Day 1 - Read Aloud Selection: James Haskins' "African Beginnings"
This non-fiction resource presents background info regarding great empires that once existed in Africa pre-Columbus. Students will generally learn that Africa was once a thriving continent with flourishing nations—from Egypt and Mali to Timbuktu and Zimbabwe—whose reign proved both impressive and extensive. They too will learn that before the implementation of European chattel slavery, African people were involved in transcontinental commerce. Map studies, with emphasis on the use of directionality skills to locate geographic landmarks cited in the readings, will be incorporated into the lesson.
Day 2 – Poetry Selections:
Eloise Greenfield's "Africa Dream" and Langston Hughes' "The Negro Speaks of Rivers"
Before beginning the reading of Greenfield's poem, introduce key vocabulary (i.e.,
African descent, knelt, mangoes, village, hut
[to avoid stereotypical connotation, provide an alternate descriptor, i.e
., thatched-roof houses
]). Invite children to imagine long-ago Africa, to think about what life must have been like back then. Then, introduce Greenfield's poem, reading the opening lines slowly, methodically, rhythmically. Ask the children to close their eyes and listen intently as you read each line. The first stanza speaks of one traveling to long-ago Africa. The wording sparks images of an African elder or grandfather outstretching his arms to embrace an inquisitive child. On bended knee amid tall mango trees, knowledge and cultural wisdom are passed down, and spirit-filled family connections are rhythmically made.
Subsequently ask, "What sounds did you hear in the poem, and what did those sounds remind you of?" Responses will vary. Many of my students noted the words within each stanza made them feel cozy and welcomed. Cierrah—a child who rarely speaks up in class—shared that the words sounded soothing, like a lullaby. Avery commented that the words did not always rhyme like the poems he was used to hearing, but instead had a rhythm like that of a beautiful song. "What did you picture as you heard the words?" Responses again will vary: some students envision a person playing a
(a type of African drum) while others feel as if they were sailing across the ocean, drifting back to the past. Craigrianna noted the words made her feel connected to African people, as if African family members were reaching out to give her hugs, sharing how happy they were to meet one another.
Viewpoints shared, follow up with Langston Hughes' poetic creation. Before beginning, highlight that the term "Negro" was often used to describe black people during the Harlem Renaissance, a time period during which Hughes lived and became well known. Also introduce key words like
ancient, bosom, veins, dawns, dusky, lulled, pyramids
and the names of each river (the
) noted in the piece. (Note: Before and after introducing this poetic selection, have children locate the noted rivers on an overhead map. Through this interactive approach, children will experience the trek of black people from African throughout key regions in the world.) Then, begin:
I've known rivers:
I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than
the flow of human blood in human veins…
I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it…
This poem, with its repetitive lines, has a jazz-like quality that melodically connects the reader to the African past. Once again, invite students to close their eyes and envision a scene based on the tone and cadence of words within Hughes' poem as you read aloud. Reading completed, ask, "What images come to mind as you heard to each line?" Several of my students explained they were drawn to the descriptive wording and cadence of the work, comparing it to the ebb and flow of a tide reaching the shoreline. Others zeroed in on the rhythm of the poem, stating it felt like waves splashing and crashing against the side of a boat, fast and slow, fast and slow. This point of view held true for several of my students who connected with this feeling in the first three lines. Kenya connected with the melodic flow of the wording, sharing that the words "the flow of human blood in human veins" made her feel like her life was floating into the past. As a culminating exercise, read the poem once more, this time having students clap out the melodic words to feel the rhythm.
Day 3. Include these poems in the Prosody Station for ongoing review and practice to enhance fluency, intonation, and oral expression. Introduce other children's book resources (see Bibliographic Resource listing) to familiarize students with additional background information on African culture past and present. Using acquired info and Greenfield's poem as a model, have students create a short prose piece highlighting what they experienced during their imaginary, long ago or present-day excursion.