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Lesson Plan

Responding to Tragedy: Then and Now

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Responding to Tragedy: Then and Now

Grades 8 – 12
Lesson Plan Type Standard Lesson
Estimated Time Three 50-minute sessions, plus additional time in or out of class for composition of student poems
Lesson Author

Scott Filkins

Scott Filkins

Champaign, Illinois

Publisher

National Council of Teachers of English

 

Student Objectives

Session One

Session Two

Session Three

Extensions

Student Assessment/Reflections

 

STUDENT OBJECTIVES

Students will:

  • interpret selected poems reflecting on the events of September 11, 2001 for speaker, subject, tone, and language use (to varying degrees of sophistication depending on the age and maturity of the learners).
  • use poetic structure and language to compose a response that presents an immediate response to a tragedy, as well as a response changed by perspective.
  • reflect critically on the ways in which their responses are similar to and different from those of their peers.

 

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Session One

  1. Begin the lesson by projecting and reading aloud Jesse Glass’ poem "down," which asks readers to consider where they were at the time they learned about the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.
  2. Ask students to write their own responses to Glass’ questions and to recall anything they remember about that day and the days immediately after.  Younger students may not have many specific memories, but they should be encouraged to write whatever they can. You may wish to project images from the Featured Drawings from the September 11, 2001 Documentary Project both to trigger memories and locate the tragedy appropriately in the childhood of your students.
  3. After students have had time to think and write, invite students to share their written responses in pairs or small groups.  Remind students to be sensitive to the thoughts and feelings of their peers, as everyone will have different feelings about this tragedy.
  4. Refocus students’ attention to "down" and ask students to share their responses to it. Challenge them with questions such as:
    • What feelings is it trying to invoke?
    • What can they infer about the speaker and his or her attitudes toward 9/11?
    • How is the poet using language to convey the poems meanings?
  5. Provide students with copies of three other poems written about the terrorist attacks, Penny Cagan’s “September Eleventh,” Karen Karpoick’s “In Central Park,” and Eliot Katz’s “When the Skyline Crumbles.”  Read each one aloud to help familiarize students with their content and language.
  6. Then in the same small groups, give students time to consider the same questions they used to respond to "down."  As students are annotating and discussing the texts, move from group to group to help guide conversations and answer questions that students may have.
  7. If time permits, bring the class back together to discuss the similarities and differences they noticed among the four poems. How did these four poets use language and the medium of poetry to shape a response to the tragedy of September 11th? How are their tones similar and different?

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Session Two

  1. Begin this session with a brief review of the four poems from the previous session (or with the full class discussion of the texts if there wasn’t time before).
  2. Ask students to return to the reflective writing they did at the beginning of the previous session.  Tell them to look back over their memories and to consider how they might shape them into a poem that reflects their first responses to 9/11.
  3. Explain that they will be writing a poem with two sections—a “Then” section that attempts to capture the response they had at the time, and a “Now” section that explains what they think and feel about 9/11 with ten years of perspective, maturity, and change in the world.  If you feel students would benefit, distribute the Reflecting on Tragedy graphic organizer that allows students to consider their responses then and now, as well as what has changed (both in them and in the world) between the time of the tragedy and the present.
  4. Remind students to try to suggest a clear attitude toward or perspective on the tragedy in both sections of the poem.  Challenge them to use language, literary terms, images, and other poetic devices to help convey those attitudes.
  5. Give students time to begin drafting their poems, encouraging students to use the poems from the previous session, their reflective writing, and their peers as resources.  Although these poems are thematically unrelated, students may get ideas for structure from Babette Deutsch’s “Then and Now” or Paul Laurence Dunbar’s “Then and Now.”

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Session Three

  1. After students have completed a draft of their poem that they are comfortable sharing, post each student’s poem on the wall or have students pass their poems around the room to allow them to read each other’s work.  You may also choose to share the poems digitally, projected for the students to see.
  2. As students are reading, have them take note of the different perspectives they see among their classmates and how individual responses both then and now are reflected through the meanings the poems convey and the language the authors used to convey that language.
  3. Facilitate a full class discussion in which students are encouraged to consider how both the personal/private responses and the political/public responses to September 11th have changed with time.

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EXTENSIONS

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STUDENT ASSESSMENT/REFLECTIONS

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