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.
Moore, Henry P, photographer. Sweet potato planting, Hopkinson's Plantation. Edisto Island South Carolina, 1862. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress.
Warm-up: Go around the room and ask each student to make a school-appropriate gesture they associate with the word dirt. Any student who wants to pass can wait until the other students have finished.
Project the photograph of slaves planting sweet potatoes without sharing the title or context with your students. Ask them to write down what they see in the photograph. They should be sure to support any interpretations (such as “these people are planting”) with specific details.
Ask your students to turn and talk with a partner about what they noticed and what they think the photograph is showing. What would they title the photograph? What questions do they have about it?
Project the poem by Kwame Dawes in front of the class. Ask your students to read it silently and to write down all the words and phrases that jump out at them. Ask one student to read the poem aloud while the listening students add new words and phrases to their lists. Repeat this process with a second student reading the poem aloud. After the second reading, ask your students to write down any questions they have about the poem.
Ask your students to gather in small groups to share what they noticed in the poem and to discuss the questions they have. How does the poem relate to the photograph? Does looking at the poem and photograph together help them answer some of their questions? What questions remain?
Whole-class discussion: Ask one person from each group to share what they discovered in their discussions and any remaining questions, and discuss these questions as a class. Why is dirt important to the speaker in the poem?