Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Social Justice Unit

by Shannon McLeod Mound

April is poetry month! I created these lessons for my twelfth grade English students, who attend a technical high school to study auto mechanics, IT, and other career-focused skills. This population is mostly made up of students who say they “hate reading” and are reluctant to write as well. Poetry is not something they’re typically enthusiastic about. I’ve tried to make poetry more relevant to my students by having them research social justice issues that are important to them and make those issues the focus of their original poems. The goal is to introduce poetry with lessons that first expose students to poetry that addresses social issues, then engage students in writing poems that reflect upon their chosen social issues.

Following the Process:

EXPOSURE: Students will define “performance poetry” and “social activism.” Then, they will listen to and read four poems: “Counting Graves” by the Steinmetz High School Slam Poetry Team, “OCD” by Nate Hilborn, “Advice to Rihanna” by Mahogany L. Browne, and “Arroz Poetica” by Arecelis Girmay. After they listen to/read each poem, they will write responses to questions about each poem’s topic, purpose, and success in a graphic organizer. We will discuss each poem and students’ responses as a class. I chose poems that dealt with a mix of both societal and interpersonal issues. Last year, students had mixed reactions, which inspired some interesting dialogue. I saved Girmay’s piece for last because it is the most challenging for students.( They tend to dislike the poems they struggle to understand.)

ENGAGEMENT: students will journal about whether they think writing can promote social justice. Then, they will read “Flint,” a poem about the water crisis by Flint youth poetry group Raise it Up! We discuss the poem, using close-reading strategies. Afterwards, students research social issues of interest and choose an article to read and annotate. This article will provide them with insight and inspiration for their first original poem. A very simple prompt with few stylistic restrictions would not be too intimidating for the class population. Students simply begin with the phrase, “It’s not right…” They can use this phrase for repetition throughout, or simply as a starter for their first line of the poem. For their second original poem, I have students focus on a more personal social issue and write a poem that uses the phrase, “The thing you don’t know about __________.” Prior years I had a few students write poems on police brutality, while another student wrote, “The thing you don’t know about football players.” These prompts allow students to engage in a wide range of topics. With assistance, students revise poems and then they each choose one of their pieces to perform for the class.

Steinmetz High School Slam Poetry Team, “Counting Graves”

Nate Hilborn,

Mahogany L. Browne,
“Advice to Rihanna”

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