The Heart is the Capital of the Mind

poem by Emily Dickinson , illustrated by Caitlin O'Dwyer

Learning Intention:

I am learning to understand the use of metaphors in poetry so that I can include them in my own compositions.


Success Criteria:

  • I can use my understanding of metaphors to contribute ideas about their use and meaning
  • I can compose my own poem using metaphors

Essential knowledge:

Ensure students have a clear understanding of what metaphors are and how they are used. The metaphor definition from the NSW Department of Education glossary can be used to assist.



Prior to reading the poem, play a game of ‘Finish the Metaphor’ with the class. Either read the following metaphors out one at a time or write them on the board. When reading or writing them, leave out the word in brackets. Have students solve some common metaphors based on familiarity or their ideas of what could represent the point being made in the sentence.

  • She’s always daydreaming with her head in the (clouds)
  • The new student felt like a (fish) out of water
  • The farewell assembly was a (rollercoaster) of emotions
  • She knows how to spell everything – she’s a walking (dictionary)!
  • The festival was so crowded, they had to make their way through the (sea) of people
  • His new baby was the (apple) of his eye
  • My sister is such a couch (potato)
  • He was always showing off and (fishing) for compliments


Understanding text:

Read the poem as a class. Discuss the way that the poet uses geography metaphors to represent self. Have students analyse the way these metaphors are used together and ask them to break down each level and discuss their thoughts on its meaning. Answers may include:

  • There are many things to keep track of in our minds, just as there are in a whole state
  • The heart ultimately rules the mind, just as a capital rules a state
  • The heart and mind come together to create the whole person, representing an entire continent.


Creating text:

Break the class into small groups and distribute a blank sheet of paper to each group. Allocate one of the following sets of words to each group:

  • Garden, flower. Petals
  • Camera, photo, frame
  • Team, players, coach
  • Tree, branches, leaves
  • Beach, waves, shore

Explain that each group must brainstorm ways to use their set of words as a metaphor for one of the ideas from the following list:

  • Love
  • Friendship
  • Family
  • Learning
  • Life


Groups should create a mind map on their paper then share their brainstorms with the class, explaining their reasoning behind the connections made in their metaphors. Two-way discussion should be encouraged to enable students in the audience to share their perspectives and extend on the ideas groups have already come up with.


You may wish to model an example to guide students through this process. For example:


  • A garden may represent the love you have in your life
  • Each flower represents individuals that you love
  • Watering a flower represents the care you put into your relationship with that person
  • The flower growing represents the way your relationships grow when you look after them
  • Each petal represents the different things you love about a person.

Have groups come together and share their metaphor ideas with the class.

Students should then compose a short poem, either independently or with a partner, using the metaphors created by the groups. Note that students do not need to use the metaphors from their own group, but instead choose whichever one inspires them creatively.


Assessment for/as learning:


On an exit ticket ask students to reflect on the following questions:

  • In your own words describe what a metaphor is.
  • In your opinion, do you think metaphors improve writing? Why?
  • What was your strength today?
  • What area do you need further support with?