Ashley Ackerman

English 112B

27 Nov. 2012

Unit of Study

Modern Poetry: Understanding and Writing

            Many students automatically label poetry with a bad name. Students often do not even try to grasp poetry; instead they wait for the teacher or another classmate to give them the answer. Instead of shoving poetry on the backburner I believe students need a whole new perspective and a brand new introduction to poetry. Poetry can be found in many forms; however, most teachers only teach the basic generalized form. Students need to be able to relate the original form of poetry, stanzas and written poetry, with modern day poetry, such as: song lyrics, spoken words, vignettes, and more. Introducing different forms of poetry will help students notice that poetry is found in many other art forms, and can also be fun and inspiring to read and write. Poetry is an incredible art form that allows individuals who write poetry to express themselves in ways they would not be able to express themselves verbally. Poetry is more than just “skin deep,” it gives those reading a deeper sense of what the writer, or speaker, was going through.

Students should also know that poetry has no right or wrong answer. Poetry is unique in that it leaves room for creative interpretation. The reader is given a list of words and left to interpret the meaning entirely in their own way. Discussing different meanings of a poem will help students use their imagination and have fun with understanding poetry.

This unit is purposely created to help students better comprehend poetry. They will use a poetry analysis worksheet to guide them in the steps to better understand the modern poetry work they are looking at. Students will also be able to use this worksheet in any other English class where they are studying poetry. Class discussions and writing exercises play a key role in understanding how poetry works. Students will be asked to write a number of poems, songs, and or vignettes in order to practice the art of poetry.

Launching the Unit:

To start off, I would expose the students to different types of poetry, as well as different rhythmic patterns and ways of writing poetry.

1. I would start with showing either a video clip or an audio clip of the song “Destroy” by Worth Dying For. The song is a Christian based song; however, it does not mention the name “Jesus.” The song is about rising up and turning life around. After hearing the song students would discuss their thoughts and opinions of the song.

2. I would show a video clip of a poet named Shihan performing one of his poems at a Def Poetry Jam (the poem is not named). This poem would be discussed as well.

3. I would read the students Love That Dog by Sharon Creech to introduce the vignette form of poetry.

After all three forms of poetry are read and understood, I would have the students discuss the similarities and differences between these three forms of poetry and what they have previously learned or know about poetry.

Concluding this activity I would introduce and explain the “Poetry Analysis” Worksheet (which is stapled to the back). The worksheet is used to help students dissect poems easier and get a better grasp at understanding the poem that is being read. Items on this worksheet include: identifying the speaker, identifying tone, and subject of the poem, figures of speech, rhythmic patterns, irony, images, and symbols. I would have the students read “Phenomenal Woman” by Maya Angelou and use the worksheet to understand the poem and its themes. As an assignment I would have the students create a poem using three to five of the items on the worksheet.

I would either have the students read for homework or do readers theatre of Witness by Karen Hesse and read “Fork” by Charles Simic. As an assignment I would have the students combine both these ideas and create a vignette using an object in which I assign them, for example: a flashlight, a plate, a leaf, etc.

Center Piece: “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou

Still I Rise

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don't you take it awful hard
'Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines
Diggin' in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I've got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history's shame
I rise
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I rise
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

I chose “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou as my centerpiece work because I believe it deals with a significant issue high school student’s deal with most, and that is the idea of being helpless at one point in time, or being bullied. This poem deals with the end result of a once painful time. The poem, without bluntly stating it, shows the outcome of someone who has been verbally abused, due to weight and other accusations. I will teach this poem alongside the Poetry Analysis worksheet, having the students tear apart the poem and also discuss the themes they believe this poem is talking about. I would ask the students: What do they see in their daily life that may be harmful to others, how do they see others badly treated? And also have them list how individuals being attacked can build up their self–esteem and how witness’s of these actions can help build up the confidence of those being attacked as well.

After reading, discussing, and analyzing the poem I would play “Stronger” by Kelly Clarkson and have the students compare and contrast the song to the poem. I chose this song by Kelly Clarkson because it talks about overcoming something that at one point defined who the speaker of the song was. It’s about overcoming an obstacle that once seemed too big to handle. Lastly I would pass out the “I Am” poem template and read “The Delight Song of Tsoai-Talee” by N. Scott Momaday and have the students write their own “I Am” poem.

Extending the Unit:

            I would have students find a different poem, vignette, or song that has the same idea as “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou. Students will present their findings to the class and after each student has presented their finding, the class as a group will take a piece from the presentation (this will be done after each student presents). These fragments will be used to create a whole new poem making sure they use different figures of speech and rhythmic patterns they have been shown in class.

            I would also have students go through magazines and find words, or create their own words, in order to create a short poem or vignette. The only guidelines of this project would be to be creative.

YA Poetry:

            The following are taken from Full citations are located on the works cited page.

1.     Things I Have to Tell You: Poems and Writings by Teenage Girls by Betsy Franco

a.     A collection of poems written by young women across the world showing struggles and issues they personally deal with.

2.     How to (Un)cage a Girl by Francesca Lia Block

a.     A collection of poems geared towards girls and deals with subjects on boys, self-image, fashion, popularity, etc.

3.     You Remind Me Of You: A Poetry Memoir by Eireann Corrigan

a.     An autobiographical account of a young girl dealing with an eating disorder and her recovery.

4.     Tell The World by WritersCorps

a.     A collection of poems written by teens on their hopes, dreams, and thoughts.

Final Activity/project:

Concluding the unit I would have students construct a final poem or series of vignettes. They would be required to use the Poetry Analysis worksheet as a guide and create a poem or series of vignettes about an issue in their lives (school, personal, political, etc) they have witnessed or have struggled with.









Works Cited

Angelou, Maya. “Still I Rise.” Poem Hunter. Poem Hunter, 2012. Web. 6 Nov. 2012.

Block, Francesca Lia. How to (Un)cage a Girl. New York: HarperTeen, 2008. Print.

Corrigan, Eireann.  You Remind Me Of You: A Poetry Memoir. New York: Scholastic Inc. Print.


 Creech, Sharon. Love That Dog. New York: HarperCollins, 2001. Print.

Franco, Betsy. Things I Have to Tell You: Poems and Writings by Teenage Girls. Candlewick. 2001. Print.

Hesse, Karen. Witness. New York: Scholastic Inc, 2001. Print.

Momaday, N. Scott. “The Delight Song of Tsoai-Talee.” Class handout. Print.

Shihan. “Shihan on Def Poetry Jam.” YouTube, 30 Apr. 2007. Web. 6 Nov. 2012.

Simic, Charles. “Fork.” Poetry Foundation. Poetry Foundation, 2012. Web. 6 Nov. 2012.

Worth Dying For. “Destroy.” Love Riot. 2011. CD.

Writerscorp. Tell The World. New York: HarperTeen. 2008. Print.