What better way to get to know the work of Langston Hughes than by listening to the poet himself? Thanks to the internet students get to do just that. We visit poetry.org and listen to Hughes describe the inspiration for one of his most noted works and then to his reading of “The Negro Speaks of Rivers.”
Afterwards, we discuss who the speaker of the poem is. At first, students consider it to be the writer himself, but after thinking about the references to far away places and distant times they come to the decision that it is the voice of all Negro people. This leads to a conversation about the theme by considering what message the writer is trying to convey. The next topic that comes up is mood. They are getting good at moving from literary element to another and understanding the differences between them. Over and over during the discussion I find myself asking “What in the poem makes you think that?” It is important that students base their thinking on textual evidence.
Before moving on to class work, we talk about what we know about the life of Langston Hughes from the biography we recently read. Students pull out the paperwork and I encourage them to refer to this while reading his poetry. What do you know about his life that is confirmed in his poetry? What is surprising to you?
Today they are given a packet of poems by Langston Hughes to read and respond to. Some of the work is done on the Independent Reading Guide; while other work is completed on a digital document or on lined paper. Take a look at some samples here and here notice the difference between in the depth of analysis that occurs, as explained in this video.
I save at least 10 minutes at the end of class for students to share their work with others. They notice that others that chose the same poems may or may not have come to the same the conclusions. Now the tables are turned and I hear them asking each other: What in the poem makes you think that?