lesson plan

Voice

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New York City ninth grade teacher Gigi Goshko has created her unit "Voice" as an introduction to poetry that presents students with a diverse group of poets and poems. The unit begins by defining spoken and written poetry and then moves into a more nuanced exploration of poetry as social commentary. Students begin to acquire a poetic vocabulary through a series of learning activities that include class discussion, critical writing assignments, and personal reflection. "Voice" employs interconnectivity to create links between the poems used and the texts being read by the students throughout the year. The unit culminates in an anthology of student work, fostering a richer understanding of poetry as social commentary.

Unit Length: 13 Class Periods


 

 

 

Learning Objectives

After this unit, students will have:

  1. Explored poetry as a medium of written and spoken expression. Students will appreciate poetry as a medium for authors to express commentary on the pressing social issues of the times
  2. Learned the following literary techniques used by poets in their writing:
    metaphor
    simile
    symbolism
    point-of-view
  3. Interpreted meaning
  4. Identified and examined the significance of specific themes that manifest themselves in the writings of poets from around the world
  5. Drawn parallels between the themes addressed in selected poems and the themes addressed in the literature read in class through out the year

 

Lesson 1: Spoken Word Poetry

Spoken word is one form of poetry that is specifically written to be performed. Spoken word, performance poetry, and slam poetry (spoken word performed for a live audience as part of a competition) often serves as a universal, socially-charged voice. This self-empowering form of expression can heighten students' interest in poetry and enhance their own powers of self-expression.

Learning Objectives

In this lesson, students will:

  1. be introduced to poetry that engages them in this medium of spoken expression
  2. explore the power of poetry that is written to be spoken
  3. examine spoken word as a form of poetry that is written to be performed
  4. examine different literary techniques in spoken word

Time Frame

One sixty minute class

Resources and Materials

Video: From the White House: Poetry, Music & the Spoken Word
pen/paper
copies of related literature

Activities

  1. Introduce the idea of "poetry" and the phrase "spoken word" to the class. Ask students to brainstorm ideas that come to mind when they hear the word "poetry." Create a word web.
  2. Watch the performances of spoken word artists Jamaica Osorio, Joshua Bennett, and Lin Manuel Miranda. Instruct students to take notes. Watch and listen to each performance twice.
  3. During the first viewing students should pay attention to the words that stand out when they hear the poem/performance. Have students write down the words that they hear. During the second viewing, students should listen for visual images that they see in the poem. Have students draw these images. After students complete this activity, have them share their results.
  4. Draw connections between poetry that is written to be spoken and poetry that is written to be read. Have students take notes.
  5. Engage in group discussion.

Follow Up

Written reflection in journals about spoken word or performance poetry.
Freewrite—have students create their own spoken word poems.


 
Lesson 2: The Written Poem

Poetry exposes students to another medium of written expression. Students will learn the rules and conventions of poetry. In addition, students will interpret meaning in poetry, both obvious and hidden.

Poems Used

"Equality" by Maya Angelou
"Southern Cop" by Sterling Brown
"Always There Are the Children" by Nikki Giovanni
"Democracy" by Langston Hughes
"Touching the Past" by Robert Sargent
"On Being Brought From Africa to America" by Phillis Wheatley

Learning Objectives

In this lesson, students will:

  1. be exposed to another medium of written expression
  2. learn the rules and conventions of poetry, including figurative language, metaphor, simile, symbolism, and point-of-view
  3. learn five strategies for analyzing poetry
  4. interpret meaning in poetry

Time Frame

Two sixty minute classes

Resources and Materials

copies of the aforementioned poems
definitions of literary terms
pen/paper

Activities

  1. Give students a selection of poems that range in length and complexity.
  2. Identify the rules and conventions of poetry. Introduce students to the role of literary techniques like figurative language, metaphor, simile, symbolism, point-of-view, and the concept of line in poetry.
  3. Introduce and discuss the following five strategies for reading and analyzing poetry:
  4. Read the poem more than once
  5. Define any words that you do not understand
  6. Look for emotions in the poem (happiness, sadness, etc.)
  7. Look for symbols. What do they symbolize?
  8. Make connections between the poems and the other works of literature that we have read
  9. Read the poem, "Always There Are the Children," by Nikki Giovanni together as a class.
  10. Identify the literary techniques that Giovanni uses in her writing.
  11. Have students take notes.
  12. Divide the class up into five groups. Give each group one of the aforementioned poems, excluding Giovanni's poem. Instruct the groups to analyze their assigned poems. Each group should divide up the following tasks:
    group facilitator
    reader
    recorder
    reporters
  13. Each group will present their analysis of their assigned poem to the class. The groups that are not presenting will take notes.
  14. Facilitate a class discussion, focusing on the effectiveness of the individual groups' analysis of the poems.

Follow Up

Students will be tested on the literary techniques and strategies discussed in the aforementioned lesson. In addition, students will be tested on the poems that were analyzed together in class.


