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.

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Featured Poem
“African American War Correspondent Aboard U.S. Coastal Ship”

“African American War Correspondent Aboard U.S. Coastal Ship”

by the United States Coast Guard, 1939–1945

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Photographs and Prints Division, The New York Public Library.

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 (quick write): Take a few minutes to write what your reaction would be if someone you loved told you they were going off to fight in a war. (If this has happened to you, write about this experience and your feelings. You will not need to share this writing with anyone else.)
  2. Before Reading the Poem (noticing and pair share): Look carefully at the photograph of the war correspondent. What do you notice about how the person is framed in the photograph? What is his posture? Where is his gaze? Imagine that this person is going to the front in World War II. Based on what you see in the photo, imagine what he might be thinking as he gazes out of the frame. Write down what you notice and imagine and share this with a partner.
  3. Reading the Poem (individual reading): Read the poem by Gwendolyn Brooks silently, then write down the words and phrases that jump out at you.
  4. Listening to the Poem (enlist two volunteers to read the poemaloud): Listen as the poem is read aloud twice, and write down any additional words and phrases that jump out at you.
  5. Small-group Discussion: Share what you noticed in the poem. Based on what you noticed, what do you think might be the relationship between the speaker in the poem and the person going off to war? What do you think happened, or will happen, to the person who went off to war?
  6. Whole-class Discussion: Why do you think the speaker in the poem might say her love walked out the door “grandly”? (It might be helpful to look at your notes about what you imagined the man in the photograph is thinking.) In what way does the speaker in the poem think her love will “be untrue”? Why does she call death “coquettish”? (If you do not know the meaning of that word, look it up.)
  7. Extension for Grades 7-8: Why is it important to honor those who died fighting in a war on Memorial Day? Write a short essay giving detailed reasons.
  8. Extension for Grades 9-12: What can you learn about the experiences of African American soldiers in WWII? Conduct research on this topic, asking your teacher to direct you to resources that could help. (Teachers, consider looking through resources from the Library of Congress and The National WWII Museum for suggestions.)

More Context for Teachers

In “An Introduction to Gwendolyn Brooks,” Elizabeth Alexander writes, “Since she began publishing her tight lyrics of Chicago’s great South Side in the 1940s, Gwendolyn Brooks has been one of the most influential American poets of the twentieth century. Her poemsdistill the very best aspects of Modernist style with the sounds and shapes of various African-American forms and idioms. Brooks is a consummate portraitist who found worlds in the community she wrote out of, and her innovations as a sonneteer remain an inspiration to more than one generation of poets who have come after her.” Read more.