This poem intrigued my primary school class. We studied it just before Christmas and the ‘harness bells’ prompted quite a discussion about whether this might refer to Father Christmas! The mysterious nature of the visitor adds to the strangeness of the poem and could provide an interesting stimulus for further writing or even drama.
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
Robert Frost 1922 (Frost lived from 1874 to 1963. He was an American poet and his life had many personal tragedies. His work also includes The Road Not Taken. Read his biography here.)
Questions for discussion:
What time of year is it? How do you know?
What do we know about this stranger?
What promises does he have to keep?
Where is he heading? Why?
What happens next in the story?
Try drawing the scene.
Show children a winter’s picture with a strange figure on a horse. Brainstorm vocabulary first. Get them to tell the story to each other. Only then read the poem to them at the end of that activity.
Ask the children to perform the poem in groups. Each group could be given one verse to learn and dramatise. You will end up with a complete class performance.
Notes from my own teaching diary
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost. I printed the poem out and cut it up, giving one line to each child (some were in pairs). Each child had to learn the line, put the paper behind their backs then go round the room and recite the poem to another child. Could they find someone who has a linked idea? I asked the children to stand in groups of four – and then arrange themselves into some kind of order. Then I asked them to recite their lines in order and see if it is anything like the real poem. This was a good opportunity for children to learn a brief line and recite it. They enjoyed finding partners and eventually noticed there were rhyming patterns which could help them arrange the poem into verses. We followed this with a discussion about the meaning of the poem, and whether it could refer to Father Christmas.