G. Casey Cassidy
VII. Lesson Plans
My first lesson involves one of my favorite Langston Hughes poems. “Mother to Son” is especially meaningful to me because it provides a positive basis for motivating many of my alternative program students. The poem wonderfully compares the difficulties and the hardships of life to the climbing of a stairway, perhaps in a tenement, with “tacks in it,/ And splinters, And boards torn up,/ And places with no carpet on the floor — Bare.” This poem highlights the relationship of mother to child in a way that my students can easily understand. Throughout the poem, the mother seeks to encourage hope in her son, to motivate him to continue on with his life’s struggle — to persevere and, by his actions, to nourish new generations.
Initially students should have ample opportunity to read the poem to themselves, after which a volunteer will read orally to the class. These activities will help to stimulate group discussions of comprehensive issues concerning the poem, such as:
1. What does the mother compare life to?
2. Describe the obstacles on the stairs.
3. What kind of advice is the mother giving to her son?
4. How old do you think the mother and son are? Do you think age plays an important part in this poem?
5. Have your parents or relatives ever given you advice? What was it and did it help you to make better decisions?
Reading poetry aloud in classroom environments allows students to develop communication skills such as enunciation and intonation. Because poetry can be a form of storytelling, students will have the opportunity to explore the content of a poem: that is, the characters, the theme, the time and place, and the conflict and its resolutions. Their listening skills can also improve as well.
lesson focuses on Paul Dunbar and his masterful poem/ballad “The Haunted Oak”. This piece evinces strong racial pride and a spirit of protest. The poem is a story of a guiltless man who was accused of “the old, old crime,” spirited away from jail by a lynching mob, and hung on a “haunted bough” in the middle of the night. The oak says: “I feel the rope against my bark,/ And the weight of him in my grain,/ I feel in the throe of his final woe/ The touch of my own last pain.”
Students need to have a thorough understanding of the treatment of blacks in America. They should know the historical facts about slavery, lynching, racism, and discrimination. Because of the strong emotions of anger and rage that are generated by these topics, teachers need to prepare their students to vent their anger in a healthy manner, especially in multicultural classrooms. It is important that all students recognize the racism that has been inflicted upon black Americans because blacks still suffer today from many injustices incurred by their ancestors.
All students need to carefully analyze alternative ways of reacting to injustice. Teachers may choose to lead group discussions that focus on current injustices to minority peoples. Student ideas may be listed on the blackboard with individual topics to be discussed within smaller groupings as a follow-up lesson. Students may also seek to analyze the widespread occurrence of these injustices as they relate to time and to geographical locations.
It is important that all students recognize the reactions that black and white peoples have had to racism and they should understand which reactions have led to positive change. One of the most valuable functions of literature is that it helps us to analyze alternatives and their consequences without facing the consequences ourselves. We can learn from the mistakes of others as well as from their successes.
lesson highlights the poetry of Gwendolyn Brooks. Her imagery is visceral and multi-sensory, and she writes about racism, black pride, and her loving appreciation for the urban ghetto poor.
At first, I wanted to do a lesson on The Ballad of Rudolph Reed’ because we had so much success this year with Lorraine Hansberry’s “Raisin in the Sun”. Then I thought about doing “The Ballad of Pearl May Lee”, which was Langston Hughes’s favorite. I finally decided on Brooks’s “We Real Cool” and “A Song in the Front Yard” because the themes of both these works reflect the approximate ages of my students and their sociological and cultural backgrounds.
“we Real Cool” is a small poem consisting of only eight lines with three words on each line that depicts young dropouts from school and the alternative activities that they seek to engage in. This multi-sensory poem contains excellent examples of repetition, rhyme, and alliteration. Within the context of this poem, teachers will be able to point out instences of these poetic techniques. At Clemente School, dropping out is a real coming event for many students. Perhaps this poem will give them an opportunity to rethink their situation before it is too late.
“A Song in the Front Yard” is a longer poem with four stanzas, which depicts a young girl who is curious to go beyond her front yard to learn about the back alleys and the “charity children” and to “strut down the streets with paint on my [her] face”. This poem illustrates the use of rhyme and imagery and also allows for a comparison/contrast between life in her front yard and the “wonderful things” to be found in the back.
After each student has read these poems silently and orally, the teacher should lead the class discussion with ideas that relate to the skills which I have mentioned in each of these poems. Follow-up activities may include writing a story or a poem about someone that your parents forbid you to see.
Additional Suggested Activities
* Oral Speaking
After having read a wide selection of Dunbar, Hughes, and Brooks, students will have the opportunity to select an individual piece to memorize and subsequently to present to the class.
As a culminating activity to Hughes’s poetry, students will have the opportunity to listen to the “sweet music” of Langston Hughes. An MGM L.P. record entitled “The Weary Blues and Other Poems” was created in 1958 with jazz background provided by Charles Mingus and other talented musicians.
* Write a biographical report of the poet’s life.
* Copy your favorite poem and illustrate it.
* List some dreams that you have for your future. What can be done to help them to happen?
* Make a “My Favorite Poems” booklet by copying several of your favorite poems.
* Create a poem to share with your class.