I Hear America (and Classmates) Singing
An Engaging Poetry Interpretation & Analysis Project
NOTE: This project is a version of “Bringing Poetry to the People” with the added focus of drawing upon American Literature and its themes through POP-SONGS. You are welcome, however, to extend it to include any poetry as well as pop music if you wish.
While English classes have often dabbled in the nexus between poetry and pop music, this highly engaging project encourages students to meld creative interpretation with analytical thinking and writing. It gives them autonomy to choose a poem or pop-song they wish to explore, and it challenges them to combine deep analysis with creative expression for public consumption.
In essence, students will pick a poem/song, analyze it, and share it with the class in some creative fashion.
This project is suitable for most middle or high school classrooms. It has been used primarily at the high school level, so many students have encountered some of the poetry elements before, and that is perfectly acceptable. This project is designed to…
- Rekindle an appreciation (or passion) for poetry
- Reinforce deep reading & analytic skills (with poetic elements as the focus)
- Celebrate creative interpretation & communication of ideas (both written & oral)
- Build empathy, respect & camaraderie among classmates
What you get:
- “Poet’s Palette” packet of poetic elements
- Sample poem models to illustrate poetic elements from “Poet’s Palette”
- Interpreting vs. Composing Poetry Graphic handout
- Poet Elements Quiz (and KEY)
- “I Hear America (& Classmates) Singing” Assignment (w/ suggested exhibition ideas)
- Student & Teacher Models to demonstrate written notes that dig deep
- Exhibition Feedback Forms
- Rubric for creative exhibitions
- Rubric for written analysis
What you’ll do with students:
1. Review Poet’s Palette elements (enclosed)
2. Launch “Bringing Poetry to the People” project (It’s beneficial to give students some advanced notice, possibly during the aforementioned review, that they will be selecting a poem/song of their choice for this project.)
3. Have students sign up their selections (Decide if you will allow duplicates here. If students duplicate selections, it can be quite interesting to see the varying interpretations. However, there are typically few duplicates, and you’re welcome to forbid them if you wish for more variety.)
4. Provide appropriate work time for BOTH written analysis & creative exhibition
5. Enjoy the exhibitions!!
Spend a few days introducing/reviewing the “Poet’s Palette” elements using the handouts and sample poems provided (Of course, you may feel free to add any other poetic elements or poems as you see fit). The “Interpreting vs. Composing Poetry” graphic handout is also helpful early on to help students see how poets and readers flow from macro to micro (see handout).
Once students have a command of Poetry Elements, launch the “Bringing Poetry to the People” project by previewing and walking students through the handouts (including sample “mark-up” documents). It is HIGHLY recommended that teachers model a creative exhibition by selecting their own piece to interpret for the class. You’ll be modeling what you’re looking for, cultivating good will with students, AND showing them that you’re willing to make yourself vulnerable in front of the class. (I’ve done a dramatic reading/singing in costume of Lou Reed’s “X-mas in February.”)
Ask students to select a poem or pop-song to analyze (in writing) and then creatively exhibit for the class.
Be prepared to assess the written analyses privately & the creative exhibitions in the public forum that is your classroom. (While I tell students to do the analysis FIRST in order to inform their creative interpretation, I collect everything at the end of their exhibitions. I attach my real-time exhibition notes directly to their written work along with a clean written-analysis rubric to be filled out later when I assess the written piece. That way I can return the project in its entirety to each student.)
Leave approximately 5 minutes for each exhibition. For a class of 20 students, that means 100 minutes, which could mean 3 class periods in some cases. HOWEVER, with some students using props or technology or rearranging the classroom layout, it could take even more time. It’s possible you’ll need an entire week for the exhibitions, which should be fine, and should be enjoyable. I’ve found that a little extra time, a little more breathing room, makes for a much more enjoyable and enriching experience. (NOTE: I once had a student escort the class to select school locations and read pieces of a poem accompanied by a saxophone player. Another student set up an easel & canvas and painted an original work right before our eyes as a pop-song played. These took a bit longer, but it was enriching for all!)
Determine how much time your students will need in and out of class to prepare BOTH the written analysis AND creative exhibition portions of the project and plan accordingly. If students breeze through the review of “Poet’s Palette” elements (in a day or two), you could probably complete the written analysis & planning/prep for the creative exhibition in the first week, leaving the second week open entirely for presentations.
Utilize the relatively straightforward Poetry Elements Quiz if you see fit (enclosed w/ Key)
If time, you may incorporate an immediate feedback option into the exhibitions (Feedback Form enclosed). Students truly appreciate positive & constructive feedback from their peers, and you could even parlay that into a “People’s Choice” Award at the very end of the exhibitions in which students select their favorite exhibition (and maybe a nice prize, like a poetry book, goes to the winner).