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.
Harris & Ewing, photographer. KEY, FRANCIS SCOTT. ORIGINAL MANUSCRIPT OF ‘STAR SPANGLED BANNER.’ 1914. Photograph.
Warm-up: Look at the image of Francis Scott Key’s original manuscript of “The Star Spangled Banner” here. What stands out to you about the image? Look at the title page of the book. What else do you see?
Before Reading the Poem: Watch the video of Whitney Houston singing the national anthem here. After watching, discuss what you notice about her version.
Reading the Poem: Read the poem “A New National Anthem” by Ada Limón 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.
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.
Small-group Discussion: Share what you noticed in the poem with a small group of students. Based on the details you just shared, how are this poem and Whitney Houston’s rendition both new versions of the national anthem?
Whole-class Discussion: Read the entire text of the national anthem here and respond in writing to this quote from the poem: “And what of the stanzas / we never sing, the third that mentions ‘no refuge / could save the hireling and the slave’? Perhaps / the truth is that every song of this country / has an unsung third stanza, something brutal / snaking underneath us as we blindly sing….” Share your writing and thoughts with your classmates. What is the brutal thing lurking underneath Francis Scott Key’s national anthem? What does the speaker in Limón’s poem call for? Why? (Teachers, if you haven’t already, now might be a good time to discuss symbolism. And, for further discussion, this video from Vox examines the complexities of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”.)
Extension for Grades 7-8: Create your own new version of the national anthem by either creating an erasure poem or writing a response to Limón’s poem or the original anthem. (Teachers, you can find more examples of erasure poems to share with your students here.)
Extension for Grades 9-12: Read Nikole Hannah-Jones’ essay “The Idea of America” here or its excerpt here. After reading Limón’s poem and Hannah-Jones’ essay, what is your “Idea of America”? Write it.
“Is ‘make it new’ essentially the enduring motto of America?” In his 2020 Blaney Lecture, Terrance Hayes asks readers and listeners to consider the history of American poetry, who we think of as important, and why. Read more.