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Sarah Cynthia Stout Would Not Take the Garbage Out
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  • Culminating Assignment
    • Prompt:

      Shel Silverstein embeds a message within this simple, funny poem. Identify the author’s message and use evidence from the poem that supports your analysis. Explain how the author uses literary devices (exaggeration, alliteration, sensory details) to convey humor in his message to the audience.


      Teacher Instructions:

      1.    Students identify their writing task from the prompt provided.  
      2.    Students complete an evidence chart as a pre-writing activity. Teachers should guide students in gathering and using any relevant notes they compiled while reading and answering the Text-dependent Questions. Some students will need a good deal of help gathering this evidence, especially when this process is new and/or the text is challenging!


      Quote or paraphrase

      Elaboration / explanation of how this evidence supports ideas or argument

      “But children, remember Sarah Stout and always take the garbage out.” 

      The poem explicitly states the intended audience is children. Additionally, the use of whimsical and nonsensical language indicates the poem is meant for a younger audience.

      Chunks of sour cottage cheese

      Brown bananas

      Rotten peas

      Green bologna

      Curdled milk

      Rancid meat

      The descriptions stimulate the reader’s visualization of the garbage in a humorous way.

      “And so it piled up to the ceilings.”

      “It raised the roof, it broke the wall.”

      “At last the garbage reached so high

      That finally it touched the sky.”

      The exaggeration technique shows the increasing magnitude of the events that make up the rising action.


      “And though her daddy would scream and shout, she simply would not take the garbage out.”

      “And there, in the garbage she did hate, Poor Sarah met an awful fate,”

      The quotes show how Sarah’s small choice leads to bigger consequences.

      This is the end result of her actions. Though the reader is not sure what her fate is, it can be inferred that it is not good. 

      “And all the neighbors moved away, And none of her friends would come out to play” = large consequences

      Again, this illustrates larger consequences for Sarah.


      3.    Once students have completed the evidence chart, they should look back at the writing prompt in order to remind themselves what kind of response they are writing (expository, analytical, argumentative). Students should then review the evidence on their chart to be sure it relates to the prompt. (Depending on the grade level, teachers may want to review students’ evidence charts to ensure accuracy.) From here, students should develop a specific thesis statement. This could be done independently, with a partner, in a small group, or with the entire class. Consider directing students to the following sites to learn more about thesis statements: OR
      4.    Students compose a rough draft. With regard to grade level and student ability, teachers should decide how much scaffolding they will provide during this process (e.g., modeling, showing example pieces, sharing work as students go).
      5.    Students complete final a draft.


      Sample Answer

      The message that Shel Silverstein is conveying through this simple, funny poem is that one small decision can have large consequences. Evidence from the poem that supports this message can first be found in lines 5-6 when it states, “And though her daddy would scream and shout, She simply would not take the garbage out.” These lines show that Sarah is making a conscious choice not to take the garbage out. One wouldn’t think that such a small act of disobedience would have huge consequences, but, as seen in lines 35-36 and lines 42-43, this is the case. “And all the neighbors moved away, And none of her friends would come out to play,” shows Sarah being isolated due to her poor decision. “And there, in the garbage she did hate, Poor Sarah met an awful fate,” shows the final outcome/consequence of Sarah’s decision, which can be inferred as being quite tragic. The message that the author seems to be conveying to young readers through the character of Sarah Stout is that if you don’t obey your parents, the consequences can be very dangerous.

      To convey this message in a humorous way, Silverstein uses a variety of literary devices.  To begin, Silverstein uses exaggeration to show how the consequences of Sarah’s decision continue to escalate. “The garbage rolled on down the hall, it raised the roof, it broke the wall…,” and, “At last the garbage reached so high, That it finally touched the sky.” The alliteration of “moldy melons,”  “brown bananas,” and “gloppy glumps” gives a humorous tone to the build-up of the disgusting garbage that will ultimately lead to Sarah’s “awful fate.”  Finally, sensory details such as “soggy beans, green baloney” and “curdled milk” are funny, while at the same time they help to solidify the repulsive image in the reader’s mind of the consequences of Sarah’s one small choice.

  • Additional Tasks
    • •    Using the poem’s focus on making appropriate choices and the consequences of those choices as a springboard, students research a personal choice and identify the global consequences of that choice (e.g., drinking soda rather than water and its consequences).


      o    Answer:  Students begin brainstorming by creating a bulls eye image. They add a choice they have made in the center of the bulls eye, along with the impact of that choice on the people around them. Once they identify the “local” impact of their choice, students do research to create a cause/effect essay that identifies the global “ripples” of their choice. Then,  students return to the bulls eye to add details they have gleaned from their research and writing.

      •    Discuss composting and being environmentally responsible with students. An alternate Big Idea can be: “Everyone is responsible for protecting the environment.” Have students read the poem again and consider Sarah Stout as a collective “we.” Have them underline items that are simply garbage and circle items for the compost pile. In addition, have students research ways to lower their carbon footprints and write an argumentative essay on the importance of protecting the environment.


      o    Answer: Answers will vary. Students should consider the global need to protect the environment and discuss ways people can act accordingly. To illustrate the awareness necessary to take on this responsibility, students will underline garbage such as greasy napkins and cellophane, and circle compost items such as egg shells, brown bananas, withered greens, and tangerines. Students will complete this portion of the activity by discussing whether the act of composting would help protect the environment and provide reasons why. Next, students will research efforts to protect the environment and reduce their carbon footprints, such as recycling programs in their community, energy saving tips and suggestions for the home, water conservation, etc. Finally, in an argumentative essay, students will determine whether people should be responsible for protecting the environment and reducing their carbon footprints. Students will provide details from their research to support their claims. The argumentative paper should also address counter claims.

