These lessons focus on "songs" about the American experience at different points in history:
Walt Whitman wrote his song when the United States was a relatively new country. Langston Hughes wrote in the early 20th Century, when there was still much discrimination against African Americans. And Elizabeth Alexander wrote her praise song early in the 21st Century, when the first African American President of the United States was inaugurated.
Among other perspectives, the poems offer snapshots of daily life at the time when they were written. The lessons that follow, aligned with Common Core Standards, ask your students first to look deeply at life around them and use rich language to describe what they see and feel, then read the three poems collaboratively. After reading the poems, we ask them to write their own poem songs that portray the people and daily life they perceive.
As with the lessons on Ghosts and Spirits, in order to reach diverse learners, you should look at the activities as suggestions from which you can choose in order to help all your students learn. You can choose one warm-up or several. The same is true for pre- and post-activities.
A Note About Lesson Integration: Since these lessons refer to poems that illustrate periods in American History, Social Studies and English teachers may be interested in working together to include these poems across their subject areas. In addition, the Common Core Standards referenced below are for the high school years (9-12), so you can teach the poems in several grades.
Reading, Craft and Structure:
CCSS.ELA-Literacy. RL.9-10.4 and 11-12.4
Writing, Text Types and Purposes:
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.3d and 11-12.3d
Speaking and Listening, Comprehension and Collaboration:
CCSS.ELA-Literacy. SL.9-10.1d and 11-12. 1d
Whole Class Warm-up:
Small Group Work:
This lesson can be done either outside the school building in a location where there are people (e.g. a neighborhood street, a playground, a farm or factory building) during class time or as homework. It can also be done in school where students observe the wide variety of people that make a school happen.
Outside of School During school hours
Outside of School After School Hours—Homework
Inside of School During School Hours
This reading activity focuses on the poems as a group. You, of course, can also focus more on the study of each one.
After Reading the Poem:
Whole class activity:
At this point, make sure all students have copies of all three poems. Ask each recorder/reporter to answer the following questions:
Facilitate a discussion to develop a shared understanding of each poem. In addition, you can discuss different ways a poem can be a song or about singing.
After reading and analyzing the poems, ask your students to go back to their notes about the person (people) they observed and revise them. They should also pay attention to the way they thought their people felt, and the way they felt about their person.
Ask your students to write a short poem describing the person (people) including how and why they “sing.” Ask them to make sure their “song” reflects how they feel about their people.
Ask your students to list words in the poems they do not understand. These might include:
Have a whole class discussion about their meanings.