Lessons on Longfellow

Revisit the 19th-century celebrity phenom

This past week, my junior English III students learned about one of America’s first celebrities, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Yes, he’s old-fashioned. Yes, he’s so “19th-century.” However, his work is ingrained in our popular collective culture like few other literary giants.

Unfortunately, however, our Glencoe textbook includes only one of his poems. Can you believe that?! Furthermore, can you believe that the poem featured is the somber and ghostly verse, “The Tide Rises, The Tide Falls?” It seems like a strange choice to me, considering the full range of other, more well-known verses.

After all, Longfellow is one of only two (Henry James is the other) American poets memorialized in Poets’ Corner of London’s Westminster Abbey. That being the case, you might think Longfellow would command more front-of-mind awareness among readers today, including students.

Not so. Out of my 45 students, only two said they had heard of Longfellow.

They didn’t know anything beyond that, however… not even the rest of the poet’s name.

Yes, a handful recognized the iconic lines “Listen my children, and you shall hear of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,” but no one knew who wrote that famous line or anything about the poem.

And really, that’s about all they knew of Longfellow’s work.

If you’re a little rusty on Longfellow, don’t despair. To brush up on your Longfellow smarts, read these articles:

“What Is There to Love About Longfellow? (The New Yorker)

Myths and Facts of Revere’s Midnight Ride (Paul Revere Heritage Project)

The Many Lives of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (The Harvard Gazette)

Poetry and American Memory (The Atlantic)

Longfellow’s hugely popular works, such as Evangeline, A Song of Hiawatha, and “A Psalm of Life,” were unheard of among my students.

But not anymore.

Before we even read any Longfellow poetry, I asked students to do a little research on their own or with a partner using these sheets (see photo at right below) from Laura Randazzo on TpT. (Note: I glued a darker, copier-ready Wikimedia Commons image of Longfellow (see below) onto the sheet over the pale image supplied on Randazzo’s download.)

I also found some good sources for students to use instead of letting them roam the web aimlessly. I used these sources: The Life of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow from the Maine Historical Society, What is There to Love About Longfellow from The New Yorker, and this biography from Famous Poets and Poems.

These sheets were a more interesting way for students to gain knowledge on Longfellow than from me reading from a slew of slides. (However, I did make two slides that contained more general information for students to jot down before they started on the sheet.)

To provide more Longfellow poems for my students, I inserted poems onto some slides in my giant and ever-growing English III Google Slides presentation. Then I printed out those slides to make some packets that students could annotate as we read them in class.

Here are the Longfellow poems I included in the packet, which we read and annotated in class:

  • “A Psalm of Life”… the inspiring “seize the day” approach to life
  • “The Day is Done”… a humble tribute to hard work and a restful, poetic evening
  • “The Children’s Hour”… a charming memory of Longfellow playing with his little girls
  • “Paul Revere’s Ride”… the history poem that created an American mythic hero
  • “The Tide Rises, The Tide Falls”…a ghostly reflection on mortality
  • “The Cross of Snow“… a memory of Longfellow’s second wife’s tragic death eighteen years prior and a vision of the divine in Nature
  • A Song of Hiawatha… the American epic written to imitate the European classics

To read the poems, we arranged our desks into a loose circle (and in my bigger class, the best we could do was rotate our desks toward the center of the room), passed around the packets and highlighters, dimmed the lights and turned on the “fireplace” YouTube video below.

It just made sense to have this glowing on the whiteboard as we read and talked about the poems. Longfellow was one of the “Fireside Poets,” after all, along with four other poets (William Cullen Bryant, James Russell Lowell, John Greenleaf Whittier, Oliver Wendell Holmes). Back in the day, it was common for people to read poetry around the fireplace during the evenings.

No Netflix. No HBO. Just poetry.

And, to top it off, it was dreary and rainy outside on the morning we read these in my classroom. Perfect!

