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.
By calling her poem “The Great Migration,” Minnie Bruce Pratt immediately brings to mind the period of 1900–1970, when millions of African Americans left the South to seek work and better lives in the North. It, therefore, seems surprising that the first stanza of her poem contains a question in Spanish, “De donde eres tu?” Where are you from? In this way, Pratt begins associations to other migrations—from Guatemala and Chile to the United States, and by connection, to those migrations anywhere people go in search of better lives. In the end, Pratt’s speaker offers a small gesture of kindness to someone “she’d never have known back home.” Migrations within—and to and from—the United States, and their consequences, are a part of our common heritage. Pratt’s poem helps illustrate this ebb and flow.
The following sequence of activities is designed to help students think about the associations with migration that Minnie Bruce Pratt brings to mind in her poem. The activities also seek 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 the activities to meet the particular learning styles and needs of your students.
A Note About Vocabulary
Ask your students to keep a running list on the front board of the words they read and hear, but do not understand. You can either conduct a separate vocabulary lesson about these words during which students try to figure out their meaning from context and connections, or review the vocabulary as you progress through the other activities.
Analyze how and why individuals, events, or ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.
Evaluate a speaker's point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.
Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.
English, Social Studies
Tell your students they will be studying the poem “The Great Migration” by Minnie Bruce Pratt, and that, before they read the poem, they will engage in some activities that will help them understand the poem better.
Activity 1: Small-Group Work
Objective: Students will discuss the meaning of the word migration and cite examples of migrations about which they know something.
Activity 2: Creating Tableaux
Objective: Students will use details from their discussion to create tableaux about the possible causes and outcomes of migration.
Using the notes that the recorder has taken, each group will create two tableaux (still snapshots). The first tableau will show why a group is leaving someplace to migrate somewhere else. The second tableau will show what the migrants discover when they arrive at their destination.
Activity 3: Presenting and Noticing Tableaux
Objective: Students will begin to develop empathy.
The first group will present their first tableau as the nonpresenting students watch and take notes about what they see in the positioning and gestures the group used. Follow this procedure for all the groups. When they are finished follow the same procedure again, for the second tableaux.
Activity 4: Whole-Class Discussion
Objective: Students will synthesize a summary of what they think migration means for people when they leave, and what they might discover when they arrive.
Ask your students to use their notes to tell you what they think the experience of migration is. Make sure they give you evidence from both the small group discussions they had and what they observed and experienced in the tableaux.
Activity 1: Reading the Poem
Objective: Students will identify words, images, and phrases that jump out at them in the poem, as well as the unusual placement of words on the page.
Activity 2: Listening to Minnie Bruce Pratt read “The Great Migration”
Objective: Students will notice the difference between reading a poem on a page and experiencing a poet reading her poem.
Activity 3: Small-Group Work
Objective: Students will collaboratively synthesize what they have noticed from reading and listening to the poem.
Activity 1: Small-Group Work
Objective: Students will use their synthesis of details from the poem to create shared meaning based on evidence.
Ask your students to share their lists of specific details from their exploration of the poem’s content and structure. Based on their sharing, the group should come up with one list. Tell them one person from each group will report this list to the whole class.
Activity 2: Whole-Class Discussion
Objective: Students will glean meaning from poetic structure and content.
Hold a whole-class discussion, starting with what your students have noticed in the poem, and moving from there to what they think the poem is saying.
Ask your students to write a poem (or short narrative essay) in which they take on the persona of one of the speakers in “The Great Migration.” (If you wish, you might instead ask them to write about their family or ancestors.) Have them:
With your students, develop an evaluation tool for their work using the terms exemplary, proficient, developing, and basic. What, do they (and you) think are the basic characteristics of an exemplary poem (or essay) that shows an encounter like the one described above? A proficient one? One that is developing or basic? Remind them to include items such as vivid details that help us get to know the two people, why the person migrated and how they feel, proper spelling and grammar; and how the structure of the poem (essay) represents the narrative.
Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this lesson plan do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.