Because I Could Not Stop for Death by Emily Dickinson

Teacher Guide by Rebecca Ray

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Because I Could Not Stop For Death Lesson Plans

Student Activities for Because I Could Not Stop for Death Include:

"Because I Could Not Stop for Death" by Emily Dickinson, is a poem filled with symbolism, deep meaning, and rich language. Dickinson uses various literary elements to convey emotion as she takes readers through the narrator’s journey. Dickinson has influenced many writers since her poems were published, so it is important that students notice the different themes, symbols, and vocabulary she uses. Below are several activities to help students understand each part of the poem, grasp overarching qualities, and make a meaningful "Because I Could Not Stop for Death" analysis.

Because I Could Not Stop for Death Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

"Because I Could Not Stop for Death" TPCASTT

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Poetry is one of the most expressive forms of literature. It can evoke emotions, set a mood, tell a story, or create a deeply and universally understood feeling in its readers. This makes expounding its elements, and understanding its rich meaning, comparisons, and symbols, even more important.

The TP-CASTT method of poetry analysis is a great way to teach students to dissect a poem and understand its parts. It helps students to uncover the deeper meanings within poems while giving them the confidence to be self-educators. TP-CASTT Poetry Analysis is an order of operations similar to PEMDAS for math. It asks students to list items in sequential order and answer questions based on their reading of the poem.

TPCASTT Example for "Because I Could Not Stop for Death"



“Because I Could Not Stop for Death” might imply that the narrator cheated death in some way.


The poem begins by personifying death as a person in a carriage, who picks up the narrator as a passenger. As they ride around peacefully, they see many things: children playing, fields of grain, and finally the head stone of the narrator. Here, she realizes that it has been centuries since she died. However, it only felt like a few hours.


Going beyond the literal meaning, Dickinson almost seems content with death.


Using words like “kindly”, “leisure”, “passed”, “riding”, “slowly”, and “civility” suggests an attitude of comfort and peace.


A shift occurs in stanza six, in the last four lines. “Since then- ‘tis Centuries – and yet/ Feels shorter than the Day/ I first surmised the Horses’ Heads/ Were toward Eternity.” The previous attitude that seemed peaceful changes to an enlightenment that is startling. The speaker comes to the realization that the ride has been centuries and not hours.


After reading the poem, my interpretation of the title was incorrect. The speaker was unable to cheat death. No matter what, when it is your time, it will come unexpectedly. No one is prepared, just as the speaker was not prepared.


The theme that 'Death is Eternity' is evident as the speaker realizes how far death goes as there is no concept of time.

This is a great activity to have students do in a small group!

Once students are finished, ask them to create a storyboard with the TPCASTT steps:

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)

Student Instructions

Perform a TPCASTT analysis of "Because I Could Not Stop for Death". Remember that TPCASTT stands for Title, Paraphrase, Connotation, Attitude/Tone, Shift, Title, Theme.

  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Choose any combination of scenes, characters, items, and text to represent each letter of TPCASTT.
  3. Write a few sentences describing the importance or meaning of the images.
  4. Finalize images, edit, and proofread your work.
  5. Save and submit storyboard to assignment.

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

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"Because I Could Not Stop for Death" Literary Elements

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When teaching poetry, it is often helpful to front-load poetry terms as an introduction, or refresher, for your students. “Metaphor”, “simile”, “stanza”, “alliteration”, “personification”, “rhyme scheme”, and “onomatopoeia” are a few common terms that might be helpful.

After you have read the poem, ask your students to create a scavenger hunt using the storyboard creator. Give them the list of terms again, and have them create a storyboard that depicts and explains the use of each literary element in the poem. They will have an absolute blast and master the words as they do.

Literary Elements Dickinson Uses

Personification Giving human-like characteristics to non-human objects or abstract ideas "Death…He kindly stopped for me - " Making Death seem like a person, stopping to pick her up.
Alliteration Repetition of consonant sounds at the beginnings of words in a sentence or line "Dews” & “Drew”, “Gossamer” & “Gown”, “Tippet” & “Tulle"
End Rhyme Words at the end of a line that rhyme with words at the end of other lines. "me” & “Immortality”
Metaphor An implied comparison between two things In the poem, Dickinson states that they pass the “Setting Sun”. This is a common symbol to describe the end of a person’s life.