Reading and annotating these poems occurred on the second and third days of a three-day Longfellow mini-unit that I covered with my students after our bell work activities. For help with annotating, I asked students to:

  • 1) circle new words
  • 2) underline lines that resonate with them
  • 3) draw a wavy line under confusing lines
  • 4) highlight especially vivid imagery

Side Note: Annotation is something my students struggle with and, honestly, I think it’s because they don’t see a purpose in it. I try to help them annotate to some degree since I know they’ll understand better the benefits of it when they go on to college or a trade school.

To experience these Longfellow poems, I read aloud and asked some volunteers to read as well.

There’s something about good poetry. My students seemed engaged during the readings and I think it helped to have them marking up their packets as we worked.

Here are some photos of some of the pages from these packets, which I plan to have them use in a short written piece next week.

Longfellow poem "A Psalm of Life"
This is a classic poem. I’m thinking of having students memorize it. Its optimistic “seize the day” approach is memorable and uplifting.
The Children's Hour poem by Longfellow
“The Children’s Hour” goes a long way in showing Longfellow’s love for family and home. Its charming story of Longfellow’s daughters sneaking up on him (and him playing along!) as he worked is fun to read.
The Cross of Snow by Longfellow
“The Cross of Snow” is a good one to lead into discussions about Transcendentalism and ideas on the intersection of the divine and Nature.
Song of Hiawatha by Longfellow
You can’t teach Longfellow and not read “The Song of Hiawatha.”

I pulled some information from Shmoop.com to provide a balanced discussion of both the positive and negative aspects of Longfellow’s epic poem The Song of Hiawatha. In addition, I read aloud the National Park Service article pictured below to give students a balanced critique of Longfellow’s epic.

an article from the National Park Service about Song of Hiawatha
This article provides a balanced overview of Longfellow’s work, reputation and his legacy that continues today to influence attitudes toward Native Americans.
Marilyn Yung, owner of ELA Brave and True

I hope this post gives you some basic ideas about how to introduce your students to the poetry of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

I feel it’s important for students to receive at least a couple class periods of instruction on this literary giant.

Have a great week! Leave a comment by replying to this post or contacting me via my Contact page.


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Featured Photo Credit: Creative Commons | This bronze memorial statue of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is located near Dupont Circle in Washington, DC.


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Canterbury Tales lesson plan resources

There seems to be quite a bit of interest in this Canterbury Tales post from last year, so I’m reblogging it so more readers will locate it more easily! I’m getting ready to teach Canterbury Tales again in about a week, and if things go like they usually do, I’ll be creating some new resources and activities. I will definitely keep you posted on what transpires! I truly hope you enjoy this post. It includes videos, some go-with nonfiction texts (one from a blogger-friend who had no idea his essay would end up in my high school British Lit class LOL), plus a really useful prior knowledge activity. If you have any questions, please reach out by leaving a comment or sending me a message on my Contact page. Enjoy!

ELA Brave and True by Marilyn Yung

Five activities plus two videos

Teaching high school English after eight years of middle school is throwing me for a loop! There’s so much new content to learn, especially for my senior curriculum and its emphasis on British literature.

Side note: Yes, I’ve studied British literature for my master’s degree, but my schedule only allowed me to study from Romanticism to contemporary; I haven’t studied the earlier works in any formal way.

Until now.

So basically, I’m feeling my way through British literature, but having a lot of fun doing it. We began the school year with the earliest literature from the Anglo-Saxon era. We read The Wanderer, The Seafarer, Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People, Beowulf, and Dream of the Rood. (For three recent posts on my Beowulf unit, click here, here, and here.)

So on Friday last week, as…

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Poetry Lesson: The Cinquain

Plus: Seven tips for teaching cinquains this fall

Two weeks ago, in my new high school poetry class, I introduced my students to the cinquain. This short, concise, and beautiful little poetic form was a resounding success. In fact, when I listened to my students reciting their own cinquains, I knew I would have to fill you in on this poetry idea.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the cinquain…

At their simplest, cinquains are five-line poems that usually make an observation about nature or a natural phenomenon. The New York (Brooklyn-born and Rochester-raised) poet, Adelaide Crapsey, developed the style of cinquain American readers are likely most familiar with.

However, cinquains have a rich international history, writes Aaron Toleos, who created this comprehensive website about Adelaide Crapsey and the cinquain form. According to Toleos…

“Adelaide Crapsey did not invent the five-line poem. The Sicilian quintain, the English quintain, the Spanish quintella, the Japanese tanka, and the French cinquain all predate hers. What she did invent, however, is a distinct American version of the five-line poem. Inspired by Japanese haiku and tanka and based on her advanced knowledge of metrics, she believed her form “to be the shortest and simplest possible in English verse.”

Aaron Toleos | Cinquain.org
This book of Adelaide Crapsey poems is available on Amazon at this link.

And by the way, if you’ve never heard of Adelaide Crapsey, you’re not alone. I hadn’t either. She’s relatively unknown due to her short life. She died at the age of 36 from tuberculosis. A paragraph from The Poetry Foundation follows:

“Adelaide Crapsey is best remembered as the inventor of the cinquain form and as a poet whose compressed lyrics “are a remarkable testament of a spirit ‘flashing unquenched defiance to the stars,'” as quoted in Boston Transcript. Though her mature work was published posthumously due to her untimely death at the age of 36, Crapsey nevertheless spent her brief life ardently pursuing her art. Her few publications received enthusiastic acclaim. Perhaps critics were initially drawn to Crapsey because she cut a tragic figure, but in the years after her demise her popularity waned. Modern readers looking for Crapsey’s work are hard-pressed to find it in any anthology printed after 1950—even those with a women’s literature focus. Crapsey’s poetry deals largely with the subjects of death and dying, a predilection doubtlessly influenced by her knowledge of her own terminal illness.”

Poetry Foundation

My students were struck by the short and tragic life of Crapsey. It made some of the darker, death-themed verses they would read later in the lesson easier to understand and appreciate.

I introduced the cinquain form to my students before asking them to write their own. Here’s what I did:

  • I made the obligatory Google Slides presentation to show them the form along with some biographical information about the cinquain master, Adelaide Crapsey.
  • I also utilized Toleos’ website that offered about 28 various Crapsey cinquains. A handful of those were indicated to be Crapsey’s best cinquains. I printed out twenty of the cinquains, cut them out, and walked around the room asking each of my budding poets to “pick a card, any card.”
  • I highlighted the titles of those deemed Crapsey’s best cinquains. We went around the room, reading our chosen cinquains in turn. Then, after each student read their selected cinquain, the class tried to decide if it was considered one of Crapsey’s best. Without failing once, we were able to identify the stronger Crapsey cinquains.
This is a photo of several Adelaide Crapsey cinquains printed on slips of paper for students to choose from.
I shuffled these out like a deck of cards and asked students to pick one to read to the class. The highlighted ones are some of Crapsey’s best and most popular cinquains.

Crapsey’s best cinquains just had a certain feel.

These short poems exhibited an intriguing wave-like form with quiet starts, gradual builds, and satisfying finales. Here’s one of Crapsey’s classics:

NOVEMBER NIGHT

Listen…
With faint dry sound,
Like steps of passing ghosts,
The leaves, frost-crisp’d, break from the trees
And fall.

Autumn leaves illustrate Adelaide Crapsey's November-themed cinquain
Photo by Cori Rodriguez on Pexels.com

Isn’t that beautiful?!

See what I mean about that compelling and satisfying 2-4-6-8 syllable count? As I said, this is the cinquain at its simplest, and at Cinquain.org, you’ll learn more about Crapsey’s style.

For example, her cinquains demonstrate a more stringent observance of iambic rhythms and accentual stresses. Crapsey also also faithfully titled all her cinquains. But before we move on, let’s read one more of her best cinquains.

NIAGARA

How frail
Above the bulk
Of crashing water hangs,
Autumnal, evanescent, wan,
The moon.

More autumn leaves and a boy contemplates cinquains
Photo by Trinity Kubassek on Pexels.com

Seven tips I used to teach the cinquain:

  1. For our first foray into the world of cinquains, my poetry class did not delve beyond replicating the 2-4-6-8-2 syllable count rule.
  2. I also told students that their cinquain may read or sound like a twenty-two syllable sentence, and that’s okay. If that idea helps them put together their poem, then good.
  3. I also required that students put a title on their poem as Crapsey did. The title can serve as a sixth line, providing important information, writes Toleos.
  4. To help students choose topics, I requested that their first cinquain be nature-related. After presenting those in class, we all wrote others on any topic. (That explains the cinquain about a paper clip in the slide show below!)
  5. Encourage your students to avoid words such as “very” and “just” or other weak words, which may be tempting to use to achieve the 2-4-6-8-2 syllable count. As Toleos advises here: Don’t overuse “just.” Since the mission of the cinquain is to define a precise instant in time, it is tempting to use adverbs and “just” is the biggest offender.
  6. Attempt to make each line paint an image.
  7. Show don’t tell. Toleos adds, “Use adjectives sparingly… Reducing the number of adjectives in the cinquain increases the relevance of the ones you do use.”

I was amazed at the success the cinquain brought to my poetry class.

Here are some cinquains written by my students:

And here’s one I wrote alongside my students:

Summer Wilt

Top shelf,
Ferrari red
Geraniums burst forth
In June then wither, fading to
Dull mauve.

I hope you’ll introduce your students to the cinquain form in your poetry lessons. I think you’ll be nicely surprised at how well your students do with this form. For one, the cinquain is fairly unintimidating and it may remind them of other poems they’ve written. For example, your students will probably bring up how they remember writing haikus back in their middle school or elementary years. The cinquain is similar to the oft-remembered haiku in subject (nature) and in brevity. Just remember to teach that 2-4-6-8-2 syllable count and they’ll be on their way to crafting successful cinquains.

Marilyn Yung, owner of ELA Brave and True

Thanks for reading again this week!

I absolutely love my new poetry class that ends every school day.

It’s the perfect way to bring the day to a close… with coffee, creativity, and kids who aren’t afraid (usually) to try new things!

If you need more poetry ideas for high school students, check out this post.

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This post’s featured photo by Anastasia Mihalkova on Unsplash

The 2022 Scholastic Art and Writing Awards: Six tips for entering your students’ work (updated)

Your students can now start opening their accounts for the 2022 Scholastic Art and Writing Awards! If you’ve never tried this contest, you owe it to yourself and your students to look into applying this year. The first time I entered my students’ work, I’ll admit it was somewhat laborious. That was mainly because there is a definite process, a few forms, deadlines, category requirements, and fees to clarify and arrange. Read this updated post for details and the basic process. Feel free to reach out to me by leaving a comment or posting a message on my Contact page if you have questions. Thanks for reading!

ELA Brave and True by Marilyn Yung

Your students need to enter this contest!

pexels-photo-789315
Photo bybruce marsfromPexels

In March of 2020 (just before shutdown), two of my students (out of three) received honorable mentions in the regional level of the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. The previous year, ten of my students’ entered their writing in the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. Two of those students won Silver Keys and three won honorable mention awards in the Missouri Writing Region awards, a qualifying round before the national level. (Students who win Gold Keys at regionals then have their work advance to nationals.)  In 2018, one of my students won a Gold Key in poetry at regionals, and then a Silver Key at nationals. So far, I’d say we’ve had a great run!

However, it did take me a year or two to become accustomed to the submission process.The Scholastic awards do involve more than…

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A better Beowulf unit begins with Sutton Hoo

The Dark Ages discovery builds Beowulf engagement

Need an awesome nonfiction text to enhance your Beowulf unit? Look no further! I have a resource for you that you really must check out. It’s titled “Revisiting Sutton Hoo, Britain’s Mythical Ship Burial.” Written by Sam Knight and published in The New Yorker (August 9, 2019), this article is one of my all-time favorite contemporary texts to include in my Beowulf unit.

