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.

Featured Poem

Related Resource


Listen to “Yesterday” by The Beatles.

Classroom Activities
  1. Warm-up: Poll the class, either before class or during a live meeting: In one word, share what you miss the most since the pandemic began. (Teachers, share the results with students.)

  2. Before Reading the Poem (mini-discussion): Listen to the song “Yesterday” by The Beatles. What do you notice about the song? What connections, if any, can you make to your own recent experiences? 

  3. Reading the Poem: Read the poem “Yesterday and To-morrow” by Paul Laurence Dunbar 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. (Teachers, if you are meeting synchronously, we suggest sharing a video screen that allows for students to annotate together. If you are meeting asynchronously, we suggest asking students to post or share their annotations in your online classroom platform.

  4. 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. Call back the lines that you like by saying these lines aloud with your classmates. (Teachers, for synchronous meetings, you could ask two students to read the poem. For asynchronous meetings, students could read the poem on their own or with a family member.

  5. Small-group Discussion: Think about the poem in the context of the song that you listened to at the beginning of class. What has the speaker in the poem lost? How has this affected the speaker? 

  6. Whole-class Discussion: Imagine reading this poem in February 2020 or before. How would your reading of this poem have been different before the pandemic? What meaning does it take on for you now? 

  7. Extension for Grades 7-8: Continue learning about Paul Laurence Dunbar, one of the first nationally recognized Black poets, and read more of Dunbar’s work here. Record a video of yourself reading your favorite Dunbar poem and explaining why you like it. (Teachers, you might want to give students time to view each other’s videos and provide comments or feedback.

  8. Extension for Grades 9-12: Continue learning about Paul Laurence Dunbar here, and read Dunbar’s poem “We Wear the Mask” here. Explore the Schomburg Center for Research and Black Culture’s article “We Wear the Mask: The Ironies of Black Life and Death During the COVID-19 Pandemic” here. Write a short response considering the “consequences and realities of living in the COVID-19 moment.”

More Context for Teachers

Inspired by the overwhelming number of people turning to poetry for comfort during the current global crisis, The Academy of American Poets presented Shelter In Poems: A Virtual Reading in April 2020. Watch the recording of this event and read featured and related poems.