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.
Resource: Listen to an audio recording of Billy Murray performing the song “Over There,” composed by George M. Cohan, in 1917.
Before playing the audio recording of “Over There,” you may need to review some history about World War I with your students so they have a context for what they are about to hear.
- Ask your students to listen to the song “Over There.” What is the tempo of the song? What are the lyrics saying?
- Ask your students to gather in small groups and share what they noticed. How do the tempo and lyrics make them feel? How do they think this song was supposed to make soldiers feel about the war? How do they think this song was supposed to make people other than soldiers feel?
- Project “La Chapelle. 92nd Division. Ted.” in the front of the class. Ask your students to read it silently and write down the words, phrases, and structures that jump out at them. Ask one student to read the poem aloud to the rest of the class. Ask the listening students to write down anything new that jumps out at them when they hear the poem read. Repeat this process with a second student reading the poem aloud.
- Back in their groups, your students should share what they noticed in the poem. What questions do they have, including words they may not understand? Ask them to work together to consider the answers to their questions. Who is the speaker in the poem? What feelings of his are expressed in the poem? What did your students notice in the poem that supports this interpretation?
- Whole-class discussion: How does what your students noticed in the song differ from what they noticed in the poem? What are the feelings about war that are evoked in each? What is the evidence your students give for their interpretations? Why does a war evoke such different feelings?
- For a more in-depth discussion of the poem, consider sharing the history of the 92nd Division, an African-American unit of the segregated U.S. Army during World War I and World War II. Does this information affect your students’ reading of the poem? If so, how?