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Lesson Plan

Childhood Remembrances: Life and Art Intersect in Nikki Giovanni’s “Nikki-Rosa”

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Childhood Remembrances: Life and Art Intersect in Nikki Giovanni’s “Nikki-Rosa”

Grades 6 – 8
Lesson Plan Type Standard Lesson
Estimated Time Three 50-minute sessions
Lesson Author

Traci Gardner

Traci Gardner

Blacksburg, Virginia

Publisher

National Council of Teachers of English

 

Student Objectives

Session One

Session Two

Session Three

Extensions

Student Assessment/Reflections

 

STUDENT OBJECTIVES

Students will

  • explore the connections between life and art in a writer's work.

  • identify the underlying themes conveyed by the details in a poem.

  • review the characteristics of biography.

  • write to explore the varying ways that events in someone's life can be interpreted.

  • compose original poems modeled on Nikki Giovanni's "Nikki-Rosa," which develop their understanding of the connections between life and art.

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Session One

  1. Before reading and listening to "Nikki-Rosa," ask students to describe what they envision when they say or hear that someone has had a "hard childhood." Create a cluster on the board of all the features of this condition from your students' point of view.

  2. Ask students to think about some of the things they experienced as children that might make someone feel sorry for them but that were actually pleasurable. Students are likely to recall having to share a bed with a sibling where there was plenty of squabbling over space but also many sweet secrets shared. Or a student might remember weekly chores like ironing her father's shirts which, though she would never admit it to her mother, made her feel closer to her dad. Students might offer memories of hand-me-down clothes, errands to the store, or leftover dinners. Make a list of these on the board and title them "Childhood Remembrances." Save both these lists for use later in the lesson.

  3. Play the video of Giovanni reading "Nikki-Rosa" for students (the video loads automatically, but you need to click the play arrow to start the video). Because of the small size of the image, you can play the video for small groups of students, gathered around a single computer if projection equipment is not available.

  4. Once students have heard the poem, ask them to read it again to themselves silently.

  5. When you feel certain students have done this, have them read the poem a third time, underlining or highlighting all the words and phrases that describe the various pleasures the speaker in the poem remembers experiencing in her "hard" childhood. Remind students that while this poem may seem to be obviously autobiographical-the title is reasonably strong evidence-a careful reader always considers the speaker in a poem to be separate from the author.

  6. Initiate a discussion of the poem. The questions below can be starters for the discussion, but encourage the conversation to roam where it will. Requiring students to answer a list of questions could make them hate the poem forever.

    • Did any of the phrases that you marked in "Nikki-Rosa" remind you of your own childhood experiences? How did that make you feel about what you read?

    • How would you describe the speaker's attitude toward her childhood? Why do you think she is worried that a biographer will "never understand"?

    • What do you think you "understand" about the circumstances of the speaker's childhood? (Push students to be very specific here in order to help them recreate the world in which these childhood remembrances existed.)

    • Why do you think Nikki Giovanni chooses to address the reader directly as "you"? What effect did this have on you as a reader? What assumption does this use of the second person make about Giovanni's expectation of who her readers will be?

    • How did you interpret the line "And though you're poor it isn't poverty that / concerns you"? If it wasn't poverty that concerned the speaker, what was it that concerned her?
  7. Note that the line "and I really hope no white person ever has cause / to write about me / because they never understand" might cause some students to feel that Giovanni is casting them as the "bad guys" in the poem. Encourage students to think about how Giovanni's experience as a black person might lead her to make this generalization about white people. Discourage students from relegating such generalizations to the "bad old days" before the Civil Rights movement. If the issue comes up, it is important to discuss the pervasive presence of racism in our own society and how this shapes our generalizations about who we expect will "understand" us and who we expect never will.

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Session Two

  1. Bring out the list of childhood remembrances that students compiled as a class. Ask students to take out a piece of paper or their writer's notebooks and make a list that is uniquely theirs. Let students know that no one need ever see this list and that they should simply try to record as many occurrences from their childhood that they can remember, both important and seemingly inconsequential.

  2. Have students imagine the following scenario:
    You just received an e-mail message from the biographer who conducted an interview with you last week for the book that she is writing about you. She was working with the notes from the conversation and realized that there were some questions about your childhood that she needs to ask for background material. She's asked you to send her some responses to these basic questions:

    • What is your happiest childhood memory? What made it memorable?

    • Tell me about a particular challenge you faced as a child.

    • What was your favorite place when you were a child? Why did you like it?

    • What special possession did you have-a special toy, article of clothing, and so forth? Why was it special?
  3. Make sure that students understand exactly what a biography is. For students with limited experience with the genre, share some samples with students. You can share books such as Zora Neale Hurston: Southern Storyteller (Enslow, 1996), Amos Fortune: Free Man (Puffin Books, 1989), and Colin Powell: Soldier and Patriot (Enslow, 1997) as well as Websites such as Top Ten African American Inventors and Black History Month Biographies. They need to see the kind of detail biographers include when writing about a person's life. What Is a Biography? can provide some background if students need more information.

