Determined Pencils Annotate Claude McKay's "When Dawn Comes to the City"

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SWBAT demonstrate understanding of figurative languageand word relationships by annotating supporting evidence from the poem "When Dawn Comes to the City."

Big Idea

Students will live a moment in class onomatopoeically ...whoopy!


10 minutes

Today's lesson's focus will be on figurative language or more specifically the poet's use of Onomatopoeia in the poem we will be reading and analyzing.  For the activator I want students to begin thinking of the use of poetic devices such as onomatopoeia.   I ask them to individually generate words that come to mind when they think of "sound" words related to:

  • water 
  • wind

Use of Literary Devices

After giving them a few minutes to generate their lists we have a brief group share.  I explain that the use of a literary device such as OnomatopoeiaL.9-10.5, or when a word's pronunciation imitates its sound can stimulate a readers imagination.  It can turn a story or a poem into something more memorable.  I then share an example of when I was young sometimes I would come home from school and lie heavily on the couch. I remember once overhearing my mother telling her friend, "When he came home he flopped on the couch."  She didn't say, "He fell heavily on the couch" Then I ask the students why?  The response I'm looking for is that saying "flopped" gives an idea of the sound involved and creates a picture in the listener's (or reader's) mind.

Building Knowledge

20 minutes

Poetry has emotion, imagery, rhythm, and sometimes rhyme. In this unit on poetry we cannot cover all the known poetic devices or terms, but instead I choose to focus on a few. Understanding my students interest, learning styles, and ability levels I choose to discuss and use some of the more commonly known and used devices such as Onomatopoeia which the author uses in "When Dawn Comes to the City."

If you have been following my lessons you know that I usually enhance my building knowledge activity with a short power point presentation. I explain why in my resource video Why I Use Power Point Presentations, but I also wanted to share a web site that I found helpful and gives you, the teacher a quick review of the do's and don'ts when using power point presentations with your students:


I begin with slide #1 A Review of Poetic Devices and ask students to think about what poetic device is used in the statement "Making Poetry Come Alive!"  I ask them to share their answer with a partner and then I ask a student to share their answer with the class.

Next students write the definition of Onomatopoeia in their journals and answer the questions in the preceding slides #2-4.  In my power point the water sounds can be faded in as well as the collision words. Active learning involves participation and discussion.  I first ask students to think of water and then collisions words, write them down and then share them with a partner. After they complete this Think- Pair, I pick on a few students to Share their answers with the class.

Those students that are working individually are the students I usually will pick to share their answers with the class (see Poetic Devices).  In this way I facilitate speaking and learning SL.9-10.1a with the majority of my students. I continue this process of reviewing the poetic devices with slides #5-8 (see Poetic Devices 2).


Student learning Activity

35 minutes

Background information  will help students to make connections to their learning. When there is a lack of background information I will fill in that gap for my students.  Students are told that Claude McKay, who was born in Jamaica, was a prolific Harlem Renaissance  poet and not unlike Richard Wright, who they were introduced to when they read Black Boy, was involved in workers rights and joined the Communist party.  He later in his life embraced Catholicism, leaving the Communist party, and officially became an American citizen in 1940. 

After this brief bio of the author, I pass out the poem, When Dawn Comes to the City, and a Reading Guide that I designed to help my students engage in reading and analyzing the use of poetic devices.

Next I read the poem out loud and ask students to read along silently.  We then have a discussion about the poem's meaning.  I want them to understand that this poem is not about the individual people of Harlem, but rather about the city itself and that the poet uses many poetic devices to enhance the imagery and readers imagination. 

I then share the following - that in this poem, the poet describes a typical day for African Americans in Harlem during the Harlem Renaissace. All of the poetic devices in this poem combine to create the feeling of Harlem at the time; each element or poetic device individually creates its own part of a feeling of the hustle and bustle in the city.

After the first reading I bring students attention to the first stanza.  They annotate for examples of simile, personification, onomatopoeia, and metaphor RL.9-10.2.

I facilitate student feedback by using a docucamera to project the Reading Guide on a screen while asking for examples of the poetic device used in the first stanza.  

This sample of a student's work, Student Reading Guide, illustrates her understanding of many of the devices used and her confusion with metaphor. We discussed that the only reference to humans in this poem occurs in the stanzas about New York. The first reference is to “dark figures” sadly shuffling to work, and the second is of “a lonely newsboy” hurrying by RL.9-10.1.

Students are then asked to independently read stanza's 2-4 and annotate by writing the first letter of the device(s) next to each statement (see Annotating Poem) .  I circulate among the class checking for understanding and maintaining student participation.

Wrap Up

10 minutes

Wrapping it all up

For the Wrap Up I ask students to identify the shift that occurs in this poem by writing the tone words next to the stanza which will help them to idenitfy and write about when the shift happens.  After giving them about 5 minutes to complete this, I pick a few students to share their answers with the class and ask those who did not identify the shift and tone words to do so as required in standard RL.9-10.4.

I want my students to understand that McKay compares the dull, almost monotonous activities in New York to the more enjoyable mornings in his homeland, Jamaica. McKay compares the dull, almost monotonous activities in New York to the more enjoyable mornings in his homeland. I point out that McKay uses diction, personification, and onomatopoeia throughout the poem with different effects. The shift occurs in the stanzas written about the "island of the sea," and the repetition is a lot more upbeat.