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March 15, 2012 "The New Colossus" by Emma Lazarus By Mary Blow
Grades 6–8, 9–12

    Understanding allusions is important to peeling back the layers of "The New Colossus" by Emma Lazarus (1849–1887). Many students struggle with allusions because the connections hinge on background knowledge; therefore, setting the stage is essential to successfully engaging students in analytical reading. In this lesson, paired texts, fiction and nonfiction, are provided to engage students in a thematic-based Common Core learning experience.



    Building Background Information

    The Colossus of Rhodes

    In order for students to understand the allusions in “The New Colossus,” show students images. The Florida Center for Instructional Technology has clip art, free for classroom use, of the Colossus of Rhodes and the Statue of Liberty.  After comparing and contrasting the images, watch the WatchKnowLearn free educational video "Learn About the Colossus of Rhodes," a historical overview of the Greek statue.

    Viewing the video also provides an opportunity to integrate state test prep. Teach note-taking skills in preparation for the listening passages on state assessments. Students work in think-pair-share groups, using their notes to answer selected questions below in preparation for whole class discussions. They may base their responses on evidence taken from the video and inferences drawn from the images, thereby pulling evidence from multiple sources.

    Video Discussion Questions:

    • When was the Colossus of Rhodes built?
    • Which Greek god is depicted in the statue?
    • Why did the people of Rhodes build the colossus?
    • Where do historians believe the Rhodians acquired the materials to build the colossus?
    • How was the colossus destroyed? What happened to the remains?
    • Do you agree or disagree that the Colossus of Rhodes inspired the French sculptor, Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, when he designed the Statue of Liberty? Explain why or why not.

    Emma Lazarus

    The Jewish Women's Archive offers interesting biographical information and resources on Emma Lazarus, one of the first successful Jewish-American authors. The New Colossus, a Web page dedicated to her poem, consists of background information related to the poem, including insights into Emma’s Jewish heritage and her views on immigration that inspired the poem. The tensions that Emma depicts in her poem, “ancient and modern, Jew and American, voice and silence, freedom and oppression,” in the words of the Jewish Women’s Archive, are perfect fodder for exploring themes.


    “The New Colossus” (1883)

    Download "The New Colossus” student handout, a guide for exploring the allusions in the poem. After, students reread the poem, identifying unfamiliar words and looking up the definitions. Below is a list of Tier II vocabulary words that may need exploration:

    • brazen
    • exile
    • pomp
    • wretched
    • teeming
    • refuse
    • tempest

    During the third reading, the students apply their understanding of the vocabulary words, working in groups to discuss and respond to the questions on the handout. If you have older students, you might enjoy exploring the allusions to the witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth or the biblical allusions with this online interactive version of “The New Colossus” annotated by Esther Schor and published by NextBook Press.


    Common Core Thematic Connection

    The historical novel Dragonwings by Laurence Yep is one of the exemplar Common Core texts for grades 6–8. Pairing "The New Colossus" with Dragonwings provides an opportunity to experience immigration through the eyes of a Chinese immigrant. If you don’t have time to teach the entire novel, use an excerpt. Chapter 1 describes 8-year-old Moon Shadow’s journey to America to meet his estranged father. The first person narrative portrays Moon Shadow’s journey to America as he encounters the “custom demons” upon entering the immigration station at Angel Island. After, view Lazarus’s poem through the eyes of the protagonist by responding to the question "How does Moon Shadow’s immigration experience contradict the words engraved on the Statue of Liberty?"  

    Add multimedia to your lesson. The Library of Congress published “Immigration Challenges for New Americans,” which is a library of primary resources, images, videos, and teacher guides. With these resources, students can compare the arrival scene in the novel to images of Angel Island and the video of immigrants arriving at Ellis Island. Students can further supplement their reading of the book with Scholastic's immigration unit. The unit is receiving a makeover that will include new, engaging interactive features. Also, don't forget to register for the virtual field trip to Ellis Island, which will air on March 29th!

    Cross-genre text connections foster higher-level thinking. A great culminating activity engages students in a debate or persuasive writing piece after exploring the controversy concerning illegal immigrants in the news. Students read a Grolier article, “Immigration,” that summarizes the history of immigration policies in the United States. Upfront published two online articles presenting both sides of the debate: “Are Illegal Immigrants Good for the U.S. Economy?” and “The Great Immigration Debate." The Miami Herald news video “Thousands Protest Deportation Order Against North Miami Senior High Valedictorian” brings the complexity of the immigration legislation into perspective as an entire school district protests the deportation of their valedictorian, Daniela Pelaez. Students can defend their side of the debate using relevant details and citing resources.


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Susan Cheyney