Poetry: Meet Langston Hughes

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Learn about the life of a notable poet and how it affected and inspired his writing.

Big Idea

Read about the life Langston Hughes and predict what his writing will be like.

What are you passionate about?

10 minutes

To get class started, ask the question: What are you passionate about? The depth and breath of the responses may surprise you! Just as social context influences us today, the same is true for Langston Hughes, a notable American poet. Watch here for more on the topic: 

Read and Respond

30 minutes

Today students read a biography of the notable American author, Langston Hughes. Then in the day’s to come we will read, analyze and try our hand at writing poetry in a similar style. Throughout these lessons we will refer back to this article and ask ourselves how he may have been influenced by events during his lifetime. The text appears in Poetry Speaks Expanded (Sourcebooks, Inc. 2007).

As students read the text they are encouraged to annotate it by adding their thinking in the margin and by noting the answers to the questions. The definitions of the underlined words are provided but there may be other words or phrases they find difficult to understand. These may be circled for discussion later or students may use dictionaries to look up them up.

As students read I circulate around the room to check in with struggling readers and to answer any questions that arise.

Discuss and Predict

15 minutes

Before the end of class, we spend time reviewing responses to the questions. This provokes many questions about what was happening in our country and the world at that time. With this additional information to consider, I give students a few minutes to add to their responses to the last question, which requires deeper thinking: Now that you know about the major events in Langston Hughes’s life, what do you expect his writing to be like? The responses include predictions about style: excellent word choice, deep feelings, wonderful descriptions, the ability to make the reader feel like they are in the moment, lots of figurative language. But that’s not all, the students also think about content: equality for everyone, examples of injustice, hard times that people face, and trouble finding work. They are impressed that he was able to make a living as a writer and intrigued by his love of music – something most of them share. Now they are ready and eager to get a look at his work.