Elements of Life in Harlem During the 1920's and 1930's: Analyzing Poems to Discover Harlem Renaissance Poets’ Point of view and Purpose

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SWBAT describe and determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text and analyze a poem by employing a variety of close reading strategies.

Big Idea

How did life in Harlem affect Harlem Renaissance poets?


5 minutes

Anticipation Guide

I remind my students that the poem we read yesterday during the Jazz Cafe lesson was written by a poet who was part of the Harlem Renaissance.  Throughout this unit, I want my students to be able to be able to identify the themes of the Harlem Renaissance and the impact that these writers had on our society.

To begin to focus on the themes of the Harlem Renaissance,  I pass out an Anticipation Guide.  I then explain that the questions are to be answered by agreeing or disagreeing with the statements made. I want to asses my students' attitudes toward the themes of the Harlem Renaissance and the history of African Americans in America, as well as discover one theme of the Harlem Renaissance, that the creation of this music and literature provided a source of pride and recognition for African Americans,  RL.9-10.2

After students complete answering the questions I collect them and explain that as we complete this unit they will understand which of their answers are correct and which are misunderstandings.

Building Knowledge

25 minutes

I begin by projecting an adapted  powerpoint presentation, Elements of Harlem Critical Thinking, and explain what I mean by "describing," slides #2-3, and when they may want to describe things and events in our lives. I then explain in slides #4, that we will be reading excerpts from essays written about the Harlem Renaissance era and will be writing descriptions of what life was like during the Harlem Renaissance based on the evidence presented in the excerpts read, RI.9-10.1. 

Next, I pass out the Elements of Harlem Life Organizer.  Students use their organizer to list the elements of life in Harlem described in each excerpt.  I project the text on a screen and begin with the first excerpt, slides #5-6, from "Seventh Avenue: The Great Black Way," while modeling how to list the elements described in the excerpt.  For my visual learners I also added photos to illustrate the excerpt's themes.  

I then project the second excerpt, slides #9-11, and ask students to work with a partner, SL.9-10.1b to list the elements of life described in this excerpt.  After giving them a few minutes to complete this task, I pick a student to share his or her answer and then display my answer on the screen asking them to add information to theirs if necessary.  

We continue with this process until finished reading all the excerpts at which time I ask them to write a few sentences synthesizing the information that they've written to describe life in Harlem during the 1920's and 1930's.


Before reading poetry during the student learning activity,I project words on a screen using a docucamera and I ask students to watch for the the following vocabulary words L.9-10.4 as they read The Tropics in New York: 

  • benediction - blessing
  • laden - loaded; burdened
  • mystical - supernatural; other wordly 

and Harlem Wine:

  • blithe - cheerful
  • ecstatic - overjoyed; enthusiastic
  • woo - invite

As we read the poem I suggest that students annotate the poem by adding these definitions over each word when read. This will help students to better understand the poems and also increase their vocabulary knowledge. 



Student Learning Activity Tropics in New York

15 minutes

I begin by explaining that we will be reading and analyzing two poems written during the Harlem Renaissance era.  I hand out both poems The Tropics of New York and Harlem Wine and as a class we will first read and analyze The Tropics in New York. These two poems give two separate, but insightful views of Harlem life during the Renaissance era. The Tropics of New York tells of a man who came to Harlem from a land of abundant tropical fruit and country living. Harlem Wine equates the artistic movement of the Harlem Renaissance with flowing wine. Thus, both poems are similar in their focus on food and drink in comparison to the Harlem Renaissance which makes them both a good choice for today's lesson on inquiry.  

Before reading the poem, The Tropics of New York,  I explain to the students that the author was born and raised in Jamaica and did not come to the United States and New York until he was 22 years old. This is important background information to share with the students as it provides clarity into how the author is able to make the comparisons he does.  I then ask students to predict what they think the poem will be about by reading the title and I ask a few students to share their predictions.  This will help to engage the students. Now I'm ready to read the poem out loud while asking students to read it silently "in their heads."  I then ask them to write the definitions to the vocabulary words over the words in the poem and we read it a second time in order to clarify meaning. 

Differentiated Activity

I now hand out the DISCUSSION of POEM Activity Sheet for The Tropics of New York and envelopes with answer strips in them. I ask students to work with a partner to match the sentence strips to the correct questions asked on the activity sheet.  I circulate among the students checking for understanding and keeping them focused on the task.  After about 5 minutes, as a class we review the correct answers. This activity with sentence strips is a good scaffolding technique for students as it helps them learn how to analyze and discuss a poem, which may be a new technique for some students, before they do so independently, without scaffolding support, in the next section of the lesson.

Student Activity Harlem Wine

20 minutes

Before reading the second  poem, Harlem Wine, I again ask students to predict from the title what the poem will be about and then choose a few students to report out. I explain that the word "This" in the poem is the amazing creativity of the Harlem Renaissance era. I then readHarlem Wine out loud as they read it silently. I ask them to write the definitions of the vocabulary words over each word and we read it a second time.

Next, I ask if they can identify examples of figurative language as required in standard RI.9-10.4, such as personification and then analyze the effects of those examples of figurative language on the meaning of the poem?  After getting their responses, I give a few examples by explaining that Cullen says that the streams are "rebellious," the wine flows "not caring."

Academic Choice

To demonstrate their analytical ability to describe and determine the author’s point of view or purpose in the poem Harlem Wine, I give students the academic choice of either:

  1. answering the questions on the Discussion of Poem Activity Sheetstudent work or
  2. using a TP-CASTT Poetry Analysis sheet or
  3. draw and write a four frame comic strip which illustrates the meaning of the poem's:
  • Title
  • Stanza 2
  • Stanza 3
  • Stanza 4

All three activity's will require them to cite evidence from the poem to support their answers RI.9-10.1, describing the author's point of view and purpose. All the materials, activity sheets, and comic strips with colored pencils are placed on a table in front of the classroom for students to get for their chosen assessment tool.

In this lesson I purposely guide students through the first poem and then allow them to work more independently on the second poem as a way of modeling how to answer analytical questions, scaffolding interventions which support engagement, and differentiating instruction.  This method of teaching is especially necessary and effective with mixed ability classes.  

Wrap Up

10 minutes

Gallery Share

Before the Gallery Share I ask students to think about what an author's purpose or point of view is for one of the poems, RL.9-10.6.  I then ask them to share their thoughts with a partner after which I choose one or two students to report out by including evidence from the poem to support their answer.  

Next, to the support students' work and to reinforce the lessons objectives, using my docucamera I will pick a sample of a student's work to share with the class. Ideally I would want one example from each chosen activity.