In preparation for an office move, I’ve been going through my files. I found a presentation I gave last summer that I wanted to share. It’s on a global issues themed poetry activity. I’ve done it with both intermediate and advanced students. The first iteration of this activity was done as one of the activities we created as part of our green English program project. The next time I did it was as a workshop for a visiting group of English teachers from Korea. Most recently, I used it last fall when I taught a creative writing elective.
Here is the handout I used. It outlines the activity and includes my two favorite poems to use. The handout also includes discussion prompts, along with instructions for having students write their own poems inspired by these poems. Finally, I include a handful of references to relevant articles on literature and global issues. And here is the presentation file I used, although I think the handout is more useful. I also found a couple of examples of student poems: example 1, example 2. These are both based on the Langston Hughes poem.
My approach to picking poems for this activity is multi-fold. First of all, I look for poetry that directly addresses a global or environmental issue. Second, I want a poem that isn’t too long or too abstract. Students need to be able to understand it. Finally, I like poems that have a distinct style or format. That makes them much more effective models for students than free verse. The two poems that I use both have these distinctive structures. The first, “God to a Hungry Child” by Langston Hughes, is written as a letter from God to a child. Students who use this as a model can thus write a poem in letter form. The second, “Two Young Women” by Deidre Barry, is written from the perspective of two women in alternating lines. Students using this as a model write a poem from two perspectives, alternating lines. I’ve used other poems as well, but these are the two that I’ve had the best luck with. I got them both from Rethinking Globalization, a great book with tons of activities that includes a bunch of other poems as well.
If you have another poem that you think would work well in this activity, let us know in the comments.