Reading Poems by the Academy Chancellors
After reading poems by contemporary poets, students discuss what makes a writer's voice unique.
- Grades: 3–5, 6–8, 9–12
- Unit Plan:
Welcome to the classroom component of the Academy of American Poets 2015 National Poetry Month education project, Dear Poet. This multimedia unit invites young people in grades five through twelve to write letters in response to poems written and read by some of the award-winning poets who serve on the Academy of American Poets Board of Chancellors.
This lesson is the third of four lesson plans in the project and the precursor to Writing to the Chancellors. In this lesson, students will read several poems by the Academy Chancellors and practice finding meaning and synthesizing shared meanings before writing their letters.
The previous two lesson plans, Selecting Favorite Poems From Historical Poets and Writing to a Historical Poet, focus on historical poets and give students a chance to practice composing a letter before writing to an Academy Chancellor.
- Read poems by Chancellors of the Academy of American Poets
- Gain a greater understanding of 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.
- "The Chance" by Arthur Sze
- "Cotton Candy" by Edward Hirsch
- "For Telly the Fish" by Toi Derricotte
- "How Do I Know When a Poem Is Finished?" by Naomi Shihab Nye
- "Jack Rabbits, Green Onions & Witches Stew" by Juan Felipe Herrera
- "Like Hearing Your Name Called in a Language You Don’t Understand" by C. D. Wright
- "Rune of the Finland Woman" by Marilyn Hacker
- "The Weighing" by Jane Hirshfield
Whole Class Warm-Up
Step 1: Remind your students of the warm-ups they did to begin to understand how voice can be expressed by only using words.
Step 2: Ask students to quickly write in their journals, without lifting their pens/pencils off the paper, what makes a writer’s voice unique. What are the “ingredients” to writing a poem with a strong voice? (You might want to refer to the poetry lesson Poems About Poetry.)
Step 3: Ask students to turn and talk to a person they have not worked with before to come up with a shared list of “ingredients.”
Step 4: 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?
Collaborative Work: Reading and Viewing the Poems
Step 1: Distribute the poems above written by the Chancellors of the Academy of American Poets (or have student read them online using the links above).
Step 2: Ask your students to read through all the poems quietly in their seats.
Step 3: Hand out T-chart forms, one for each poem.
Step 4: Show the videos one at a time and ask your students, after listening to and reading each poem, to jot down lines that particularly speak to them on the left side, and what they think the poet did (e.g. what “ingredients” of voice the poet used) to make the lines embody a strong voice on the right side.
Step 5: Point out that different types of things may jump out from the page and from the video. For instance, a poet’s voice in the video might emphasize certain words or phrases that were not apparent before.
Step 6: 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 this works better.)
Step 7: Tell your students that each person in the group is responsible for making sure everyone in their small group gets a chance to speak.
Step 8: Ask for a volunteer to remind the class of what it means to give constructive responses to others’ work.
Step 9: 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 explain their choices.
Step 10: 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.
Step 11: Write these characteristics on the board.
Collaborative Work: Finding Shared Meaning
Ask your students to get back in their groups for a new discussion. The purpose this time, however, is for them to see if they can come to some sense of a shared meaning for each of the poems on which they have chosen to focus.
Step 1: Have each group select three of the poems to study in depth.
Step 2: Ask the students to view these three poems again and quickly jot down what they think each poem means.
Step 3: Have students write down examples from the text of the poem and the video they saw that demonstrate their interpretations.
Step 4: Have each group discuss the meanings of the poems, following the same process where each student shares his/her perspective.
Note: 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.
Step 5: Ask students to try to synthesize shared meanings of the poems from the various meanings discussed in the group.
Step 6: Ask the groups to each select someone to represent the group’s synthesis to the whole class.
Step 7: Each group should present the synthesis and give examples of how they arrived at their interpretations to the whole class.
Note: Make sure your students save notes from this activity, as they will use them for the next writing activity.
Ask your students to keep a running list on the front board of the words in the poems they do not understand. These may include:
Submitting Letters to the Academy of American Poets
We encourage you to submit your students’ letters for possible publication on Poets.org in May 2015. Send all letters via post or email by April 30, 2015. Please include each student’s name, the poet that inspired his or her poem, and the name of your school.
The Academy of American Poets
75 Maiden Lane, Suite 901
New York, NY 10038
Literature Common Core Standards Addressed in These Activities
Reading, Craft and Structure:
Writing, Production and Distribution of Writing:
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.4 and 5
Speaking and Listening, Comprehension and Collaboration: