The Essential Questions: How can history inform public policy? How do people prevent past tragedies from reoccurring?
Based on those essential questions (developed with help from our school’s art teacher, Joan Edgmon, by the way), I’m sure that some may think I’ve forgotten that I teach Language Arts. They may even wonder if I’m actually a history teacher in disguise. But to that, I would answer: Actually, I just see value in using historical events for writing topics because they…
- 1) teach kids about the world and broadens their background knowledge.
- 2) provide relevancy to writing and connect school with the outside world.
- 3) reveal to kids that remembering past tragedies can help prevent their reoccurrence.
Connecting the Triangle Waist Co. fire, the most tragic industrial workplace fire in U.S. history until the World Trade Center (WTC) fires on Sept. 11, is one study we delved into again this fall like we do every year in my 8th-grade classes. However, this year, I designed this poetry project to help students creatively explore the connections between these two events. In the past, I’ve assigned a written essay to explore these connections, but this year, with the DAR American History Essay Contest right around the corner, I wanted to give the kids more variety with a non-essay genre: free verse poetry.
Read this post to get some background on my Triangle Fire & World Trade Center unit. In short, skyscraper building codes that had been developed in response to the 1911 Triangle Fire were relaxed during the early design of the World Trade Center towers in the 1960s. These building code changes (including a reduction in the required numbers of emergency stairwells, permission to cluster elevators in central areas, and the absence of brick masonry requirements, plus others) likely contributed to the death toll on Sept. 11, 2001.
The rest of today’s post focuses on this culminating free verse poetry project I tried for the first time with students this year. The results were not perfect; I already know a few things I need to change for next year. However, I was pleased with the thinking my students engaged in, and I was also pleased with the creativity they showed in producing the visual elements of this assignment.
Here were the requirements for the poetry project:
Triangle Fire and World Trade Center Fires
- Write a free verse (non-rhyming) poem about the Triangle Fire.
- Write a free verse (non-rhyming) poem about the WTC fires.
- Juxtapose the two poems on construction paper or some other paper.
- Include a “gallery label.” See below for details.
Requirements for the project:
- Each poem should be at least ten lines long.
- Each poem should give this information: date, number of deaths, causes of death, lessons learned (Triangle reforms & WTC recommendations)
- Each poem’s shape or appearance should remind us of the specific building the fire occurred in. Ideas: line for each floor? Arrange the lines to represent flames?
- Each poem should also mention a lesson learned from the fire. What positive element can you add? The reforms made as a result of the fires?
- The poems should “allude” to each other. There are a few ways one could do this…
- Have your Triangle poem mention somehow the World Trade Center or vice versa.
- Make both poems share a line, i.e. the same line appears in both poems.
- Make both poems share a line, i.e. the same line literally connects the two poems.
- Write a gallery label that will appear alongside your juxtaposed poems.
- The gallery card needs to explain the two fires, relate how your poems address the two fires. You may want to also explain: how the two fires are connected historically, what we can learn from the tragedies to ensure that history does not repeat itself in this way again.
- Get creative! Need art supplies? Let me know what I need to bring.
I passed out a handout that listed all the requirements at the beginning of the project. Then we decided that when we finished it would be fun to post all the completed projects in my room in “gallery walk style” so students could vote on the top six, which would then be posted in the hallway. The gallery walk took nearly a full class period because they were so interested in doing a good job. I changed the selection of poems to post in the hallway by removing one that, while being in the students’ top six, didn’t express any lessons learned from the tragedies. Plus, I included a couple more projects that showed strong effort.
Here are some of the most effective projects. Even though the poems were the most important part of this assignment, the visual elements also had a job to do, which was to convey meaning to the poetry. Some of the photos have been cropped so the poetry can be more easily read.
One thing I know I’ll change for next year is to require that no airplanes appear in the projects. While I’m glad that students understand what ultimately caused the disaster that took so many lives, the unit was intended to focus on how builders and developers literally forgot many of the fire-prevention lessons learned from Triangle Fire.
Finally, it’s always good to focus on the Essential Questions: How can history inform public policy? How do people prevent past tragedies from reoccurring?
Thanks for reading! Feel free to leave a comment if I’ve left out some key point— or if you spot a typo! I wrote this up fairly quickly over the weekend, and feel like there’s got to be a grammar issue or two somewhere in here. I’ll update this post as I think of other ideas or tips to include. Have a great week!
Click here for a post about my 9/11 resources.
Click here for my main Triangle Fire unit.
Click here about a field trip we took this fall to remember 9/11.