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.
Select photos from the gallery “‘I Do Solemnly Swear...’ Inaugural Materials from the Collections of the Library of Congress.”
Before Reading the Poem: If you could give a speech in front of the entire country, what would you include? Make a list of ideas that you would want in your speech. Think about your hopes and dreams for this country.
Reading the Poem: Read the poem “One Today” by Richard Blanco 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. Or, you may opt to watch the video of the poet reading the poem at the 2013 inauguration here.
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, how does the poem explore America through the lens of one day from morning to night? How does this poem relate to the images that you saw at the beginning of class or what you wrote? How would you describe the tone of the poem? Why?
Whole-class Discussion: Inaugural poems are really occasion poems, which means that they were written for a certain celebratory occasion. Can you find any lines in the poem that might reference the occasion or feel celebratory? If so, why are these important? What images stand out to you in the poem? Why? (Teachers these next questions come from the Inaugural Poem Analysis here, which we suggest as a way to help your students discuss the poem.) How might this poem look back into history/experience, forward toward hope and a better nation, and highlight the present moment as a bridge between the two? How might this poem address American identity—who are we as a people, who have we been, who do we wish to be? (Teachers, if you feel like your students might need more context, please give students this interview here with Richard Blanco.)
Extension for Grades 7-8: Read Kwame Dawes’ crowd-sourced inaugural poem here. As a class, write one collaborative poem that begins with Blanco’s first line “One sun rose on us today…” or Dawes’ first line “Say ‘nation.’ In the wake of quarrels, say ‘hope.’” Read your poem together and consider reading it for the history teacher/classes you partnered with. Or, write a poem that you would like to read at the 2021 inauguration. Think about what you wrote at the beginning of class, including your hopes and dreams for the nation. (Teachers, you might want to invite students to submit their poems to the Inaugural Poem Contest here.)
Extension for Grades 9-12: Historically, presidential inaugurations have themes. The theme for the 2013 inauguration, for which “One Today” was written, was “Our People, Our Future.” Pretend that you’ve been hired as a public relations team for the upcoming inauguration. Your task is to create a theme for the inauguration. Your theme must include a 1) title 2) list of reasons why this theme is important in this present moment in history and 3) 2-3 recommendations for the ceremony. Or, write a poem that you would like to read at the 2021 inauguration. Think about what you wrote at the beginning of class, including your hopes and dreams for the nation. (Teachers, read more about the 2021 Inaugural Poem Contest here. Submissions are now closed.)
While art and literature have always played an integral part in shaping the history of our civilization, the inclusion of poetry at the Presidential inauguration is relatively recent. Only three presidents—John F. Kennedy in 1961, Bill Clinton in 1993 and 1997, and Barack Obama in 2009 and 2013—have had poets read at their inaugurations. These three presidents were known for their appreciation of reading and literature. Read the presidential inaugural poems, and learn more about these poems and poets.