Teach This Poem: "Bury Me in a Free Land" by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper

Teach This Poem is a weekly series featuring a poem from our online poetry collection, accompanied by interdisciplinary resources and activities designed to help K-12 teachers quickly and easily bring poetry into the classroom.

Featured Poem

The 1619 Project

Last year marked the 400th anniversary of when the first enslaved Africans were brought to what is now the state of Virginia. Read this document from The New York Times Magazine outlining facts and myths about slavery in the United States as part of The 1619 Project. 

Classroom Activities

The following activities and questions are designed to help your students use their noticing skills to move through the poem and develop their thinking about its meaning with confidence, using what they’ve noticed as evidence for their interpretations. Read more about the framework upon which these activities are based.

  1. Warm-up: With a partner, write a definition of freedom. Join with another pair of students and share your definitions. Together, write one definition. With your group of four, join another group of four and work together to write a single definition. Now, select one group member to write your definition on the board. Discuss each definition as a class. 
     
  2. Before Reading the Poem: Look carefully at the image of The 1619 Project sheet here. What images, phrases, or words catch your attention? Why? Look again. What else do you notice? What surprises you? What questions do you have? 
     
  3. Reading the Poem: Read the poem “Bury Me in a Free Land” by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper silently. What do you notice about the poem? Annotate for any words or phrases that stand out to you or any questions you might have. 
     
  4. Listening to the Poem (enlist two volunteers to read the poem aloud): Listen as the poem is read aloud twice, and write down any additional words and phrases that stand out to you. Call back the lines that you like by saying these lines aloud with a small group. 
     
  5. Small-group Discussion: Share what you noticed in the poem with your group. Based on what you just shared, what connections can you make between the poem and the project sheet you viewed at the beginning of class? Why? 
     
  6. Whole-class Discussion: Discuss some or all of the following questions as a class:
    — What imagery do you find most compelling in the poem? Why? 
    — What is the significance of the title? 
    — What do you make of the last stanza? This stanza is inscribed on the wall at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, which you can see here. What is the significance of this?  
    — The poem was first published in 1858 in The Anti-Slavery Bugle. Is this a protest poem?  
     
  7. Extension for Grades 7-8: Continue researching Frances Ellen Watkins Harper here and reading more of her poems here. Choose to write a report about Frances Ellen Watkins Harper or write an emulation of one of the poems you read.
     
  8. Extension for Grades 9-12: In honor of Black History Month, read more about Frances Ellen Watkins Harper and then choose another black poet to read and study here. Create a presentation about this poet and write an original poem inspired by your chosen poet.

 

More Context for Teachers 

Continue the discussion with these additional standards-aligned classroom activities about The 1619 Project, which draw from concepts in the essays, creative texts, photographs, and illustrations. In addition, read the full text of The 1619 Project alongside reading guides for the essays and creative works.