This lesson plan is part of the series "Incredible Bridges: Poets Creating Community," a project developed by the Academy of American Poets in partnership with EDSITEment, the educational website of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), during the NEH’s 50th anniversary year-long celebration.
Funded by the NEH, “Incredible Bridges” responds to the NEH's initiative The Common Good: The Humanities in the Public Square, which seeks to demonstrate and enhance the role of the humanities in public life.
Immigration, both legal and illegal, is one of the most debated topics in the United States (and around the world) today. In his poem “Every Day We Get More Illegal” Juan Felipe Herrera, the Poet Laureate of the United States, gives voice to the feelings of those “in-between the light,” who have ambiguous immigration status and work in the United States. The following lesson plan, aimed at facilitating a structured discourse around the issues raised in Herrera’s poem, shows how the humanities provide a lens through which we can explore issues central to maintaining a civil society.
The following sequence of activities is designed to level the playing field among diverse learners by including multiple ways to enter, experience, and explore the meaning of the poem. Feel free to adjust them to meet the particular learning styles and needs of your students.
Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.2: Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.
Students will analyze a visual image.
Students will interpret a poem based on concrete images in its language and structure.
Students will explore poetry as lens through which we can maintain a civil society.
English, Social Studies
Activity 1: Experiencing a Visual Image
Objective: Students will hone their skills for noticing details.
Desert Survival by Sandy Horvath-Dori. Photo Credit: Public Domain.
Activity 2: Whole-Class Discussion
Objective: Students will interpret Desert Survival using evidence from the photograph.
Activity I: Reading the Poem
Objective: Students will do a close reading of the poem “Everyday We Get More Illegal” by Juan Felipe Herrera, paying particular attention to the placement of words on the page.
Activity 2: Watching Juan Felipe Herrera Read “Every Day We Get More Illegal”
Objective: Students will notice the difference between reading a poem on a page and experiencing a poet reading his poem.
Activity 3: Small-Group Work
Objective: Students will synthesize what they have noticed from reading the poem and watching the video.
Ask your students to keep a running list on the front board of the words they have read and heard that they do not understand. You can either conduct a separate vocabulary lesson about these words in which students try to figure out their meaning from context and connections or review the vocabulary as you progress through the other activities.
Activity 1: Gleaning Meaning from Poetic Structure and Content
Objective: Students will use their synthesis of details from the poem to create shared meaning based on evidence.
Ask your students to write poems that show their perspectives on immigration using detailed images and/or unusual line or word placement. They can illustrate their poems with photographs, if they wish.
With your students develop an evaluation tool for their work using the terms exemplary, proficient, developing, and basic. What, for example, do they (and you) think are the characteristics of an exemplary poem that uses detailed metaphoric language? A proficient one? One that is developing or basic? You may also want to prompt them to evaluate the appropriateness of their word and sentence spacing on the page.
Have your students read “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus using the reading methodology outlined above. Ask them to write an essay that compares and contrasts this poem with “Every Day We Get More Illegal.” What have they learned about immigration from their study of these two poems? How can we work together to create a community where people feel safe and, at the same time, honored as human beings?
Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this lesson plan do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.