‘The Road Not Taken’ – a poem by Robert Frost

This is one of Frost’s most beautiful and evocative poems and it invariably is enjoyed by students from all over the world. This poem would be suitable for upper-intermediate students and above.

Suggested steps:

  1. It’s invariably a good idea to start with the title. This gets the students thinking about the content. Write it on the board. Ask them to guess what the poem might be about. If many of them are already familiar with it, you could then move on to ask them to tell the class whether they like it or not. Don’t go into too much detail at this point.
  2. Ask the students about important decisions that we all have to take in our lives. What examples of major decisions can they think of? List them on the board.
  3. Ask the students whether they have ever had to think deeply about what was the best thing to do? If so, why? If not, why not? Have decisions always come easily to them. Is it easier to make important decisions when we are old or young?
  4. Read the first verse to them. Hand it out and let individual students read it aloud.
  5. Ask them to tell you/guess the meaning of diverged and undergrowth.
  6. Ask them to tell you which of the words in the poem rhyme. In most verses, the final words of lines 1, 3 and 4 rhyme, while the final words of lines 2 and 5 also rhyme.
  7. Give them verse two with the final words of lines 3, 4 and 5 removed. Let them try to guess what the words might be.
  8. Read them the whole verse. Ask individuals to read it aloud.
  9. Establish the meaning of any difficult words/expressions: just as fair / the better claim / wanted wear / the passing there.
  10. Give them the third verse with the final words of lines 3, 4 and 5 removed. Can they guess which words were taken out?
  11. Read the verse. Ask individual students to read it aloud. Ask them to explain the meaning of no step had trodden black and way leads on to way.
  12. Read the fourth verse. Ask individual students to read it aloud.
  13. Ask individual students to read aloud a verse each.
  14. Go through each line, line by line, asking the students to explain the meaning in their own words.
  15. Ask the class about the meaning of the poem. Encourage discussion.
  16. Look at each verse in turn and ask individual students to summarise the meaning. Differences in interpretations will appear here so this is a good time for discussion and exchanges of views.
  17. Ask them if they see any contradictions in the poem. If so, encourage them to talk about them.
  18. Explore the contradiction in verse 2 where he says wanted wear (which either means that the path literally wanted wear because it had not been used so often or more simply that this path had not been used so often) and had really worn them about the same which means that they had had about the same amount of wear by walkers.
  19. Explore the contradiction in I kept the other for another day while I doubted whether I should ever come back. He decides that he will walk the other path on another day although really knows that this might be impossible because one thing leads to another and it is not always possible to go back.
  20. Ask the class why he sighs? Remind them that he is looking forward into the future so he only guessing that he will sigh. What could the sigh be about? Does he expect to take the wrong path on occasions? Does he expect to experience problems and regrets? Since everyone has regrets of some sort in their lives, this is very likely to be the explanation even if someone has a happy life overall.
  21. Ask them about the final two lines. Again, since he is looking forward many years, he can only guess that his decisions made all the difference. Is the poet encouraging people to follow their own path, the less travelled path? Is he saying that there will always be regrets whichever path is taken?
  22. Do the students like the poem? Why?
  23. Ask individual students to read verses of the poem again.
  24. Ask the students to write about an important decision in their lives. What decision did they take? Why? Do they feel it was the right decision? Do they have regrets? Why?

‘The Road Not Taken’ – a poem by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow road,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
And looked down 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 yellow wood, and I –
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.