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 - Allen Ginsberg: Poetry and Politics
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  1. In writing journals, have students reflect on the personal and social value of poetry and art:
    • How can poetry (or any art form) help us personally?
    • How can the poet (or the artist) affect society?
  2. Share responses in dyads or small groups.
  3. Research Allen Ginsberg on the internet. Here are some sites to get students started:
  4. In small groups, have students identify one or more contemporary artists who they believe have made a difference within their society. Each group can present their findings to the rest of the class, highlighting the social contributions of each of these artists.


Activity One

(2 hours)

1. Have students listen to Allen Ginsberg recite his poem "Howl."

a. Let students respond in their writing journal, recording their dominant impressions of the poem and focusing upon how the it makes them feel.

b. Have students share their responses in dyads or small groups, and perhaps have them consider these two related questions:

  • What dominant cultural beliefs and assumptions does Ginsberg seem to be challenging?
  • What would have made this poem so revolutionary and controversial?

2. Have students conduct an internet search on the Beat writers and artists. Students may be divided into groups according to one or more of the following people:

Jack Kerouac
Neil Cassady
Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Gary Snyder
Ken Kesey

Following are some interesting Beat websites to help students get started: - the official "Beat Generation Catalog" contains links to book reviews and the works of many Beat artists. - insights into the derivation of the term "beat" - a comprehensive website containing many Beat related links

Have each group read and collect representative examples of their work.

3. Lead a summarizing discussion based upon students’ research, focusing upon some of the general characteristics of the Beat movement reflected in art and popular culture.


Activity Two

(3 hours)

1. Have students break into small groups and research one of the following people influential during the Sixties:

Richard Nixon

Ho Chi Mihn

Abbie Hoffman

Huey Newton

Mario Savio

Robert Kennedy

Timothy Leary

2. Have each group address the following questions:

  • What are these people most famous for?
  • How did they contribute to the social, cultural, and political climate of the times?

3. Conclude with a whole class discussion about the common themes and issues associated with these people that help define this era of American history.

4. Create a class timeline which includes several key contributions or events specific to each of these famous people.


Activity Three

(3 hours)

1. Have students break into small groups and research one of the following artists popular during the Sixties:

The Beatles

Joan Baez

Bob Dylan

The Grateful Dead

Jefferson Airplane

2. In doing their research, have students address the following questions:

a. How did these artists represent and/or contribute to the social and cultural revolution of the times?

b. What Beat influences are reflected in their music?

3. Have each group prepare a small multimedia presentation on each artist including photographs, musical selections, and song lyrics. Have students pay particular attention to various poetic devices these artists may have employed in their work (e.g., imagery, rhythm, rhyme, alliteration, etc.) and how they may have contributed to their music.



Students will be assessed on the quality of their participation in class discussions, the quality of their writing, and the quality of their presentations.


Extension Activities

  1. Have the class prepare a multimedia collage which might include photographs, song lyrics, drawings and other visual artifacts of the Sixties.
  2. Have students research and collect examples of Beat visual art (such as the paintings of Jackson Pollock) and consider why they are representative of the Beat movement.

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