Teach This Poem, though developed with a classroom in mind, can be easily adapted for remote learning, hybrid learning models, or in-person classes. Please see our suggestions for how to adapt this lesson for remote or blended learning. We have also noted suggestions when applicable and will continue to add to these suggestions online.

Featured Poem

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: Draw a picture of a soul, or draw a picture of what the word soul means to you. Share these images with your peers.

  2. Before Reading the Poem: (Teachers, if it is possible, create a gallery of all of the images.) Look at all the images closely. What do you notice? What are some of the meanings the word soul seems to have to you and your peers? In a small group or with a partner, decide on a definition that encompasses as many of these meanings as possible. Share this definition with the whole class.

  3. Reading the Poem: Read the poem “I Know My Soul” by Claude McKay 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. 

  5. Small-group Discussion: Share what you noticed in the poem with a small group of students. Based on the details you just shared with your small group and your activities from the beginning of class, how does the speaker feel about the soul? Why might the speaker’s soul be in a different place?

  6. Whole-class Discussion: What is the most vivid imagery in the poem to you? Why? What do you make of these lines “This awful key to my infinity / Conspires to rob me of sweet joy and grace”? A sonnet is defined as a fourteen-line poem traditionally written in iambic pentameter, employing one of several rhyme schemes, and adhering to a tightly structured thematic organization. In what ways is this poem a sonnet? 

  7. Extension for Grades 7-8: Continue reading more about sonnets, including modern sonnets. Write your own sonnet and read it to your classmates. 

  8. Extension for Grades 9-12: Continue reading more about Claude McKay and The Harlem Renaissance. Choose a poet from The Harlem Renaissance to study and read. After, create a podcast where you explore one of your chosen poet’s poems. (Teachers, if you feel like your students might need an example, #TeachLivingPoets has a sample lesson plan.)

More Context for Teachers

“With a lyricism seated in the popular blues and jazz music of the time, an awareness of Black life in America, its assertion of an independent African American identity, and its innovation in form and structure, the poetry of the Harlem Renaissance is unmistakable.” Read more about the Harlem Renaissance.