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Theme for English 7

Seventh grade students write poetry styled after a poem written by Langston Hughes (pictured above; LanVechten Trust/Beinecke Library, Yale).

Poetry assignment reflects students' experiences

This fall, Middle School English Teachers Marisa Cabrera, Carl Faucher, and Mark Smith introduced a multi-pronged unit to help their seventh-grade students prepare to read Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, a novel about an African American family by Mildred D. Taylor.

Since the novel takes place during the Jim Crow era in rural Mississippi, students learned about the origins of Jim Crow and its impact on race relations in the United States—then and now—by watching a variety of videos. The videos included an excerpt from the documentary 13th and resources from the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.

Next, to support students in reflecting on their own personal experiences with race and class, they examined Langston Hughes’ poem “Theme for English B.” Following the reading, Marisa, Carl, and Mark asked their students to each write their own version of the poem, modeled after Hughes’ work. “We wanted students to explore the concepts of race and class and their own identities before we asked them to explore the identities of the characters in Roll of Thunder,” said Marisa.

She was struck by the honesty of the students’ poetry in capturing who they are at this moment in time. “This assignment made it clear that if you challenge students to dig deep with a tough task, they will rise to the occasion,” said Marisa.

Here are three examples of the students’ work:

By Director of Marketing and Communications Mary Beth Lambert


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