Those Winter Sundays by Robert Hayden

Teacher Guide by Bridget Baudinet

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Those Winter Sundays Lesson Plans

Student Activities for Those Winter Sundays Include:

Robert Hayden’s poem “Those Winter Sundays” is one of his most memorable works. Appropriate for middle and high school students, the poem reminds readers of the silent, thankless acts of love that we often fail to notice. In many cases, the most selfless instances of love are the least glamorous. “Those Winter Sundays” is a wonderful poem to study around Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, or any occasion for remembering those who have helped us along the way while teaching poems.

Those Winter Sundays Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

“Those Winter Sundays” Symbols

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Symbols come alive when you use a storyboard. In this activity, students will identify symbols from the poem to enrich their analysis. Have students choose an object or image from the poem to depict. Then ask them to use a text box below each image to explain its significance.

“Those Winter Sundays” Symbols to Look For and Discuss


The speaker's polished shoes symbolize the father's kindness toward his son as he thanklessly works to make his life easier. The shoes also suggest the son's more sophisticated lifestyle. His father works hard so the son may lead a more comfortable and privileged life.


Fire drives out cold, just as love conquers indifference. The fire that the father builds is both a literal and symbolic act of love. Getting up in the cold to warm his family requires selfless love. As a representation of warmth, cheer, and community, the fire is also a symbolic reminder that the speaker’s home was filled with love.


The external cold of the winter symbolizes the coldness in the son's relationship with his father. As a child, the speaker does not recognize his father's love because it does not take the form of cheer and loving words. The cold interior of the house suggests that the family struggles to express love.


The father's cracked hands are a sign of the hard work he labors at day in and day out. This work helps support his son, making the cracked hands a sign of the father's loving sacrifice.

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

Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that identifies recurring themes in “Those Winter Sundays”. Illustrate instances of each theme and write a short description below each cell.

  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Identify the theme(s) from “Those Winter Sundays” you wish to include and replace the "Theme 1" text.
  3. Create an image for examples that represents this theme.
  4. Write a description of each of the examples.

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

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“Those Winter Sundays” Word Choice

Students will deepen their understanding of “Those Winter Sundays” by analyzing the author’s word choice. The rich subtext of the poem is accessible to students when they take the time to study the careful diction and sound devices. Use a T-chart or grid format to encourage students to break down a few specific words in the poem and discuss their possible implications. Providing a visual alongside their poem analysis will help students remember the poem more clearly and allow them to better share their interpretation with classmates.

“Those Winter Sundays” Word Choice


The speaker's father "got up early/and put his clothes on" each day. The clunky, simplistic phrasing helps characterize the father as a simple, country laborer. He works with his hands and may have limited education.

The speaker himself uses smoother diction to explain that he "would rise and dress" The sophisticated verbs "rise" and "dress" suggest a difference between the son and the father. The son seems more educated and most likely does not rely on hard labor to subsist.


The poem contains several instances of alliteration in phrases such as "blueblack cold" and "banked fires blaze". The repetition of the "b" sounds suggests the cold. It evokes the sound of winter wind, shivering lips, and the expression "brrrr".

Further alliteration with words like "clothes", "cold", "cracked", "call", and "chronic" echoes the splintering and breaking the speaker mentions. The alliterative "c" mimics the sound of ice cracking or cold boards snapping and creaking. These unsettling sounds call to mind the speaker’s cold family life and the chasm between him and his father.

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“Those Winter Sundays” SMILE Analysis

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SMILE Poetry Analysis

Another great way to engage your students is through the creation of storyboards that examine Structure, Meaning, Imagery, Language, and Effect. This activity is referred to with the acronym SMILE. In a SMILE analysis, students break down different aspects of the poem to facilitate in-depth understanding. Using the full text of “Those Winter Sundays” or just a single stanza, students can depict, describe, and analyze the way poetic elements work together to create a central message or theme.