      •    Have students read the article “Teens, Texting and Driving: Disaster in the Making.” Read the text a second time aloud with students, using the text-dependent questions below as you go through the article. Finally, have students complete a second culminating task. Using the rhyme and exaggeration techniques found in “Sarah Cynthia Stout Would Not Take the Garbage Out,” students will create a poem that addresses the causes/consequences of teen texting and driving found in the article “Teens, Texting and Driving: Disaster in the Making.”  Refer to the evidence chart for sample quotes students could include with their responses.


      o    Answer: Answers will vary. Students will create a narrative poem. The poem must address the causes of texting while driving mentioned in the article and potential consequences. For example, students could include causes such as denial, lack of impulse control, and myths about multitasking. Consequences students could include in the essay are accidents and fatalities. In addition, the poem must mirror the literary techniques found in “Sarah Cynthia Stout Would Not Take the Garbage Out.”

      Text-dependent Questions

      Evidence-based Answers

      Who is the narrator of the article “Teens, Texting and Driving: A Disaster in the Making”?

      The narrator is a concerned mother who has been in accidents because of teen texting.

      The author’s claim is that (teenage) texting and driving should be illegal.

      How does the narrator’s point of view affect the argument?

      The narrator is a parent who has been the victim of a car accident due to teen texting. She is sympathetic to victims.

      She is also a parent of teenagers who have been in car wrecks. This increases her credibility with her audience (other parents) because she’s “been there.” Her evidence — data coupled with her own experience and advice — strengthen her argument because it is well suited to her audience.

      What is the author’s purpose in the texting article?

      The author’s purpose is to:

      1) Inform the reader about how serious and alarming teen texting is

      2) Explain the reasons teens text even though they have been warned how dangerous it is

      3) Advise parents on ways they can prevent their teens from texting and driving

      List three causes and one effect (consequence) of teen texting and driving.

      Causes/Reasons: teen denial, underdeveloped impulse control, myth of multitasking, overconfidence in driving abilities, enjoying the mental high of risk taking

      Consequence: accidents, fatalities

      Based on the article, what would be a parent’s argument against multitasking?


      “A second is all it takes to get in a wreck.”

      “Talking doesn’t take your eyes off the road, texting does.”

      “Multitasking skills are irrelevant when you are driving a two-ton automobile at 60 miles an hour.”

      What is the tone of the article?

      The tone of the article is concerned, stern, poignant, fervent, alarmed, and urgent.

      What words/phrases from the article help the reader determine the tone?



      The fervent tone is evidenced by words and phrases such as:

      “I have a renewed interest in and alarm about the behavior.”

      “Lest you think it’s no big deal, consider this…”

      “So why, oh why, do teens persist in texting while barreling down the road at 50 mph. despite warnings, admonitions, and threats…?

      How would the tone change if the article was written from the perspective of a teenager?


      Answers will vary.

      The tone might be equally serious but less fervent. A teenager might be more understanding of the behavior.

      Why does the author of the article “Teens, Texting and Driving: Disaster in the Making” begin the text with a personal experience?

      The personal anecdote draws the reader in, conveys credibility, and humanizes the topic.

      Based on the poem and the article, which of the following BEST represents the theme both passages share.





      1. Stubbornness in relationships can cause tension.
      2. Children should listen to their parents to avoid conflict.
      3. One small decision can have many large consequences.
      4. Parents should be strict with their children to avoid dangerous consequences.

      Not taking the garbage out and texting while driving are both seemingly small decisions that can have severe consequences (being carried away by garbage/fatality)

      Map out the progression of the events in the poem, using the plot diagram, to help support the theme.



      Exposition: Refuses to take the garbage out

      Rising Action: Garbage grows out of control

      Climax: The garbage reaches across the state/Sarah is in the garbage

      Resolution: Sarah meets an awful fate.

      Provide textual evidence from the “Teens, Texting and Driving” article to support the theme.


      “In the moment a text comes in, the urge to read it (decision) is as strong as the need to keep their eyes on the road. This is an accident waiting to happen. (consequence).”


      Quote or paraphrase

      Elaboration / explanation of how this evidence supports ideas or argument

      “Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout

      Would not take the garbage out!”



      Students will use this rhyme scheme to create a similar poem of their own.

      Example:  Michael Murray Matthew Moan

                        Would not put away his phone!

      “Teens are in great denial.”



      Students will address the causes of teen texting and driving.


      “And so he drove and texted madly,

      It’s ‘all good’ he thought to himself gladly.”

      “And so it piled up to the ceilings.”

      “It raised the roof, it broke the wall.”

      “At last the garbage reached so high

      That finally it touched the sky.”


      The exaggeration technique shows the increasing magnitude of the events that make up the rising action.

      Example of the exaggeration technique using “multitasking”:

      “And so he cruised, and texted while eating his lunch.”

      “He sped at a thousand miles and tempted fate with a confident smile.”

      “At last his speed reached a million an hour.

      His knees were steering as he winked, the hot rodder!”

      “Poor Sarah met an awful fate.”

      Driver distraction was the cause of 16 percent of all fatal crashes — 5,800 people killed.” 




      Students must address the consequences of texting while driving and provide a resolution to their poem.


      “Poor Michael Murray met with a terrible fate,

      Crashed and flew through the glass at an alarming rate.”

  • Notes to the Teacher
    • 1.    Lead students to draw out possible themes after reviewing the definition of theme.  
      2.    Elements of plot should have been taught in a previous lesson. Therefore, review with students the five elements of plot (exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution). Then, have students draw a plot chart and label the elements of the plot chart in relation to the events of the poem.
      3.    Use in conjunction with the Holt textbook.
      4.    Review the definition of tone and how word choice creates the tone.  
      5.    Refer back to #1.
      6.    Refer back to #2.

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