Last night, National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman made history at as the first person to perform poetry at the event. Her poem spoke to the moment our country and world are in by honoring the everyday heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic—an educator, a nurse, and a military veteran. What’s also noteworthy, however, is that Gorman made this accomplishment during Black History Month.
This young Black woman captivated the nation country last month with the performance of her poem “The Hill We Climb” at the inauguration of President Joe Biden. Gorman’s inaugural poem ignited the public’s interest in not only her, but in poetry.
As we celebrate Black History Month, and we think about poetry, it’s important to note that for hundreds of years, poetry has been used to talk about the collective experiences of the Black community. In the essay “200 Years of Afro-American Poetry,” how Black poetry has historically been utilized as a tool to protest inequality.
“In any case, over the years, the basic and most pertinent subject matter of Negro poetry has been not love, roses, moonlight, or death or sorrow in the abstract, but race, color, and the emotional problems related thereunto in a land that treats its black citizens, including poets, like pariahs.”
In the context of Black History Month, and with the renewed interest in poetry, now is a great time to examine how you can use poetry in your literacy lessons.
Some students—and teachers--tend to shy away from poetry, but poetry is a great medium to teach adult learners at varying reading levels. Without getting lost in a poet’s intended purpose for writing the poem, Nancy Padak’s “Poetry in the Adult Literacy Classroom” outlines how you can use poetry to aid in reading and writing instruction.
Comprehension: It’s natural to have a response to a poem, and responding to what you have read is key to comprehension. You should be able to use poetry with many different comprehension activities that you already use in your classroom.
Fluency: Poems are easy to read and reread many times over. By doing this, students build fluency, which we know is critical to becoming a good reader.
Phonics: For beginning readers, learning word parts, sounds, and families is very important. This can be accomplished through poems that rhyme.
Writing: Students can practice writing by responding to a poem. This also serves as a nice comprehension check. In addition, ask students to write their own poetry. This can be a fun activity, and there are several types of poems that can add variety to your lesson.
While looking for poetry to use, there’s plenty of Black poets to choose from. Some of the more well-known poets include Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, Maya Angelou, Robert Hayden, and even Gorman. You will find a list of poems by each at the bottom of their author page.