 

 

Lesson 3: Poetry as Social Commentary

After developing a foundation for analyzing poetry by using the strategies outlined in Lesson 2, students will read and discuss a selection of poems that specifically focus on themes that have been previously addressed in the literature read in class through out the year. Students will continue to examine the significance of these themes as they materialize in the writings of a diverse group of poets. Among the themes that will be addressed are isolation, oppression, loyalty, sexism, autonomy, feminism, justice, and survival. Students will examine ways in which poets speak about these themes. They will begin to appreciate poetry as another medium for authors to express commentary on the pressing social issues of the times.

Poems and Books Used

"The Certainty" by Roque Dalton
The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass
"Public School 190, Brooklyn, 1963" by Martín Espada
"The Colonel" by Carolyn Forché
"Theme for English B" by Langston Hughes
A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen
A Separate Peace by John Knowles
"Coal" by Audre Lorde
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
"Nativity: For Two Salvadoran Women, 1968-87" by Demetria Martinez
"Postcards from El Barrio" by Willie Perdomo
"To the Pay Toilet" by Marge Piercy
Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare

Learning Objectives

In this lesson, students will:

  1. read a selection of poems
  2. examine the significance of specific themes that manifest themselves in the writing of a diverse group of poets
  3. explore how authors rely on personal experiences in their writing
  4. examine how poets write about the pressing social issues of the times
  5. investigate how these social issues impact political, economic, and social systems
  6. draw parallels between how authors express themes in their books and how poets express themes in their poems
  7. conduct research and write an essay

Time Frame

Eight sixty minute classes

Resources and Materials

copies of aforementioned poems
copies of biographies on the poets
copies of related writings from novels and other written works
pen/paper

Activities

  1. Have students brainstorm, discuss, and review how the themes of isolation, oppression, loyalty, sexism, autonomy, feminism, justice and survival materialized in the literature read through out the year.
  2. Create individual "Theme Webs" that highlight the aforementioned themes' roles in the following literature: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, "Julius Caesar," To Kill a Mockingbird, A Separate Peace, and "A Doll's House."
  3. Split the themes up into groups of two. Concentrate on each group of themes for two class periods.
  4. Distribute copies of the poems, from the aforementioned list, for each theme addressed in class.
  5. Conduct readings in class for each poem.
  6. Facilitate discussions that focus on meaning and similarities and differences in the poems and the books. Have students make analogies between the themes used to express social commentary by the poets and the themes used by other writers to express social commentary.
  7. Students will write a comparative analysis of one of the aforementioned poems and one of the aforementioned works of literature.
  8. Conduct reasearch on the Internet for the Follow Up writing assignment.

Follow Up

Each student will be required to go on the Internet to research and identify a poet that they feel addressed social commentary in their writing. Students are to read a minimum of two poems by that poet. Students are to analyze the poems, according to strategies in Lesson 2, and highlight the social issues that the poet addresses in his/her writing. Students should pay particular attention to common themes that are present in the poems and the works of literature read in class through out the year. Students are to write a critique about the poet. In the critique, students should, in a detailed discussion, address whether they believe their chosen poet effectively expresses social commentary in their writing.


 
Lesson 4: Voice

The poetry curriculum will culminate in a final project. Students will identify one theme that they feel is relevant in their life and create their own poem. The class will put all their poems together to create an anthology of poems that will represent the voice of youth in the twenty-first century. Students will have the opportunity to read their poems during a class Poetry Slam.

Learning Objectives

In this lesson, students will:

  1. identify with the literature and poetry that they have been reading through out the year by identifying themes from the works that are common in their lives.
  2. identify one major theme in their life.
  3. vocalize their feelings in an original poem.

Teaching Time

Two sixty minute classes

Resources and Materials

notes from previous lessons in the unit
pen/paper

Activities

  1. Brainstorm themes that students believe apply to their lives
  2. Create a "Theme Web"
  3. Conduct a writing workshop in class where students will begin writing their poems. They will complete their poems for homework
  4. Organize a Poetry Slam for students who want to share their poems
  5. Collaborate with all the sections to put the poems together to create and anthology of poems that represent the voice of youth in the twenty-first century.

Follow Up

A written reflection on the poetry unit.


 

Teaching Strategies

I began the unit with a lesson on spoken poetry. I chose to use a rap written by a young man from New York as the first poem in the unit because I felt that it would engage the students.

I incorporated many of the techniques that I have been using in my lessons through out the year into the poetry unit. This included brainstorming topics, webs (word, theme, etc.), and discussions.

I required every student to keep a journal during the poetry unit. Students were also required to keep a "poetry section" in their English notebook for notes from lectures and discussions.

I continued to incorporate discussions about the significance of the following literary techniques, which we have been studying through out the year, into lessons in the poetry unit:

  • figurative language
  • metaphor
  • simile
  • point-of-view
  • setting
  • theme
  • personification
  • symbolism
  • characterization

I required students to use the Internet to conduct research for written assignments in the unit.