Teaching Metaphor and Imagery with Billy Collins’ Litany


This lesson allows students to understand imagery and metaphor in relation to someone that they admire.  Students use their own poetry to express imagery and metaphor after looking into Billy Collins’ Litany.

Australian Curriculum Links:

Lesson Outline:

Introduction (7 mins):

Have students brainstorm individuals they admire or look up to.

  • Who are they? Why do you look up to them?
  • What characteristics do they possess?
Body (32 mins):
Before Reading Strategy: Collaborative Group Annotation (10 mins)
1. Group the kids into five groups.
2. Pass out one section of “Litany” to each group.
3. Have students underline Collins’ use of metaphor and imagery in their sections.
4. Discuss what/who the metaphors might be discussing.
5. Have each group write a statement about what the purpose of the metaphor is for their section in their group.
6. Share these statements with the class.

During Reading Strategy: Annotation (5 min)
1. Ask students to pay attention to Collins’ other uses of metaphor while listening to the video of his reading.
2. Ask students to underline metaphors that stand out to them.

After Reading Strategy: Rereading, Annotation, and use of T-chart (10 min) 
1. Have students place the metaphors they underlined and create a T-chart with
“What it says” on the left side and “What I think it means” on the right side.
2. Model this with one of the metaphors that one of the students mentions.
3. Have students also discuss the voice and humor of the poem and what kind of person he is describing.

After Reading Strategy: Magazine Images (7 min).
1. Have students look at the magazine images that are provided to each group.
2. Have students select images that could reflect/not reflect the characteristics of
the person they admire that they brainstormed at the beginning of class.

Exit Ticket (Conclusion):

Write a metaphor comparing the person you admire to one of the images you have selected. Then write one to two sentences explaining why you chose to use that metaphor.

Writing Assignment (to be completed during next class)
Students will write their own “Litany” poem using the images they selected during the first class period. Have the students make the poem at least three stanzas long (one concentrating on what the person is; one concentrating on what the person is not; and one concentrating on what the author is in contrast).


  • The student’s ability to recognize metaphors and imagery will be assessed through his or her annotations as well as the exit slip turned in at the end of the first class.
  • The student’s ability to create metaphors will be assessed through the writing assignment to be completed during the second class period.


– Billy Collins’ Litany Broken into 5 Sections:

– Billy Collin’s reading of “Litany” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=56Iq3PbSWZY

– Magazine pictures


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