Reading Poems From the Academy of American Poets Chancellors
After reading poems by contemporary poets, students discuss what makes a writer's voice unique. By Madeleine Fuchs Holzer, EdD
- Grades: 6–8, 9–12
- Unit Plan:
- Read poems from the present Chancellors of the Academy of American Poets
- Gain a greater understanding what makes a writer’s voice unique
- Synthesize multiple perspectives in order to create a shared understanding
Each of these poems is available on Poets.org, the site of the Academy of American Poets. You can print them out prior to the lesson or have your students find them on the website.
Whole Class Warm-up
Remind your students of the warm-ups they did to begin to understand how voice can be expressed only through words.
- Ask them to quickly write in their journals, without lifting their pens or pencils off the paper, what makes a writer’s voice unique. What are the “ingredients” for writing a poem with a strong voice? (You might want to refer to the poetry lesson Poems About Poetry available on Poets.org, the website of the Academy of American Poets.)
- Ask them to turn and talk to a person they have not worked with before to come up with a shared list of “ingredients” for a strong voice.
- Conduct a whole class discussion: What are the similarities between “voice” in a poem and “voice” in a letter? What are the differences, if any?
Hand out a packet of five poems written by present Chancellors of the Academy or have your students find them on Poets.org.
- Ask your students to read through all of the poems quietly in their seats.
- Ask for two volunteers to read each poem aloud to the class.
- Hand out T-chart forms, one for each poem.
- After listening to and reading each poem, students should jot down lines that particularly speak to them on the left side of a T-chart, and what they think the poet did to make the lines embody a strong voice (e.g. which “ingredients” of voice the poet used) on the right side.
- They should also jot down what the poem means to them and give examples that demonstrate their interpretations.
When they are finished writing, ask your students to get back into groups of three. (You can use prior groupings or start new groups, if that works better.)
- Tell your students that each person in the group is responsible for ensuring everyone in their small group gets a chance to speak.
- Ask for a volunteer to remind the class of what it means to give constructive responses to others’ work.
- After the ground rules for the groups have been established, ask students to give their group members examples of lines they think show strong voice and to explain their choices.
- When the decibel level of the discussion has dropped, ask for a volunteer from each group to summarize, for the whole class, their group’s multiple perspectives on the characteristics of a strong written voice.
- Write these characteristics on the board at the front of the room.
Ask your students to get back in their groups for a new discussion. The purpose this time is for them to see if they can come to some sense of a shared meaning for each of three poems. They are to:
- Select three of the poems that they want to focus on.
- Discuss the meanings of the poems, following the same process of each student sharing his or her perspective.
- Try to synthesize shared meanings.
- Select someone to represent the group’s synthesis to the whole class.
- Give examples of how they arrived at their interpretations to the whole class.
- Keep their notes for the next writing activity.
It is important to tell your students that you are not looking for a “right” interpretation of the poems, but for their reasoned interpretations. The emphasis is on their own reasoned explanation with examples—not on finding the “correct meaning.” They will not only have a good discussion about what they think, but they also will be able to use this information when they write to the Chancellor of their choice in the Writing Letters to the Chancellors of the Academy of American Poets lesson.
Ask your students to keep a running list on the board at the front of the room of the words in the poems they do not understand. These may include: