Lesson 3: A Poem’s Theme
Words with Wings: A Treasury of African-American Poetry and Art
- Learning Goal
- Identify a theme in a poem.
- Approximately 2 Days (40-45 minutes for each class)
- Necessary Materials
- Provided: Example Theme Chart 1, Example Theme Chart 2, Theme Worksheet (Student Packet, page 14)
Not Provided: Two songs that have the same theme, but are different types of music; MP3, CD, or cassette player; chart paper, markers, Words With Wings selected by Belinda Rochelle
Before the Lesson
Read the poems and complete the Student Packet Worksheets for “Little Brown Baby,” “We Alone” “Rhapsody,” and “Aunt Sue’s Stories.
Activation & Motivation
Play two songs for the class that have the same theme but are different types of music. For example, you might choose a rap song about love and a country song about love.
will explain that just like songs have themes (for example, that it is better to be happy and alone, than unhappily in love), so do poems. The theme of a poem is the poet’s message to the readers. I can find the theme of a poem by examining its main idea and voice. For example, if a song’s main idea is about a person who just broke up with his love and the voice or tone is excited and joyful, I could conclude that a theme of the song is that we might be happier being alone than in a relationship. Finding a poem’s theme works the same way. By figuring out what the poem is about (Main Idea) and how the author feels about the subject of the poem (Voice), readers can figure out the theme, or message in the poem. Note:You may want to discuss as you go through the poem the difference between main idea and theme as students often confuse these concepts. Main idea is the big idea in a text that tells what it is mostly about, while theme is the message that an author is trying to share with the reader. Usually a theme can be applied to other texts, but the main idea is very specific to the text.
I will read aloud the poem “Listen Children,” and will look for clues about the main idea of the poem. (Model the steps used in Lesson 1 to identify the main idea.) I think the main idea of this poem is that African Americans have never hated being Black and have supported each other as a community. I will write this on Theme Chart 1. Note: You may want to write the poem on chart paper or the board before the lesson so students can refer to the lines of the poem. See Example Theme Chart 1 for specific examples.
I will identify the poem’s voice. The poet says “listen children” which makes me feel like the tone is caring, like a mother. The line “We have always loved each other,” is positive. I can say that this poem has a positive and supportive voice. I will reread the poem aloud in a caring voice in order to think about what the author wants to tell the reader about the main idea.
Gathering the information about the poem’s main idea and voice can help to identify the message or theme. I think the author’s message is that African Americans should know that they are loved by their community and should, in turn, love themselves and each other.
Ask: "How can I identify the theme in a poem?" Students should answer that you can identify the theme by first identifying the main idea and voice to gather information. Then you can use information about the poem’s main idea and voice to draw a conclusion about the poem’s theme.
will identify the theme of “This Morning” by Lucille Clifton. We will first identify the main idea of the poem. (Read the poem aloud and encourage your class to brainstorm about the poem’s main idea.) We could say that the poem’s main idea is an African American girl who notices herself in school. We will record the main idea on Theme Chart 2. Note: You may want to write the poem on chart paper or the board before the lesson so students can refer to the lines of the poem. See Example Theme Chart 2 for specific examples.
We will then look for words, phrases or images that tell us about the voice of the poem. The voice is a self-confident tone. We will reread the poem aloud using the voice we have identified in order to get a deeper understanding of the poem. (Encourage students to think aloud to identify information.) We will record the voice on Theme Chart 2.
Finally, we will use the information we have gathered about the main idea and the voice to determine the theme. We might say that the message or theme of “This Morning” is that “Black is beautiful” or “accept yourself and be proud,” etc. Encourage students to provide their opinions about this question and write varying themes on Theme Chart 2.
will read and analyze the poem “Legacies” by Nikki Giovanni. You will identify the poem’s main idea and voice, recording this information on the Theme Worksheet in your Student Packet. (See page 14 in the Student Packet.) You will then read the poem aloud in the voice you have identified. Finally, you will write down the poem’s theme on your Theme Worksheet and you will prepare to share your theme.
will each share the theme we have identified for “Legacies.” We will write differing themes on the chart paper or the board. We will discuss the question: "Is the theme relevant for our lives today?" We will discuss what themes the different poems in the collection have in common.
Build Student Vocabulary sorrow
|Tier 2 Word: sorrow|
|Contextualize the word as it is used in the story||“And black slaves / Singing sorrow songs on the banks of a mighty river / Mingle themselves softly / In the flow of old Aunt Sue’s voice, / Mingle themselves softly / In the dark shadows that cross and recross / Aunt Sue’s stories.”|
|Explain the meaning student-friendly definition)||The word sorrow means sadness, unhappiness, and distress. The slaves in the poem are singing sorrow songs which mean they are singing sad songs about being unhappy.|
|Students repeat the word||Say the word sorrow with me: sorrow|
|Teacher gives examples of the word in other contexts||We were filled with sorrow when our grandfather died. When my teacher told us that he was retiring at the end of the year, I expressed my sorrow by writing him a card about how much I would miss him.|
|Students provide examples||Can you give an example of something that might make you feel sorrow? Start by saying, “I would feel sorrow if ____________________________.”|
|Students repeat the word again.||What word are we talking about? sorrow|
|Additional Vocabulary Words||mingle, devalue, revolution, rare, dewy|
Texts & Materials
(To see all of the ReadWorks lessons aligned to your standards, click here.)