Transforming the Classroom into a Jazz Club: Analyzing "Jazzonia" and Writing Musical Poetry

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SWBAT analyze the poem Jazzonia for techniques used to create tone and mood by citing evidence to support their analysis. SWBAT write a short poem about their favorite type of music by employing the techniques and poetic devices that Harlem Renaissance poets used.

Big Idea

Creating a classroom Jazz Cafe makes the Harlem Renaissance come to life!


20 minutes

Today, I am trying something new and am transforming my classroom into a Jazz Club. You should include a Jazz Cafe lesson in your Harlem Renaissance lesson, too, because it literally and figuratively sets the stage for your students to engage in a lesson which gives them an experience of the jazz music of the 1920's -30's.  When you create a Jazz Cafe in your classroom, make sure to include music. Perhaps you could invite your school's Jazz Band to perform, but if that's not possible, you could share with your students a live a video recording of the jazz that was prevalent during the era. Set the mood and create a cafe environment by turning the lights down, and letting the students socialize just as they would if they were in a Jazz club in the 1920s.

As you can see in the paragraph above, this interdisciplinary lesson took some additional planning time to coordinate. I needed to schedule the school's jazz band to come to my class, prepare students to read the scripts for writers and musicians from the Harlem Renaissance era, and include another ELA 9 class, but it was worth the extra time and effort.

Creating an Environment of a 1920-30's Jazz Club

Note: Because of the unique classroom activities during this lesson, the times for each section are not exact, but approximate.

For the activator the students experience a Harlem Renaissance jazz club I call Jazzonia.  A jazz club background slide show presentation is projected on a screen during this part of the lesson to add the the environment of a jazz club in the 1930's.

The school's jazz band plays music while students socialize and enjoy the environment. During the “Jazz Club” experience a few students from other classes as well as a student from my class will give a short speech which help them to write or share with them to read aloud, SL.9-10.3,  while taking on a role of someone during the Harlem Renaissance.  I act as the MC and introducing the "guests" in the audience:

  • Langston Hughes
  • Zora Neal Hurston
  • Duke Ellington
  • Richard Wright

A reading of Langston Hughes' A Dream Deferred is an example of a student who takes the role of Langston Hughes while reading from a Fact Sheet that I wrote and they either memorized or read from the sheet. To create the mood of the jazz clubs, the jazz band plays some background chords while the speaker reads his poem.  

While students are listening to the speeches they are also asked to actively listen by writing their answers on a writing guide sheet to the question: One thing that is most memorable about what each speaker says. I ask them to write by answering this question so that they have notes on some important historical figures of the Harlem Renaissance that we can use in later lessons in this unit, and also to increase their memory and listening skills!


Building Knowledge

20 minutes

I begin this next section of the lesson by summarizing the jazz club experience. The band members then leave the classroom, the lights are turned back on and we begin the next part of the lesson by reading the poem Jazzonia by Langston Hughes.  I was excited after reading this poem because it gives a clear insight into Langston Hughes' rhythmical feelings and thoughts of his experience of the jazz clubs he frequented during the 1930's.  I first read it out loud as students read silently.  I then ask students to re-read the poem while annotating or citing evidence, RL.9-10.1, for techniques Hughes uses to establish a tone and mood in the poem: repetition, imagery, questions, and action words (diction), RL.9-10.4.  These techniques are written on the bottom of the poem as a scaffolding technique which serves to remind  to students to pay attention to these techniques as they read.

As students annotate the poem for repetition, imagery, questions, and vivid diction, I facilitate engagement by circulating around the room answering questions and keeping students focused on the task.  After they complete the task I facilitate a short group discussion on the techniques the author used to express his thoughts and experiences listening to jazz music in a jazz club by asking students to share their annotations, SL.9-10.1.

Student Learning Activity: Analyzing Imagery in Jazzonia

10 minutes

Analyzing Imagery in Jazzonia

To help them determine connotative meanings of words and phrases in the poem, Jazzonia, RL.9-10.4 students are given the Jazzonia analysis questions to answer either with a partner or individually.  After the majority of the students complete answering the questions I select a few students to read the answers a loud followed by a short discussion.  


Student Learning Activity: Writing Musical Poetry

20 minutes

Writing Musical Poetry

I then pass out the the  musical poetry writing activity which are questions designed to help students organize their thoughts for writing a poem about their experience with music, student writing activity.  A question which asks students to analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, RL.9-10.4,  is addressed in the writing activity sheet.

The final part of this activity is for students to begin composing a poem about their favorite music using the question starters as a brainstorming activity. We (myself and my co-teacher) circulate the class as students work independently to write their own poems, W.9-10.3, incorporating at least two techniques used in Hughes' poem Jazzonia.  Asking students to use the poetic devices the author used in his poem will increase their understanding and synthesis of the components of writing poetry.  Most students love music and have strong feelings and thoughts of the music they enjoy listening to therefore writing a poem about their musical experience is congruent with the lesson's objectives. 

While students write their poems, we check for understanding and facilitate engagement in the task, You Can't Define Me

Wrap Up

5 minutes

Ticket to Leave:

As a wrap up activity, I select a few students to share their poems with the class by reading their poems out loud.