Students Analyze and Interpret Poems Depicting "The Blues" Through Annotation and Drawing

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SWBAT analyze the effects of form, tone, and figurative language in poems by illustrating the poems they read.

Big Idea

Today is all about reading, analyzing and interpreting "sad poetry."


10 minutes

To prepare my students for the tone of the poems they will read I first ask students to think about the saying, "I got the blues" and ask them to share what they think it means.

Next I project this quote on a screen with a docucamera explaining that Langston Hughes once remarked: “…blues had the pulse beat of the people who keep on going.”  I then ask, "What does this quotation mean?" I then instruct them to develop their explanation in a few sentences in their journals and share with a partner SL.9-10.1.  I then pick 1-2 students to share their answers with the class.


Building Knowledge

20 minutes

Sad Poems

I begin by explaining that "the Blues" is associated with difficulties in life.  Poets write sad poems about a variety of experiences such as lost romance, broken friendships (which high school students are usually experts in...), loss from death, depression, etc.

I then ask them the question: "Why do sad poems and stories of emotional pain bring each of us a strange kind of pleasure?"  After a short discussion I share that there is no right or wrong answer and that I'm sure a poet would give their own unique answer.

I then explain that maybe, in the end, the answer really isn't so complex. A problem experienced by someone often grows too heavy to bear. I suggest that maybe, in the end, each of us knows that sharing our pain is the only way we can deal with the pain, and that's really what each of these poignantly sad poems are about - sharing with someone who wants to listen.

Next as a class we first read, analyze and then annotate Langston Hughes’ “Misery” for rhyme scheme, and tone RL.9-10.4.  I want students to determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone. 

After this task I project the illustration “Play De Blues” on a screen and as a class we analyze the emotions of the female singer by asking questions such as: "What does her body language tell you about how she is feeling?" "What do you think the wavy lines represent?" “Does this poem reflect the tone and theme of the poem 'Misery'?”  "Why or why not?" Students contribute their ideas as required in standard SL.9-10.1 and standard RL.9-10.7.

I facilitate a discussion by using the Cold Call technique of randomly calling on students.

Student Learning Activity

35 minutes

Next I pass out and project the poem  Love In Vain by R. Johnson on a screen and instruct students to annotate the poem for rhyme scheme, tone, and theme RL.9-10.2.  I circulate among them checking for understanding and keeping them focused on the task after which I facilitate a group reporting out while annotating for specific evidence RL.9-10.1 in the poem "Love in Vain" that is projected on the screen. 

I now tell my students that they will watch and listen to a performance of a musical rendition of “Love in Vain” followed by a short discussion comparing and contrasting the two poems “Love in Vain” and “Misery” for message and tone.  To facilitate engagement, I ask students to listen for any change in words from the written version of the poem "Love in Vain."

For the final part of the activity, I pass out colored pencils, and each student can either use an illustration strip that is divided into three sections, or draw in a designated box.  I then pass out another poem by Langston Hughes entitled “Lonesome Place” and read it out loud while students read to themselves.  I then instruct them to interpret the poem's theme and tone with an abstract or literal illustration RL.9-10.7.

During this activity I circulate among students checking for understanding and facilitating engagement in the task by asking interpretive questions of the students illustrations

Wrap Up

10 minutes


I do not wan to stop the momentum of this lesson so students will work on their illustrations until the end of the period. Those who do not complete the task are expected to complete their illustrations for homework.  Completed products will be graded and posted on the class "Student Work" bulletin board the following day.