Responding to Poetry From Diverse Voices on the American Dream and Identity

I LOVE teaching poetry! My goal in teaching poetry is to remind my students that poets write because they love playing with words, and have something important to say. I typically start my month-long poetry unit with wordplay. The students collaborate to write a group poem from a pre-determined list of words. The collaborative activity takes some of the stress off students’ shoulders because they’re working with peers. This collaborative activity is Poetry With Friends, and it’s FREE in my Teachers Pay Teachers store, Captivate Motivate Educate.

Last year, I developed a new unit, Responding to Poetry From Diverse Voices on the American Dream and Identity. This is a unit for my juniors. Because Google is ever-present, I knew I wanted to focus on modern poems that would be less likely to be discussed to death somewhere on the web.

I focused on these poets:

Joy Harjo

Natasha Trethewey

Nikki Giovanni

Layli Long Soldier

Russell Basset

Rita Joe

Maya Angelou

Eve L. Ewing

Jason Grundstrom-Whitney

Simon Ortiz

Louise Erdrich

Pablo Neruda

Jason Grundstrom-Whitney

Simon Ortiz

Louise Erdrich

Pablo Nerudo

Mikhu Paul

Nikki Grimes

Leslie Marmon Silko

Jacqueline Woodson

And I focused on these poems:

Let America Be America Again by Langston Hughes

Amphibians by Joseph O. Legaspi

Pledge Allegiance by Natalie Scenters-Zapico

Bury Me in a Free Land by Frances E. W. Harper

In This Place (An American Lyric) by Amanda Gorman

For My People by Margaret Walker

The New Colossus

(this is the poem inscribed on the Statue of Liberty) by EMMA LAZARUS

One Today by Richard Blanco

Carrying Our Words by Ofelia Zepeda

Mango Poem by Regie Cabico

Victory by Sherman Alexie

I, Too by Langston Hughes

Won’t You Celebrate With Me? by Sharon Olds

Students start by reading poems by Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. I have instructed my students to explore the poetry of at least 3 poets. I remind students that poetry is condensed language and they may need to read their selected poems multiple times. Additionally, they cannot just skip unknown words. I encourage them to find definitions for any unknown words. Lastly, I remind them to pay attention to titles, tone, and how the poem ends. All the previously stated will help them to understand poetry on a deeper level.

As students are reading their chosen poems, they will inevitably have questions about the poet’s message and intent. I am careful to not dictate my thoughts but to help them come to conclusions that are plausible and make sense to them. Reading poetry is so valuable because we learn so much about empathy.

 For each poet chosen, students must read at least 2 different poems. They are to take notes on the poet’s life and the poems as they read. They will combine these notes to complete a Poet Tree “leaf.”

For a culminating project, students must write a found poem by borrowing lines from some of the poems they’ve read combined with some of their own lines.

If you’d like more information about this valuable unit, please click here.

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