The article focuses on Sutton Hoo, the monumental 1939 discovery in Suffolk, England of treasure and the remains of a buried Anglo-Saxon ship, in effect a grave for King Raedwald of East Anglia.

Knight’s article is a genre-blending dream!

Weaving seamlessly from narrative to expository and then back again, this article clearly illustrates for students the type of multi-discourse writing that they are expected to read and write on standardized tests, whether in high school or at the college level.

Sam Knight article on Sutton Hoo in The New Yorker

But more importantly, the article is a joy to read. And yes, much of the reason why it’s so enjoyable is due to Knight’s skillful pacing that he achieves through the blending of the story of excavator Basil Brown and landowner Edith Pretty, alongside Anglo-Saxon history and literature (namely, Beowulf), plus still other connections to contemporary English life, including Brexit.

In short, this article, which you can read here, portrays Beowulf as a text for the ages and a text for today. Thank you, Mr. Knight, for this article.

I’ve created an AOW-styled close-reading assignment that uses this article should you choose to assign it to your British Literature students. You can find it here on TpT.

The assignment asks students to find new vocabulary, outline the article in a way of their choosing, notice Knight’s interweaving of narrative and expository writing, discuss the changing notion of Britain’s Dark Ages, and comment on Knight’s connections to contemporary British life.

Sutton Hoo article handout
I created this AOW-styled assignment based on the article, “Revisiting Sutton Hoo, Britain’s Mythical Ship Burial.”

Three other resources you should know about if you teach Beowulf:

1. The Dig on Netflix

Netflix’s 2021 film, The Dig, stars Carrie Mulligan (The Great Gatsby, Suffragette) and Ralph Fiennes (Schindler’s List, The English Patient). While it’s a fantastic film, I showed only the first sixty-six minutes to my seniors last week. Read why in my review here. For a viewing guide to this portion of the movie, visit my resource on TpT.

And here’s a photo (below) of the viewing guide I created for the first sixty-six minutes of Netflix’s The Dig. The guide includes a few objective questions, but also critical thinking questions you may need to discuss and think through with students after viewing the film.

The Dig viewing guide on Sutton Hoo discoveries
I created this viewing guide for The Dig.

2. The Dig by John Preston

The Dig by John Preston If you’re interested in reading the book upon which the movie is based, here’s a link to that as well. In the meantime, do read the Sam Knight article.

The Dig by John Preston
Use this text to supplement the movie, The Dig.

3. In Search of Beowulf by Michael Wood

This documentary, hosted by English historian and broadcaster Michael Wood, is the most thorough and comprehensive one I’ve found yet to use while introducing Beowulf to my classes. Wood includes a healthy dose of Sutton Hoo background and intrigue, as well as interesting connections to our current day English language. Students also hear famed actor Julian Glover read Beowulf to a live-action mead hall brimming with enraptured listeners. It’s a fascinating glimpse into how Beowulf would have been “performed” in its day.

I return to this BBC documentary year after year.

Beowulf is always fun!

Marilyn Yung of ELA Brave and True

I really don’t think it takes much on my part to build excitement for Beowulf. I usually tell my students that Beowulf is the story that makes us afraid of things that go bump in the night.

Those instinctive primal fears have been passed down to us through the ages via this classic Anglo-Saxon tale… along with, of course, our ideas about justice, loyalty, and heroism.

Enjoy!

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More Beowulf and Brit Lit resources

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My new high school poetry class

The start of something special

Last spring, I proposed a new poetry class to be held the last hour of the day at my rural high school. My administration fully supported my desire to try something new and encouraged me to write a course description for juniors and seniors (plus sophomores with approval) to consider as they began to assemble their schedules for the next school year.

poetry bulletin board with quote from Dead Poets Society
This is pretty much how I feel about the importance of poetry in our lives.

