Students Take an Analytic Bite Out of the Song and Poem "Strange Fruit"

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SWBAT identify and analyze the effects of figurative language on theme, mood and tone by using a TP-CASTT template and Venn Diagram.

Big Idea

How does reading and listening to the poem "Strange Fruit" help my students gain a deeper understanding of racism?


10 minutes

I want the activator for this lesson to do what the activator is designed to do, get my students' minds active and engaged by stirring up the pot because I understand that what I do immediately before and immediately after the learning experience may matter as much as the learning experience itself.

In this activity I am not that concerned with their conventions when writing their responses because I want them to express themselves freely and quickly without concern for spelling or grammar.  I begin by asking students to answer the question, "What comes to mind when you think about the words "strange fruit?" They will answer the question by writing at least two sentences in their journals.  This is followed by a quick sharing of responses. 

Building Knowledge

20 minutes

I want to first build some back ground knowledge of the poem's author, Abel Merropol, by explaining that in 1937 he was a Jewish schoolteacher who lived in New York and saw a photograph that haunted him and consequently inspired the writing of the poem, Strange Fruit. I do not share what the photograph showed because I want them to discover the theme of the poem on their own as required in standard RL.9-10.2.

Next I facilitate a discussion by asking, "What might be different when listening to someone singing the words versus reading a poem?"  After a short discussion I tell students that we will be reading as well as listening to a musical rendition of the poem Strange Fruit, sung by a famous American jazz/blues singer, Billie Holiday.  I give them additional background knowledge by explaining that after the poem's author saw  Billie Holiday perform at the club, Cafe Society, in New York City, the author, Meeropol, showed her the poem.  Billie Holiday was very moved by it and turned the poem into the song, Strange Fruit.  Because of her recording the poem became very well known.

Student Learning Activity

35 minutes

Now I pass out the poem Strange Fruit and the TP-CASST poem analysis template.  I first ask students to write a sentence under "predicting the title" from their journal responses.  I next read the poem aloud while students read silently.  I then ask them to read the poem again while annotating for figurative language and meaning RL.9-10.4.  

As students annotate and cite evidence RL.9-10.1 from the poem while writing their analytical responses using the TP-CASTT template,  I circulate among them asking questions to check for understanding

Next I pass out a Venn Diagram and ask students to listen to the musical rendition of "Strange Fruit" sung by Billie Holiday.  After watching and listening to this performance, they will use the Venn Diagram to compare and contrast the written poem and the song for mood and tone.  This is followed by a discussion of the similarities and differences.

Wrap Up

10 minutes

Using your Venn Diagram...

For the Wrap Up activity I use the Cold Call technique of randomly calling on students.  I ask them  to share some of the differences and similarities in tone and mood from reading and listening to the musical rendition of the poem Strange Fruit as well as identifying an example of figurative language and its meaning.