Singing of Yourself & Others: Whitman's "Song of Myself"

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SWBAT propel a well-reasoned exchange of ideas on tone and figures of speech by referring to evidence found in Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself," and analyze how main ideas about Whitman's time period are presented in order to clearly share their findings with the class.

Big Idea

Students sing of themselves and celebrate themselves, and analyze some poetry, too.

Introduction & Welcome: It's National Croissant Day!

3 minutes

I open class with "Happy National Croissant Day!" and point out that in contrast with today's holiday, today's author is distinctly American. I let students know we'll be looking at figures of speech and tone in Whitman's "Song of Myself" in class today. 

As always, Daily Holidays serve to encourage students to participate and to build a sense of community and trust within the classroom.

"Song of Myself", Discussion of Whitman

25 minutes

Students have read sections/stanzas 1, 6, and 52 of Whitman's "Song of Myself." In order to identify and discuss the figures of speech and tone in Whitman's "Song of Myself," I post large paper in the room, and ask for students to share their examples of:

1. Figures of speech, as well as what figure of they think it is.

2. Tone, as well as the tone they feel the line expresses.

By sharing their ideas this way, students are able to get up and move around a bit more, appealing to the needs of the kinesthetic learners; give evidence of the central theme of the piece (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.2); and share the evidence they have prepared for discussion today (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1a), in a manner that allows a level of anonymous comfort. 

Once students have petered out writing their responses, I read their examples of tone so the entire class can see/hear what they came up with. Through their examples, we determine the overall tone of the piece, and how it emerges and is shaped by these examples (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.4); ultimately, I'm directing students to be able to objectively be able to identify "celebratory" as the tone, particularly as established in the first line, "CELEBRATE myself, and sing myself." 

Once students have a clear understanding (visual check for understanding, seek volunteers to explain) the tone, we move on to their examples of figures of speech. As I read through their examples, I may ask for explanation of the role of each figure of speech in the text (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.4); the anonymity of the responses allows students to help each other out without feeling singled out. I seek to direct the students to understand the following examples:

1. metaphor: the grass as a metaphor for the world as a whole, life.

2. metaphor: "the handkerchief of the Lord, A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropt," implying the earth is a gift from a higher power to humanity. 

3. personification, and each's role in the speaker's story:

A. of the grass, "the grass itself is a child"

B. the dirt, as himself and himself as dirt

C. the hawk, "accuses me, he complains of my gab and my loitering."or

4. hyperbole: exaggeration of the speaker's "barbaric yawp"

As well as any other examples the students find. 

These examples provide a wide sampling of the use of figures of speech in the poem, and also are the most specific examples of the figures of speech. Through our discussion, students propel the conversation by posing and responding to questions on the broader theme of the connection between all living things, and challenge or defend their ideas and conclusions (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1c).

I also collect the homework, in order to see students' personal reactions to Whitman, and evaluate paragraph structure.  


Jigsaw Reading: Understanding The World at the Time

20 minutes

Leaving Walt Whitman and moving into the study of Realism, Regionalism, and Naturalism, students read a selection on the historical background of the Civil War and the Gilded Age. Because these literary movements are closely coupled to the cultural currents in America at the time of their popularity, students need an understanding of the historical background and context. As students in our school do not study American History until Grade 11/Junior year, I provide a "glimpse" into this background via a jigsaw reading. 

The University of Houston's Digital History program provides good selections to draw from for this jigsaw: The Civil War, Reconstruction, and The Gilded Age, and the literature of these time periods. (The University of Houston's "Digital History" project provides strong readings on this period for students to use in this Jigsaw).

The number of groups and numbers of students in each group are determined by the number of reading selections. For this jigsaw, each group is assigned a selection, and the following directions are projected in the front of the room:

Jigsaw Reading Directions:

1. In your group, read the assigned selection.

2. On a sheet of newsprint poster paper:

A. Give the title of the section

B. Three to five details/important facts

C. Draw an image that sums up the main idea of the section.

3. Present your image and main ideas to the class.

4. Take notes on each section during the presentations. 

(Jigsaw Group Work Sample)

The three to five details/important facts provide strong and thorough textual evidence (RI.9-10.1) for students to come to a conclusion on how the main idea of each historical section is developed over the course of reading (presented as an illustration) (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2).  By working collaboratively, students draw from each other in order to present their information, findings, and supporting evidence clearly, concisely, and logically such that listeners can follow and take notes on this information (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.4). 

Students will have additional time in class tomorrow to complete this activity. 

Two-Minute Warning: Wrap-Up & Reminders

2 minutes

With two minutes remaining, students are called back to their regular seats. There's no homework for tonight, as we'll be completing and reporting on the in-class jigsaw reading on the history of the "Civil War" and "The Gilded Age" in class tomorrow.