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Lesson Plan

Walt Whitman as a Model Poet: "I Hear My School Singing"

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Walt Whitman as a Model Poet: "I Hear My School Singing"

Grades 9 – 12
Lesson Plan Type Standard Lesson
Estimated Time Two 50-minute sessions
Lesson Author

Patsy Hamby

Patsy Hamby

Dallas, Georgia


National Council of Teachers of English


Student Objectives

Session One

Session Two


Student Assessment/Reflections



Students will

  • understand the meaning of list poem.

  • analyze figures, memories, and events in their educational community.

  • create list poems about their school.

  • reflect upon people omitted from their list poems.

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Session One

  1. Pass out or display “I Hear America Singing” by Walt Whitman.

  2. Define list poem (or catalog verse) as “a poem comprised of a list of persons, places, things, or abstract ideas which share a common denominator.” See also the ReadWriteThink lesson plan Put That on the List: Collaboratively Writing a Catalog Poem for more information on list poems.

  3. Read Whitman's “I Hear America Singing” aloud to the class.

  4. Invite students to discuss responses and aspects of the poem which coincide with the two-part definition: the list and the common denominator. Note student responses on board or on chart paper.

  5. Explain that students will be writing a similar poem, using their school as the subject.

  6. Give students a copy of “I Hear My School Singing” model poem and point out the blank spaces, which they will fill in with people and their roles in the school environment.

  7. Note that Whitman in his poem does not use individual names but roles or occupations, and students should do likewise.

  8. Show the students the “I Hear My School Singing” Planning Sheet, either online or in print.

  9. Review parts of speech if necessary, telling students they will fill each major point of the organizer with the different roles of people associated with their school (nouns). Secondary slots will contain a verb—an action for the person and two objects (nouns) related to that person's role. They may also refer to the model poem to determine whether other parts of speech are needed for a particular person's role.

  10. Point out the pronoun choices included in parenthesis on the model poem handout. Explain that students should circle the correct pronoun choices for the names that they use in the blanks on the handout.

  11. Ask students to explore the school’s Website to locate various people who are stakeholders in their school. These people might include PTSA officers, cafeteria personnel, and school board members.

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Session Two

  1. Once the students have completed the “I Hear My School Singing” Planning Sheet, either online or in print, they should refer to it to choose meaningful terms as they fill in the blanks on the “I Hear My School Singing” model poem.

  2. Circulate among students, providing feedback and support, as they work on their poems.

  3. After students have completed their model poems, ask them to read their work to the class. As they read, list the various roles mentioned in their poems on the board or on chart paper.

  4. After reading and sharing their poems, explain to the students that Whitman was criticized for the absence of particular ethnic groups in “I Hear America Singing.”

  5. Read the poem “I, Too, Sing America” by Langston Hughes aloud to the class.

  6. Ask students to reflect upon their poems, focusing on groups within the school environment that might have been omitted from their poems.

  7. Invite students to write a half-page reflection about why this group (or groups) might have been omitted and discuss their contribution, whether positive or negative, to the school.

  8. Provide time for students to share their reflections.

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  • Focus on observation as students create their model poems. Watch for evidence of engagement, and provide feedback and support as necessary to help students complete the assigned task.

  • Check copies of students’ “I Hear My School Singing” model poem for completion. Look in particular for evidence that students understand the range of ideas that Whitman included in his poem by representing a similar range in their own poems. If students show evidence of struggling with parts of speech in their versions of the poem, provide appropriate feedback and support to help students revise.

  • Check students’ reflections for indications that they understand the criticisms of Whitman’s poem that are suggested in Hughes’ response poem. Encourage responses that show deeper thinking.


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