Amanda Gorman’s poem at President Joe Biden’s inauguration was a show stopper. My thoughts were spinning trying to absorb the poem, analyze it, and witness the sheer impact of a young black woman reciting a poem at an inauguration.
As a teacher and a mother, I can’t emphasize how incredibly important it was to see a young black woman reciting a poem at such a historical event. It presses the importance of the humanities to unify and give voice to people. It shows children that you can excel and be exceptional even at a young age.
I printed out her poem just so I could look through it and analyze it. And annotate, cause I mean, English teacher. I scribbled so many questions in the margins and read through it multiple times, combed through for allusions, and looked up her short but accomplishment filled biography. Harvard grad. LA Youth Poet Laureate. National Youth Poet Laureate. I read up on her influences and what research she turned to while writing the poem: Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglas, Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes, Lin Manuel-Miranda.
And I boiled it down into a lesson because this is a poem that needs to be taught, especially given the political climate of the nation following the Capitol Insurrection.
So how am I going to teach this poem?
Watch the Recitation
I always like to start any lesson by looking for a recitation or live performance of the piece. Writers know where they want to stress a word or place a pause, and it can give a totally different meaning to how you interpret a poem. While students listen to the poem, I have a graphic organizer for students to be able to record their thoughts and questions. After they’ve done this, I have them do a pair-share and open up the class to discussion for a few minutes before moving on to the guided questions. This gets students interested and in the right mindset for answer questions.
I then have students read through the poem and annotate using a guide. It seems similar to the first step but it gets students into a healthy study habit. Similar to how every lesson plan I make starts with annotation, every analysis I have them do does too.
Students then read through the guided questions first (a test taking skill I have them practice) and then read through the poem with the questions in mind. This makes it so that if they find an answer on this read through, they can quickly turn to the question and answer it with a citation.
Gorman’s poem is filled with allusion and presents a great opportunity for students to review the standard on how other writers incorporate the works of their predecessors into their own pieces. For this, I pull up the sources I can find and have students dig through the poem for the matching allusion. Then I have students explain why an author might include allusions and how it works from a thematic perspective. The final step in this study it to have students pick a theme and incorporate thematically relevant allusions to write their own poem.
Essay or project
I tend to love essays and projects. Students get to demonstrate mastery of a variety of critical thinking skills and standards when they write long form. So an essay or project on Gorman’s poem would cover what Gorman’s overall message is and how she achieves it through use of poetic devices.
All in all, I believe this poem is going to become a staple in my curriculum.