  4. Explain that students will use the Biographer's Interview Chart student interactive to gather ideas for the information that the biographer has requested (and to write autobiographical poems of their own). Note that students can use the Biographer's Interview Chart handout if computer access is limited.

  5. Demonstrate the interactive, showing students how to add items to the chart as well as how to print and save their work:

    1. Type your name in the first slot in the interactive.

    2. For the title, choose a name that describes what your project such as "My Childhood Remembrances" or "Biographer's Interview."

    3. Click Next to move to the chart screen and enter your information.

    4. In the first column, write the answers that you'd share with your biographer. In the second column, write details that you'd keep to yourself or that the biographer might not understand.

    5. Demonstrate that writing is not limited to the size of the box shown on screen. Answers will scroll.

    6. When you've finished writing your responses, click Finish at the top of the screen.

    7. In the next window, click Print. Your answers will be displayed in a Web browser window.

    8. To print answers, choose the Print command from the File menu. To save your answers, choose the Save As... command from the File menu. Students can open the file later in a Web editor or a word processor that imports HTML (such as Microsoft Word or AppleWorks).

    9. Show students that the instructions for using the tool are available by clicking Instructions at the top of the screen.
  6. Give students the rest of the class period to complete the Biographer's Interview Chart student interactive, gathering their ideas. Remind students that they need to print out or save their information. While students work, encourage them to interact with one another, to share and receive feedback on their charts.

  7. Once students gather their notes in the Interview Chart, ask students to compose the e-mail responses to their biographers in their writer's notebooks. If your Internet capabilities allow, students can compose their answers in an e-mail message to you or to the class.

  8. Ask students to come to the next session ready to begin writing poems about their childhood remembrances. They should bring their Biographer's Interview Chart printouts and writer's notebook entries to class.

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Session Three

  1. Ask students to select particularly revealing and interesting details from their interview chart, notes, and e-mail messages.

  2. Return to the Transcript of "Nikki-Rosa" and ask students to look at the poem as a model for their own writing. To begin, share the first few lines of the poem with some of the words removed:
    childhood remembrances are always ____________
    if you're ____________
    you always remember things like ____________

  3. Discuss options for filling in the blanks by brainstorming alternatives. Begin with the first line ("a drag"), inviting students to brainstorm a list of other descriptive adjectives that can describe childhood memories. Students' answers will likely focus on feelings such as happy, sad, depressing, or exciting. Encourage students to use slang terms, as Giovanni uses "a drag," if they want. Their words should be authentic.

  4. Next, move to options for the second line of the poem. If students resist moving beyond a list of racial categories (Latino, Lakota, and so forth), ask them about words that describe their heritage, religion, and so forth. Membership in a particular club or group could fill the blank as well (e.g., if you're a cheerleader, if you're a Cub Scout). Demonstrate adding a word as necessary-for instance, you might add the preposition "from" to list geographical regions (e.g., if you're from Virginia).

  5. At this point, students will have a list of words and ideas to start their poems. As you move to the third line, ask if anyone has selected a detail from their chart that could fill the third blank. Allow students to share their ideas.

  6. Once you're sure that students understand the activity, give them the rest of the session to write poems, imitating "Nikki-Rosa" and using a series of moments to create a picture of childhood. If students desire, their drafts may also take the form of a story poem in which the writer describes an event from beginning to end or another format.

  7. When students are satisfied with their drafts, have them turn to partners for help with revision.

  8. Allow time during the session for students to share their stories with the class.

  9. To conclude the activity, have students write reflectively in their writer's notebooks, in class or for homework, on the following prompt:

    Think about the choices that we've discovered poets make when they write a poem. How did you make choices as you were writing? How did life and art intersect in your work?

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EXTENSIONS

As a follow-up to this lesson, use the resources at Scholastic's Biography Writer's Workshop with Patricia and Fredrick McKissack Website to help students write biographies.

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STUDENT ASSESSMENT/REFLECTIONS

  • As students discuss Giovanni’s poem and their own poems, listen for comments that indicate that students see the ways that life and art intersect. Provide supportive feedback for observations that show students are making connections between a writer’s life and art—especially connections to their own writing.

  • The reflective writing that concludes this activity will allow you to see which students are gaining a deeper understanding of the ways that life and art intersect. Read the journal entries and comment on the self-reflections, noting important observations that students make and asking provoking questions where they need to think more deeply.

  • If you’re satisfied from both class discussion and students’ reflections that they understand the influences of a writer’s life upon her art, you can begin the examination of your next piece of literature by connecting to this lesson. Ask specifically where life and art intersect in the piece.

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