Featured Poems

Links to all five inaugural poems can be found here

Day 1

1) Discuss the five times in history presidents have chosen to have a poet read an inaugural poem. Give a few interesting facts.

2) Ask students why they think a president would choose to have an inaugural poem.

3) Pretend that we have been asked by the president to give the inaugural poem.

  • Who is our audience?
  • What is our purpose?

In our discussion of purpose, it seems like we need to discuss the following:

  • The idea that these poems might look back into history/experience, forward toward hope and a better nation, and the present moment.
  • The idea that these poems will address the American identity—who are "we" as a people, who have we been, who do we wish to be? These questions focus on American values or ideals.

4) After the discussion, distribute a packet that includes the five inaugural poems. Spend the rest of the period reading and listening to the five inaugural poems, having students underline words or phrases that jump out at them. Since we have had the discussion on audience and purpose, they should be focusing on when they see the poet’s purpose. All the poems have links to readings by the authors; listen as the poems are read in the authors' own voices.

5) At the end of the period, ask each student to rank their top three poems. Utilize student choice to pick groups for Day 2 in which students will work together to do specific analysis. If one poem was particularly popular, have two groups analyze the poem.

Day 2

1) Distribute the “Inaugural Poem Analysis” worksheet. Discuss the task before dividing students into groups. If several students want to analyze one poem, have more than one group review that poem.

2) Divide students into groups and let them analyze poems for 20 minutes or so. Circulate and help them look for literary techniques that the poet uses and devices that one might model one’s own inaugural poem on if one were to write an inaugural poem.

3) Have groups present on their poems. This may go into Day 3.

Day 3

1) Finish group presentations.

2) Discuss what specific literary techniques and structural devices the poets’ employed to create meaning in the poems. Make a list of these techniques as possible resources for when students write their own inaugural poems.

3) Read and listen to Langston Hughes’ “Let America Be America Again.” Though it is not officially an inaugural poem, have students study how it responds to and complements the poems they read. This is an important poem because it will give students another way of thinking about the poem that they will write.

4) Analyze “Let America Be America Again” in the same way that students looked at the inaugural poems.

Day 4

1) Assign writing an inaugural poem. Give students one full period to work and several more days to put together a first draft. Plan on making suggestions on those, and giving students more time to make revisions.'

Encourage your students to submit their poems to the 2021 Inaugural Poem Contest.

Celebration

Rather than requiring students to read poems in front of the class, consider having a "coffeehouse" and encourage participation. For each class, students will celebrate their voices and then pick one class winner who will go on to a school-wide celebration. At that celebration, select one poem as the School Inaugural Poem.

Ask the principal to allow this student to read the inaugural poem on Inauguration Day over the announcements.

Note:

I can totally understand doing less—looking at only two inaugural poems and the Hughes poem, the latter of which I think is necessary. I understand time constraints.

You may also want to write and read an inaugural poem. I can’t emphasize enough how important I think teacher participation is in this process! 

More Context for Teachers

This lesson sequence was written by Seth MacLowry for the Inaugural Poem Project.