Honestly, I really had no idea how students would respond as the year wound down. On the last day of school during arena scheduling (where students sign up for classes on a first-come-first-served basis based on seniority, attendance, and grades), I expected only six to eight students to sign up.

Imagine my surprise when eighteen students filled up my sheet!

Now four weeks into the new year, my new poetry class is quickly becoming my favorite class of the day.

In fact, it doesn’t feel like a class at all. Granted, it’s during the last period of the day, and we’re all winding down. We move the desks out of the rows, play a jazz playlist, brew some coffee, and talk “poetry.” Needless to say, the hour goes by quickly!

coffee cart for poetry class
Coffee time! I have a senior assigned to assist during last hour. She makes sure to brew coffee and hot tea as we get settled each day. It creates a nice, relaxing vibe for the classroom.

With this week’s post, I thought I would give you a quick run-down of some of the activities my students have completed so far.

Here’s the short list:

  • Students have written and presented “Something You Should Know” poems using a mentor written by poet Clint Smith. Read more about this poem on this blog post from two weeks ago.
  • They’ve also created black-out poems, and written list poems (awesome! future post alert!) and poems on the theme of silence.
  • Students have also written “author’s bio” tags, which were brief mini-paragraphs they read at the conclusion of reading a poem aloud.
  • Students have brought poems to class (found using the links below) and recited them twice. (Yes, some of them abhor standing up to recite, but they’re doing it anyway. Everyone gets a round of applause.)
  • This week, we’re going to read cinquains by Adelaide Crapsey and Aaron Toleos and trying our hand at this unique five-line form.

Here’s a gallery of the books I purchased for my classroom library.

Some students are using these books to search for poetry to recite in class, but the majority are finding poetry in a handful of links I’ve listed on our Google Classroom class stream. These include:

If students say they don’t like poetry, it’s usually because they haven’t found the right poetry for them. Having a solid lineup of quality poetry sources is key.

That’s all for now…

Marilyn Yung, owner of ELA Brave and True

I’ll be posting more about this class in the coming weeks with more specifics on our goings-on, but for now, suffice it to say that I’ve witnessed students producing some of the most creative writing of my career in the short time we’ve been meeting.

In addition, so far this class makes me very excited for the upcoming contests I have planned for students to enter, such as the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards and Poetry Out Loud. I can’t wait!

Need a new poetry idea?

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A New Poem Activity for The Wanderer

Explore the Ubi sunt Anglo-Saxon motif

Last week, it became time for my seniors to read and study The Wanderer, the Anglo-Saxon elegiac poem that explores human isolation, loss, and exile. It’s a beautiful poem that connects our contemporary emotions and longings to those of our forebears and shows us, once again, that we can find consolation and instruction in even pre-medieval poetry.

The Wanderer is yet another example of Anglo-Saxon poetry that reveals why we read: to know we’re not alone.

However, while our study of The Wanderer included taking notes, reading the poem aloud, and completing this close-reading scavenger hunt activity, this year I wanted us to go one step further to get more out of this beautiful verse.

So when I read about something called the Ubi sunt motif present in The Wanderer, I took notice… especially when I considered how it might be a way for students to better connect to this poem.

What is the Ubi sunt motif?

I first stumbled upon the Ubi sunt motif as I was reading my trusty Norton Anthology of English Literature (Sixth Edition).

Norton Anthology of English Literature 6th Edition
My trusty yet old Norton Anthology of English Literature, Sixth Edition.

On page 68, in the introduction to The Wanderer, the editors explain that in the poem when the theme “expands from one man to all human beings in a world wasted by war and time,” the speaker waxes philosophically about his past. The text reads, “He derives such cold comfort as he can from asking the old question, Ubi sunt? — where are they who were once so glad to be alive?”

