Color Marking Text Lesson

Walt Whitman’s “I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer” and/or Gertrude’s speech from Hamlet (Both texts and color-marked examples may be found on “Whitman’s Stars” and “Shakespeare’s Brook” under the “Inspirations” link).

When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer

The Goal:

Students will gain insights in to the process of doing literary analysis by discovering and color-marking patterns in the text.


  • Students will color-mark text for literary devices and images.
  • Students will share their color-marked pages with a partner, then as a group.
  • Students will select one literary device and write a one paragraph response as to what the author is gaining by employing this device (the SO WHAT?).


  • Students should have access to at least 10-12 colored pencils.
  • A printed copy of Walt Whitman’s “When I heard the Learn’d Astronomer” (You can download a pdf version to distribute from this website).


Procedure: 1

1.Read the poem aloud to the students, paying close attention to the punctuation As they listen the first time, remind them to listen to the auditory elements—the “sounds” of the words.

Procedure: 2

Have students re-read the passage silently. As they read, have them mark patterns, literary devices and elements, images, etc., using different colors of pencil to indicate the classification. Make sure they color completely through the text (as shown on the attached examples) instead of simply underlining. Allow at least 20 minutes for this part of the activity. Make sure students make a “key” somewhere on the page that shows what each color is representing.

Procedure: 3

Have students pair/share their findings. Students can add colors to their own papers that they find on their peers’ papers.

Procedure: 4

Have the whole group share their color-marked pages. I have students hold their papers up so everyone can see that every paper is different. This is important as critical analysis fosters independent thinking and interpretations.

Procedure: 5

Have students put away the colored pencils and get out pens. Display your version of the color-marking so they can add notes to their responses. Having the students write ion pen show me how much they “found” on their own and with peers as opposed to my providing the notes.

Procedure: 6

Have students select one element and write a one paragraph response on how Whitman is using that element to bring meaning to the text.


Using a rubric derived from the Common Core, or one of your own, grade student responses. I also award a “participation” score for fully color-marked pages. Please click on this link to see an example of a color-marking of Whitman’s poem.