Produced for K-12 educators, Teach This Poem features one poem a week from our online poetry collection, accompanied by interdisciplinary resources and activities designed to help teachers quickly and easily bring poetry into the classroom. The series is written by our Educator in Residence, Dr. Madeleine Fuchs Holzer, and is available for free via email.

Featured Poem

“We Shall Overcome”

This video from folk singer Pete Seeger’s 90th birthday concert at Madison Square Garden features Pete Seeger, Emmylou Harris, Joan Baez, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, & more.

Classroom Activities

  1. Warm-up: Go around the room and ask your students to make a gesture that describes something they hope for in the world—not a material thing, like a car or a toy, but something more abstract that would benefit their family, community, or country, or even the world. 
  2. Play the video of “We Shall Overcome” in front of the class twice. Both times, ask your students to write down what they notice in the video. Ask your students to gather in small groups to discuss what this song might be about. What do they think shall be “overcome”?
  3. Find out if anyone in your class knows the history of this song. If not, you may want to ask them to research how the song was used during the Civil Rights Movement. What did the song mean then? What does this song mean to your students now? Why? How does the song make them feel?
  4. Project “little prayer” in front of the class. Ask your students to read it silently and jot down all the words, phrases, and structural aspects that jump out at them. Ask one student to read the poem aloud to the class while the others write down new details they notice. Repeat this process with a second student reading aloud.
  5. Ask your students to get back in their small groups to share what they noticed in the poem. What questions do they have about this poem? Can they help one another answer some of these questions?
  6. Whole-class discussion: Who might the “him” be in this poem? What might the “it” be in the last line? What evidence do your students have for their interpretations, based on what they noticed in the poem? To what kind of “ruin” do they think the speaker in the poem is referring? Encourage your students to think about their discussion of “We Shall Overcome” when they answer these questions. How is the poem similar to, or different from, “We Shall Overcome”?