Hmmm, I thought. That’s interesting. I then did some quick online research and located more about Ubi sunt on a literary review blog called Universe in Words. This is how ubi sunt is defined by this blog’s unnamed author:

 “The name for this motif comes from the Latin phrase ‘Ubi sunt qui ante nos fuerunt?‘ which means ‘Where are those who were before us?‘. This is called an erotema, a rhetorical question, and forms the beginning of many Latin poems which ponder upon the concepts of mortality and the transience of life, while also calling strongly upon a sense of nostalgia. Considering the former it should be no surprise many of these poems were Christian, extolling the virtues of living a good life since all perishes and only Heaven is a reward. However, this tradition was also extremely well-represented in English literature as early on as in the Anglo-Saxon period.”

The universe in Words: TOLKIEN, ‘THE WANDERER’ AND THE UBI SUNT-TRADITION

This blogger went on to include a short clip from The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers that shows the character Theoden suiting up for the Battle of the Hornburg. In this clip, the screenplay includes lines from J.R.R. Tolkien that draw directly upon the Ubi sunt motif found in The Wanderer. Here’s that video:

Watch this video clip, which contains an ubi sunt lament similar to that found on lines 86-94 of The Wanderer (Burton Raffel translation).

In my school’s Prentice-Hall British Literature textbook, the version of The Wanderer is a translation by Burton Raffel. Lines 86-94 feature the poem’s Ubi sunt motif. Here are those lines:

Where is the war-steed? Where is the warrior?  
Where is his war-lord?  
Where now the feasting-places? Where now the mead-hall  
     pleasures?  
Alas, bright cup! Alas, brave knight!  
Alas, you glorious princes! All gone,  
Lost in the night, as you never had lived.                                          

These lines form the basic Ubi sunt within this poem, and I thought they might serve as a template my students could emulate to create their own Ubi sunt poems.

My Prentice-Hall British Tradition textbook
This is my Prentice-Hall British Tradition textbook. It’s an oldie but goodie.

I created an Ubi sunt poem handout for students that includes a little background, some brief instructions, and a mentor poem that I wrote. It’s available on my Teachers Pay Teachers store. Here’s a photo of the handout:

Ubi sunt poem activity
I made this Ubi Sunt poetry activity for my senior British Lit class.

You’ll probably notice that on the handout I included four preceding lines of the poem to introduce the traditional eight-line ubi sunt lines. I thought this would better provide students with more context for the Ubi sunt questions.

In addition, I left it open for students to end their Ubi sunt lines with their choice of “…as you never had been” or “…as you never had lived.” Depending on their approach, I thought either verb would work and still keep the central intention of the Ubi sunt lines: to reflect on their past glories, fond memories, ancestors, etc.

This poetry activity was brief and required only about twenty minutes for students to craft. The next time I try this with my classes, I may see if we can incorporate more peer review. I may also ask students to record themselves reading their Ubi sunt poems to add more personalization to the assignment and to add a “speaking and listening” standard.

My students’ Ubi sunt poems

student-written poem
This poem laments the loss of a sibling relationship, playtime games, and memories of sisterhood.
student-written poem
This poem recounts the memories of fall hunting excursions.
student-written poem
This poem laments the fun and comradeship of football season.
student-written poem
This poem recalls the loss of puppy fun.

More Ubi sunt encounters

Once you know a little about the Ubi sunt motif, you may start to see it elsewhere. In fact, my British literature class will no doubt encounter it later this year when we read Sir Philip Sidney’s “Astrophel and Stella” sonnet 102, which asks:

Where be the roses gone, which sweetened so our eyes?
    Where those red cheeks, which oft with fair increase did frame
    The height of honor in the kindly badge of shame?
Who hath the crimson weeds stolen from my morning skies?

My students and I may also notice the Ubi sunt motif in a broader context as well. Even if a poem doesn’t possess the identifiable “Where is…” questions, it can be said to exhibit the Ubi sunt motif.

