"The Negro Speaks of Rivers:" Students Speak (and Write) of Theme

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SWBAT identify and interpret themes and give supporting evidence from the poem by using a TP-CASTT template. SWBAT write poetry in the style of Langston Hughes by completing an "I Am" poem template.

Big Idea

"I Am" Langston Hughes.


15 minutes

To begin this lesson I want my students to engage in the act of writing low-stakes poetry.  Thus, I want them to write a poem,.W.9-10.10 and W.9-10.3, which is non-threatening, but expressive of who they are.  I pass out an I AM poem template and ask students to individually answer the questions as I walk around the classroom checking for understanding while students complete their poems (See this example of a  Student I AM poem) .  While they complete their poems, I circulate among them and encourage their engagement in this activity, as you can see in the clip, I AM poem .

Before moving on to the building knowledge section of the class, I facilitate the sharing of the students "I Am" poems with the class and/or partners.

Building Knowledge

20 minutes

Poetry Out Loud

I begin with a reading of Langston Hughes's "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" by a student from a Poetry Out Loud video:


I use Poetry Out Loud video clips simply because they engage my students in listening to peers recite poetry that they a re reading.  The students in Poetry Out Loud are from diverse cultures and races therefore represent a wide range of student populations.  For these reasons I highly recommend you using this site when teaching poetry.


Next I ask students to comment on the poem by asking these questions:

  • How did you feel while listening to this student read the poem?
  • Why did Hughes talk about the rivers as blood in his veins?
  • Was this a serious poem? Why or why not?


What questions might you ask after your students listened to this video?

I next review the TP-CASTT template for analyzing poetry.  I like using this organizer because with practice it can help my students engage in the poem as well as develop an objective understanding of the poetic devices an author uses to create a poem .RL.9-10.4, and begin to grasp theme, RL.9-10.2.

Next I review and model with class input, the TP-CASTT Poetry Analysis sheet for the poem, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers.”




Student Learning Activity

35 minutes

The words of a poem can change someone's life. Most high school students relate to song lyrics, i.e. rap, ballads, and poetry because it makes a connection in their own lives. The lessons and life challenges that are learned through the language of poetry can be powerful and stick with them for a lifetime. To help my students relate to Langston Hughes and his life, I decided to facilitate this experience by asking them to" become him" by writing an "I AM" poem.

Students are asked to write an "I AM" poem for Langston Hughes' “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” I AM Poem Hughes using an "I Am" poem template which asks them to convey a clear picture of his experiences W.9-10.3d .  They are asked to put them inside the speaker's "head" and answer the questions as if they were the poet (see student example in Hughes I AM poem). This task both addresses the students' knowledge of the message of the poem (RL.9-10.2), the experiences of the author/speaker (RL.9-10.3), as well as the writing style of the poet (W.9-10.9).

Wrap Up

10 minutes

Ticket to Leave

In order to briefly assess my students's understanding of the poem, I conduct a quick, verbal formative assessment by asking  them to give me a clear verbal answer SL.9-10.4 to the question, After reading the poem "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" and completing an I AM poem, what did you learn about Langston Hughes and the poems theme?