SMILE Example for “Those Winter Sundays”



This three-stanza, free verse poem is narrated by an adult son remembering his father’s care during his childhood. He begins by describing the painful physical labor his father performed in the cold each morning. The second stanza contrasts the son’s more relaxed morning with his father’s selfless chores. In the last stanza, the speaker laments his youthful inability to recognize and reciprocate his father’s acts of love.


Although he was not a warm man, the speaker's father showed love daily through small, unappreciated acts. As he recalls his past, the now-adult speaker feels a mixture of gratitude and guilt. The poem reminds readers of the sacrifices parents make for their children and of the often silent and invisible nature of love.


The dominant images in the poem are of cold and heat. The speaker's childhood home is cold, and his relationship with his father seems stiff, yet each day his father sacrifices his own comfort to build a fire and warm the house. The fire and its warmth are representations of the father's love.


The cold is emphasized through diction and sound devices. The "blueblack cold" created "cracked hands that ached" along with sounds of "splintering" and "breaking" in the house. Alliteration with the letters "b" and "c" highlight the change of breaking, chattering, and shivering. This brutal language makes the father's sacrifice seem greater.


The speaker’s nostalgic tone evokes a sense of regret and sadness. Readers may share this sorrow and be moved to appreciate the small acts of love their family members perform.

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

Student Instructions

Perform a SMILE analysis of “Those Winter Sundays”. Remember that SMILE stands for Structure, Meaning, Imagery, Language, Effect.

  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Choose any combination of scenes, characters, items, and text to represent each letter of SMILE.
  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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Robert Hayden was a highly acclaimed African American poet of the 20th century. He published over ten poetic volumes throughout his lifetime and was the first African American poet laureate of the United States, serving from 1976-1978. Hayden’s childhood was difficult, and he spent most of it living in foster care. Many of his works were influenced by his own experiences, but he wrote masterfully in a number of different voices. The point of view of “Those Winter Sundays” is particularly important. Teachers might consider beginning their classroom study of the poem with a discussion of the voice. The identity and motivation of the speaker make good starting points for extended analysis. For more information on Robert Hayden, visit the Poetry Foundation.

Essential Questions for “Those Winter Sundays”

  1. How do sound devices enrich the subject of the poem?
  2. What important symbols does the poem contain?
  3. What does the poem suggest about love?
  4. What is the significance of winter in the poem? Of Sundays?
  5. How does the speaker’s perspective on his father change from childhood to adulthood?

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•   (English) Those Winter Sundays   •   (Español) Esos Domingos de Invierno   •   (Français) Ces Dimanches D'hiver   •   (Deutsch) Die Wintersonntage   •   (Italiana) Quelle Domeniche Invernali   •   (Nederlands) Die Winter Zondag   •   (Português) Aqueles Domingos de Inverno   •   (עברית) ראשון החורף אלה   •   (العَرَبِيَّة) تلك الشتاء الأحد   •   (हिन्दी) उन शीतकालीन रविवार   •   (ру́сский язы́к) Эти Зимние Воскресенья   •   (Dansk) Disse Winter Søndage   •   (Svenska) De Winter Söndagar   •   (Suomi) Niille Talvi Sunnuntaisin   •   (Norsk) De Winter Søndager   •   (Türkçe) Bu Kış Pazarları   •   (Polski) Te Niedziele Zimowe   •   (Româna) Aceste Duminică de Iarnă   •   (Ceština) Tyto Zimní Neděle   •   (Slovenský) Tieto Zimné Nedeľu   •   (Magyar) Azok Téli Vasárnap   •   (Hrvatski) Te Zimske Nedjelje   •   (български) Тези Зимни Неделя   •   (Lietuvos) Tos Žiemos Sekmadieniais   •   (Slovenščina) Te Zimske Nedelje   •   (Latvijas) Šie Ziemas Svētdienās   •   (eesti) Need Winter Pühapäeviti