Poetry Focus: Analyzing Amanda Gorman's "The Hill We Climb" and Writing Activity [Free Resource]

It's Black History Month 2021, and as soon as Amanda Gorman finished reading "The Hill We Climb" during the presidential inauguration, I knew I'd be using this poem in class.

When I shared my excitement with some of my teacher friends near and far, I could tell there was tension in the air. I get it. I know it's somewhat biased and political chatter in the classroom is taboo (and highly discouraged).

But that's why teaching ELA is so cool (nerd moment), right? It doesn't have to be centered around that. We can agree/disagree, like/dislike, and everything in between. [English teacher voice]: all as long as you use evidence from the text to support your claims. 😂 But seriously, that gives us a lot more freedom than other content areas, perhaps.

If we are searching for relevant literature to explore, how can we NOT explore a poem read at the presidential inauguration?

I did a bit of research on lessons that were already out there. There are SO many, but I mainly pulled inspiration from PBS and Teaching Tolerance.

So, the first day of the second semester, my freshman students and I dug deep into the poem.

Here is how I approached this:

  1. I introduced the purpose of the assignment. I explained how it was a relevant piece of literature, regardless of our political associations and opinions. I told them they were allowed to like, dislike, agree, and disagree with the poem, but that regardless, we would look at it closely.

  2. I explained what a poet laureate is. I didn't even know until I was an adult! I showed them local and national poet laureates.

  3. Next, I asked them to consider why they felt the inauguration includes poetry.

  4. I showed them a video about Amanda Gorman. There are SO many now, but you can start here and here. If you aren't familiar with her story and the struggles she has overcome, do some searching. You will not be disappointed!

  5. I played the video of Gorman reading her poem at the inauguration and asked the students a set of questions. 1- How does she use her voice to engage the audience? 2- What are some tone words to describe her message? 3- How did she recover from "messing up"?

  6. Then, students read the poem again and annotated the poem, noting any literary devices they found, important things to note, things they liked and disliked, etc. I kept this part pretty open.

  7. Then, students read the poem again and answered a set of guiding questions for analysis.

  8. After we had a chance to discuss the analysis questions (next class), I tasked students with writing their own poem mirroring a line or message of Gorman's poem. I titled this assignment "The Hill I Climb".

Y'all. This poems freaking impressed me.

They were full of heart and transparency, and I got to know a lot about my students the very first week of class.

It inspired me to reach out to a neighboring city's poet laureate, and now he is virtually visiting my classes this month! I will be sure to post about that, too!

If this lesson seems like something you'd like to incorporate, I have a free resource that includes the Google Slides presentation, analysis handout (2 pages) and poetry task and rubric. Click the image below!

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