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)

Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that shows four examples of literary elements in "Because I Could Not Stop for Death".

  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Identify use of literary elements in the text.
  3. Put the type of literary element in the title box.
  4. Give an example from the text in the description box.
  5. Illustrate the example using using a combination of scenes, characters, and items.

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

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"Because I Could Not Stop for Death" Theme

Themes, symbols, and motifs come alive when you use a storyboard. In this activity, students will identify themes and symbols from the poem, and support their choices with details from the text.

As a classroom activity, students can track the rich thematic and symbolic writing Dickinson uses in her poetry. In the example storyboard below, the creator has focused on the theme of “Mortality vs. Immortality” in the poem.

Mortality vs. Immortality

Each line of the poem contains aspects of both life and death. Because of the repetition of these ideas using word choice, tone, and attitude, it is clear that this is the major theme of the poem.

Evidence of Mortality and Immortality are seen throughout the poem. The speaker's entire outlook on death and the mention of “Immortality” in the first stanza lead to the idea that she believes in an afterlife. Life after death is a sort of immortality, though not in the sense many might desire. In the last stanza, she uses the word “Eternity” to describe what she has just come to understand. She remains calm and has a ponderous tone as she recalls the ride she just took after realizing that she is actually deceased.

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Emily Dickinson was a native to Amherst, MA, born December 10, 1830. She was said to be reclusive, seldom leaving the comfort of her home; however, that did not stop her from making a large impact through her writing. She came from a very political family; her father held a position in the Senate and her brother was a lawyer. Although Dickinson never married, her 1,800 poems were released after her death when the family stumbled upon them. The power and subjects of her poetry have influenced and moved people in ways she would never have imagined.

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•   (English) Because I Could Not Stop for Death   •   (Español) Porque no Pude Parar Para la Muerte   •   (Français) Parce que je ne Pouvais pas Arrêter Pour la Mort   •   (Deutsch) Denn ich Konnte Nicht zum Tode Aufhören   •   (Italiana) Perché non ho Potuto Smettere di Morte   •   (Nederlands) Want ik kon Niet Stoppen Voor Death   •   (Português) Porque eu não Pude Parar Para a Morte   •   (עברית) כי אני לא יכולתי לעצור עבור מוות   •   (العَرَبِيَّة) لأنني يمكن أن تتوقف عن الموت   •   (हिन्दी) क्योंकि मैं मौत के लिए नहीं रोक सकता   •   (ру́сский язы́к) Потому что я не мог Остановить к Смерти   •   (Dansk) Fordi jeg Kunne Ikke Stoppe for Døden   •   (Svenska) Eftersom jag Kunde Inte Sluta för Death   •   (Suomi) Koska en Voinut Lopettaa Death   •   (Norsk) Fordi jeg Kunne Ikke Stoppe for Døden   •   (Türkçe) Çünkü Ölüm İçin Durduramadım   •   (Polski) Ponieważ nie Mogłem Przestać na Śmierć   •   (Româna) Pentru că nu a Putut Opri Pentru Moarte   •   (Ceština) Protože Jsem Nemohl Zastavit na Smrt   •   (Slovenský) Pretože som Nemohol Zastaviť Smrť   •   (Magyar) Mivel nem Tudtam Megállítani a Halál   •   (Hrvatski) Jer Nisam Mogao Zaustaviti Smrt   •   (български) Защото не Можех да Спра за Смърт   •   (Lietuvos) Nes aš Negalėjo Sustabdyti dėl Mirties   •   (Slovenščina) Ker Nisem Mogel Stop za Smrt   •   (Latvijas) Jo es Varētu Neapstāsies par Nāves   •   (eesti) Sest ma ei Suutnud Lõpetada Death