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January 19, 2021

Lesson Plan: Discuss 22-year-old Amanda Gorman’s inaugural poem “The Hill We Climb”

For a Google doc version of this lesson, click here. You will need to make a copy of the Google doc for a version you can edit.

Overview

In this lesson, students examine the poetry of Amanda Gorman, who was chosen to read her poem “The Hill We Climb” at President Joe Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20, 2021. Gorman’s poem complemented Biden’s inaugural address and was written to reflect on “the history that we stand on, and the future that we stand for.”

Subjects

English, English Language Arts, Social Studies

Estimated Time

One 50-to-60 minute class period, or several class periods (see extensions) 

Grade Level

 6-12

Objectives: Students will be able to: 

  • Understand the message and goals of poet Amanda Gorman through her inaugural poem and other work. 
  • Observe the message, meaning, tone or impact of “The Hill We Climb” and another poem by Gorman, “The Miracle of Morning.”
  • Write a reply or response in the spirit of Gorman’s poem, “The Hill We Climb.”
  • Draw connections between the moment in history, the poet’s messages and students’ own lives. 

Main activities:

Watch (5-10 mins): Introduce your students to 22-year-old Amanda Gorman (PBS NewsHour), who read her poem “The Hill We Climb” at the inauguration. First Lady Dr. Jill Biden is a fan of Amanda’s poetry.

You can also watch Gorman delivering her inaugural poem below, and read a copy of it here.

  1. As students watch, have them think about the following questions:
    • What do you notice? 
    • What do you wonder?
    • What stands out to you?
    • Why might poets be tapped to read or speak at presidential inaugurations?
  2. Ask students to share their observations and discuss their thoughts. 
  3. Read: Watch/Listen/Read another one of Gorman’s poems, “The Miracle of Morning,” written in 2020. 
    • Instructional Note: In this Google Doc is a text and video of Gorman reading her poem (more info here), and another link to the PBS NewsHour interview with Gorman.
    • Optional extension for remote students: Create copies or ask groups of students to make a copy of the Doc, and annotate, highlight or have a conversation with the text. This strategy is a good way for groups of students to collaborate remotely in analyzing the poem.
  4. Free Write/Free Response: Choose one. (Instructional note: Have students respond to the poem in the way that best suits their needs, or use this Free Response as a warm up activity to get your students writing. If collecting for assessment, focus on assessing for completion & connection, and not for a grade.) 
    • Write your own poem in reply to Gorman’s poem “The Miracle of Morning” and/or “The Hill We Climb.” Choose a line, a vibe or a moment from the poem to inspire your response. What are you waking up to today? What is the miracle in your morning (or mourning)? What hill do you — or we — climb?
    • Stream of consciousness: Write after reading and just capture your vibe or feeling from the poem or the article about Gorman. 
    • Tributes
      • Gorman wrote “The Miracle of Morning” poem in the spring of 2020. Write a tribute in honor of someone you know on this #CovidMemorialDay, either in memory of, in praise of, or in appreciation of.  
      • In “The Hill We Climb,” Gorman says: “We, the successors of a country and the time where a skinny Black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of becoming president only to find herself reciting for one.” Write in tribute to those who came before you, or who climbed a hill alongside you or ahead of you. 

Optional extensions:

  • Celebrate the Black voices and Black poets who have also read at prior inaugurations: Dr. Maya Angelou, “On the Pulse of Morning” and Elizabeth Alexander, “Praise Song for the Day.” 
    • Fun Fact: Amanda Gorman was gifted a ring from Oprah in honor of Maya Angelou, which she wore at the inauguration. The ring alludes to Angelou’s book “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” (and poem: “Caged Bird”).
  • Have students share the lines that inspired them from “The Miracle of Morning” or “The Hill We Climb” and write a brief reflection on those lines. You can make a copy of this Padlet board (click the “remake” button in the top right corner) and share it with your students to post on.
  • Explore the mood and tone of “The Miracle of Morning,” and discuss how Gorman equivocates on the dual meaning of “morning” and “mourning” — what are your students mourning? What are they grieving? 
  • Allusion Scavenger Hunt: How many allusions are present across the poems? What is important about those references? Why might Gorman have included those allusions?
    • For older students
      • In both poems: How do the poems show juxtaposition (the existence of two things being placed closely together with contrasting effect) and dichotomy (a division between two things that are represented as being different)? 
  • Gorman highlights the everyday heroes — essential workers, health care teams and more — in “The Miracle of Morning.” Who are the everyday heroes in the lives of your students? Have students write tributes or odes to their everyday heroes through the pandemic and in their lives.
  • In an interview with the New York Times, Gorman said, “Now more than ever, the United States needs an inaugural poem. Poetry is typically the touchstone that we go back to when we have to remind ourselves of the history that we stand on, and the future that we stand for.” What do you think she means? How does poetry capture our feelings or attitudes in a way that traditional speeches or prose does not? How did “The Hill We Climb” seek to accomplish these goals?
  • Watch Amanda Gorman’s TED-Ed student talk: “Using your voice is a political choice”

Kate Stevens, M.S. in Curriculum & Instruction, is a hybrid educator with more than a decade of experience in online, hybrid and blended learning. In 2015, Kate was honored with Colorado Department of Education’s Online & Blended Teacher of the Year. An instructional coach, global professional development leader and former photojournalist, she proudly teaches 9-12 language arts at Poudre School District Virtual in Fort Collins, Colorado. Connect with Kate on Twitter @KateTeaching.


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  • Standards

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    Relevant National Standards:
      Common Core Standards
    • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.11-12.1, 11-12.2, 11-12.3: Use key ideas and details to support analysis of what the text says explicitly and draw inferences from the text, to determine multiple themes or central ideas of a text and how they develop over the course of the text, to objectively summarize the text, and to analyze the impact of the author’s choices regarding how to develop and relate elements of a story or drama.
    • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.11-12.4: Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

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