Dylan Thomas v. Langston Hughes

2 teachers like this lesson
Print Lesson


Given poems by Dylan Thomas and Langston Hughes, SWBAT determine the differing structure, style, and content of each poem.

Big Idea

Students explore the work of two poets who were contemporaries of the young Walter Dean Myers.

Chapter 12: Did You Read It?

5 minutes

Since my students had to finish reading chapter 12 of Bad Boy for homework, yet that does not make for enough reading from which to develop a reading quiz, I instead begin class by asking the whole group to name one of the two writers Myers mentions in chapter 12 in order to set the stage for the lesson's focus.  In order to maintain the motivation for keeping up with their reading alive, I give a bonus point towards their recent reading quiz to the students who are able to name the writers.

Focus on Dylan Thomas

30 minutes

I next explain to my students that today we will be analyzing the work of the two poets Myers mentions in chapter 12.

I distribute copies of two poems, one by each poet, on a front-to-back handout, focusing my students' attention first to the side that has the Dylan Thomas poem.  I explain to them that like a sonnet, this is another type of closed-form poem, called a villanelle, and that one of their tasks will be to determine as best they can what the criteria for a villanelle must be, based on what they see in the form. Additionally, their task is to interact with the poem on the right side of their copies, where they will try to determine what the poem is about.

I allow them to work with table partners for this exercise, adjusting partners to create a strategic pair of a stronger student with one who may struggle whenever necessary.  By this point in the year, however, I generally have my seating arrangements in class set up so that such students sit near each other, making it easier and less noticeable to pair them this way on occasion.

I give my students approximately 15 minutes to work as partners, and then we reconvene as a whole group to discuss their determinations for an additional 15 minutes.  While I anticipate that they will detect the rhyme scheme and the refrain in the villanelle, I am curious to see if any students are able to detect the iambic pentameter.  

In terms of the content of the poem, I believe that many will identify the metaphor of "not going into the night" as death/dying, having worked extensively with decoding figurative language throughout our unit on The House On Mango Street.  I am less certain that most will detect the pattern that Thomas develops in each stanza, the way he references the different types of men, until he finally addresses his father directly in the final stanza.  This should provide me with an opportunity to stress the importance of noticing patterns in a piece of writing as a means towards better comprehension.

Before we move on to the Langston Hughes poem, I play a youtube clip of Dylan Thomas' own reading of his poem, stressing to my students that whenever they have the opportunity to hear a poet's version of his/her own work, they should seize the opportunity, for it often sheds new light on how a poem can be understood.  


After listening to Thomas, we will address whether or not his reading changes or adds any ideas to what has been discussed already, including addressing why they think the work of such a poet affected the young Walter Dean Myers.

Focus on Langston Hughes

30 minutes

When we have completed our investigation of the Thomas villanelle, I instruct my students to turn their handouts over in order to address the Langston Hughes Poem.  Working with the same partners, my students are instructed to perform the same two tasks to this poem.  First, I tell them to determine whether or not there is an imposed structure on the poem.  I like to leave the question open in this way, to encourage my students to identify the difference between closed form poetry and free verse poetry on their own.  Secondly, they will again use the right side of their handouts to determine as best they can what the poem is about (Student Interaction With Hughes Poem).  I allow another 15 minutes for partner work, which will then transition to a final 15 minutes of whole group discussion of the Hughes poem.

The Hughes poem should be considerably easier for my students to access.  I have selected this particular poem because of its relevant subject matter, in that I am hoping that my students are able to make the connection that the concerns that Hughes expresses in the poem are very much in line with what the young Walter Dean Myers was grappling with at this point in Bad Boy.  In fact, the Hughes poem could very well have even been written by Myers, though it is ironic that he was not drawn to the work of Hughes as an adolescent.  On this note, I will then ask my students where they stand with comparing the two poems, whether they, like Myers, prefer the style of Thomas over that of Hughes.

Though I was unable to find a reading of the Hughes poem by Hughes himself, I was able to locate two different readings by other individuals, here and here, to show my students.  

After they watch both clips, we will close our discussion of the Hughes poem by comparing the two readings and how each interprets the delivery of the poem in vastly different ways.

Closure: Poetry Reading Prep

5 minutes

Before my students leave for the day, I remind them that their sonnets and odes are due the next class session, for our poetry reading.  I even offer that if any one of them would like to put in the time to write a villanelle instead, now that they know how, they may do so.