This unit plan from the Academy of American Poets encourages students to explore poems by historical and contemporary poets.
- Identify poets whose poetic voices speak to them
- Select one of these poets and his or her poem to consider more deeply
- Provide verbal explanation or evidence about why they have chosen this poem and poet to their peers
- Student journals or writing paper
- Whiteboard or chalkboard for class use
- Copies of the six poems for the 2019 Dear Poet project. 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: The Idea of Voice
Step 1: Ask students to write some quick associations they have with the word "voice" in their journals or on a sheet of paper.
Step 2: Ask students to turn and talk to a neighbor about their associations.
Step 3: Ask students to sit alone in their seats and make a sound, using their own voice and no words, to express how they are feeling at the moment.
Step 4: Have students turn to their neighbors and repeat the sounds they just practiced. While listening, their neighbor should describe the sound in writing in his journal and then tell the "voicer" what he heard. Make sure students start first with the characteristics of the sounds, and then go into their interpretations of what they think the sounds meant, based on what they heard.
Step 5: Repeat the process with the second person being the "voicer" and the first one being the "listener."
Step 6: Conduct a whole group discussion about what a person's voice can tell us without words and how it tells us this.
Step 7: Write the characteristics on the board at the front of the room for all to see.
Step 8: Now ask for volunteers from the whole group to be "voicers," this time using words as well as the characteristics noted earlier to express how they are feeling.
Step 9: Ask other students to describe what they hear this time. How is it different from what they heard without words?
Step 10: Write these comments on the board at the front of the room.
Individual and Small Group Reading: The Poet's Voice
Step 1: Divide the class into heterogeneous groups of three students.
Step 2: Hand out the six poems to each student (or send your students to Poets.org to view the poems):
- “Ennui" by Marianne Moore
- “The Answer” by Carl Sandburg
- “Sorrows” by Lucille Clifton
- “What Things Want” by Robert Bly
- “The Snowfall is So Silent” by Miguel de Unamuno
- “When I or Else” by June Jordan
Step 3: Ask students to refer back to the list of characteristics of voice on the board to refresh their memories before they read the poems.
Step 4: Have students complete a T-chart for each poem as they read it. On one side of the T-chart, students should write what "jumps out at them" in the poem. On the other side, they should write why they think this is important to the poet's voice/poem and if/how it is important to them as a reader.
Note: Ask your students to keep a running list on the front board of the words in the poems they do not understand. See the vocabulary list above for examples from these poems.
Step 5: If they are having difficulties, students can quietly ask the advice of someone in their group.
Step 6: After the students have completed T-charts, ask them to look over the poems and pick the poet's voice to which they most relate or personally respond.
Explaining Your Choice
Step 1: When your students have completed their reading and T-charts, ask them to share their choices with the rest of their group. Ask students to explain why they relate to this poet's voice by giving examples from the text of the poems.
Step 2: While a student is presenting, those listening should be thinking of constructive comments and questions.
Step 3: Listeners should present their comments and questions to presenters, and presenters should incorporate helpful ideas in their explanations.
Step 4: Each member of a group should have a chance to present his or her explanation and receive comments and questions.
Note: Make sure your students save notes from this activity, as they will use them when they write letters in the next lesson.
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: