Thanksgiving may seem like the most American of holidays, but with changes in demographics and the diversity of cultures that accompanies them, Thanksgiving may no longer look the same to everyone. In his poem “América,” Richard Blanco brings us into the experience of Thanksgiving celebrated by an extended Cuban American family, making us think about the many ways to be an American today. When your students add the experience of Thanksgiving in their families, the conversation around the poem becomes even more complex.
This lesson plan provides a series of activities you can use with your students before, during, and after reading “América.” Feel free, of course, to adapt them to the needs and interests of your students. The methodology used here tries to “level the playing field” for diverse students to experience poetry, and may also help set the stage for reading more complex texts as you address the Common Core State Standards. We hope you agree!
English Language Arts Standards
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL, Key Ideas and Details, 6-12.1
CCSS. ELA-Literacy.RL, Craft and Structure, 6-12.4
Speaking and Listening:
CCSS. ELA-Literacy.SL, Comprehension and Collaboration, 6-12.1
Social Studies, English Language Arts, Visual Arts
Warm up: Whip-Around
Go around the room and ask your students to share one association they have with the way they celebrate Thanksgiving. They should not think long about it, but rather say the first thing that comes to mind
Objective: By entering the poem through a visual image, students will practice noticing skills that they can apply across texts and artifacts across disciplines.
- Show your students the image of the Thanksgiving cover for Harper’s Bazar [sic] in 1894 by Louis John Rhead. Explain that Harper’s Bazar was a magazine for women.
- Ask them to write down what they notice about the cover including color, lines, shapes, etc. They should also write down the associations they make to this image.
- Have your students discuss the following question with a partner: How might this cover have related to the Thanksgiving holiday as it was in 1894? What is the evidence for their interpretations?
- Conduct a whole class discussion around the same question. Make sure students give evidence from what they have seen in the image for their interpretations.
Objective: Students will recognize similarities and differences based on evidence.
- Small group work: Ask your students to think about the associations they made with their own Thanksgiving celebration and the associations they made with the Harper’s Bazar cover. They should discuss the similarities and differences in their small groups, and defend their positions.
Objective: Students will do a close reading of a poem.
- Print out copies of the poem "América."
- Ask your students to read the poem silently and circle the words, phrases, and images that jump out at them. This can include vocabulary words (in Spanish and English) with which they are unfamiliar.
Objective: Students will listen carefully to add more detail to their close reading.
- Ask two students, one after the other, to read the poem out loud to the class. While they read, the other students should circle additional words, phrases, and images that seem important as they hear them.
Ask your students to put the unfamiliar words they have circled in the poem on a list at the front of the room for all to see. You can either conduct a separate vocabulary lesson on these words where students try to figure out their meaning from context and connections or conduct this process as you progress through other activities.
Objective: Students will recognize how a poet uses descriptive language to produce a sense response in the reader.
In small groups ask your students to discuss the questions: What sounds, sights, and smells do they have in their “mind’s eyes, ears, and noses” when they read this poem. How does Richard Blanco achieve this effect? Make sure they return back to the words and phrases they have circled when they read the poem.
Objective: Students will collectively construct the meaning of a poem through citation of evidence. Whole- class discussion: What do you think the poem is saying? Why? What is your evidence?
The following are suggestions for activities that can work either as writing or speaking/listening activities, even though they may indicate one or the other.
Questions for Discussion and/or Writing:
- Does this poem connect to the ways your students celebrate Thanksgiving? Why or why not?
- What is this poem saying to your students about how Thanksgiving celebrations may be changing, given the great diversity of Americans today? Have a debate or whole-class discussion.
- What is the essence of a Thanksgiving celebration? What do your students think all Thanksgiving celebrations should contain? Ask your students to write a persuasive essay on this subject.