled less. Often times, people tend to take the road with less wear, because they want to explore new boundaries. What we fail to realize is, that we are faced with the same decision that Robert Frost was faced with. Whenever we come to a split in the road, or a cross between decisions, we have to make the choice for ourselves which way we want to go.

A perfect example pertaining to Frost’s poem was when I had to choose a college. I had to look at all aspects of the situation. I had to choose if I wanted to go to a college with a large number of people, close to home, which was expensive, or if I wanted to come here having a moderate population, far from home, and inexpensive. I chose to come here because, I figured it would be a new setting and it was cheaper. This incident goes hand in hand with Frost’s idea of making a decision.

Kashiff M.

Posted by: Kashiff M. at February 21, 2006 06:41 PM

Great reading, keep up the great posts.



Posted by: JiggaDigga at April 7, 2006 01:51 AM

Professor Hobbs,

In this poem, "Road Not Taken", Robert Frost illustrates the decision to chose between a familiar path or an unchartered path in life with the symbolism of 2 diverging paths in a forest. The familiar path in life that Frost illustrates with a path that is worn and not too grassy is the path that is frequently traveled or is known the best. The unfamiliar path in life that Frost illustrates as the grassy, fresh path is less traveled.

To me this poem symbloizes important decisions made in life. Parents encourage children to do their own thing, to be an individual. Teachers encourage students not to follow crowds, and society screams for renaissance. This poem has much relevance to my life. One important decision that I was torn on different roads was whether I should be a singer and get a record deal or further my education by going to college. I chose to go to college rather than to take a path taken by many people that come from the performing arts world.

Holden J.

Posted by: Holden B. Jones at April 17, 2006 06:15 PM

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