According to the Poetry Foundation, “A number of medieval European poems begin with this Latin phrase meaning ‘Where are they?’ By posing a series of questions about the fate of the strong, beautiful, or virtuous, these poems meditate on the transitory nature of life and the inevitability of death. The phrase can now refer to any poetry that treats these themes.” Knowing this, I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for these ideas.

Poetry Foundation Glossary

Yes, I’ll be sure to try this Ubi sunt mini-poem lesson when I teach The Wanderer next year in my British literature class. It was just the kind of short-and-sweet assignment I needed to round out our study of this classic Anglo-Saxon masterpiece.

Questions? Comments? Feel free to shoot me a message on my Contact page and I’ll be glad to help.


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The Best 9/11 Lesson Ever: Visit a Local Memorial

Use this database to find a 9/11 memorial near you

Need a new idea to teach the 9/11 terror attacks? Consider a field trip to a local memorial. Three years ago, I took my eighth-grade language arts classes to a local college where a small monument to the Sept. 11 World Trade Center attacks had been erected. Once we arrived at our designated arrival location, a college student assigned to the task boarded our bus and directed us to the memorial. He then explained the memorial, described its provenance, and answered questions my students posed about it.

9/11 memorial at College of the Ozarks at Point Lookout, Mo.
The “Lest We Forget” Sept. 11 Memorial at College of the Ozarks in Point Lookout, Mo.

The entire outing took no more than one hour and I was fortunate at the time to have both of my eighth-grade classes scheduled back to back so leaving for an hour didn’t disrupt my students’ other classes. That being the case, it was one of the most convenient field trips ever.

More importantly, the field trip helped my students better understand the attacks and identify with the tragedy in a way that’s more tangible than reading about it in a textbook (and way more verifiably truthful than learning about it on YouTube!).

Here’s a quick link to the post about this particular outing:

I hope you’ll read this post. Perhaps it will help you put together your own 9/11 field trip this year. It’s definitely not too late to make plans for a quick and convenient outing, since it’s quite possible a local 9/11 memorial exists near your school.

And since September 11th falls on a Saturday this year, the twentieth-anniversary of the attacks, planning an outing on a Friday should be easy on your schedule.

If you’re wondering where you might find a 9/11 memorial near your school, check this page on the National September 11 Memorial & Museum website: Memorials Database.

You can search by a keyword, city name, or state. You may be surprised to see just how many permanent memorials are out there.

A 9/11 memorial at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum
Besides the impressive National September 11 Memorial & Museum in New York, there are literally thousands of memorials around the country and the world. One may be near your school. | Photo by Aaron Lee on Unsplash

For example, in Overland Park, Kansas, you can visit the Overland Park Fire Training Center to see that city’s fire department’s permanent memorial, which was dedicated in 2014 to the victims of the 9/11 attacks. Visitors can walk across granite flooring from the trade center to, as inscribed upon the memorial, honor the “footsteps gone silent.”

In addition to the granite walking surface, this memorial’s four main components include:

  1. a piece of World Trade Center steel that visitors are encouraged to touch
  2. four educational panels, one for each hijacked flight describing the events onboard those flights and containing a timeline of September 11, 2001, which doubles as a sundial marking the time at which each flight crashed
  3. a panel listing the victims’ names in alphabetical order
  4. and a wall fountain, referred to as either the Weeping Wall or Crying Wall, which represents the tears shed on 9/11

That’s merely one example of the more than 1,000 memorials around the country and indeed, the world. The prevalence of so many local memorials proves the enormous impact the attacks made on people living in Midtown Manhattan or Manhattan, Kansas.

The Memorials Registry tracks 9/11 memorials throughout the world. It is a testament to the global impact of 9/11 and the diverse ways in which individuals and communities have continued to commemorate the victims and remember the attacks.

National September 11 Memorial & Museum Registry

So spend a few minutes nosing around the memorial registry database to find a 9/11 memorial near your school.

And remember, while we teachers are remembering 9/11, our students are still learning about it. Born into a world with security procedures, safety drills, and other protocols created in response to 9/11, students are still learning about this critical event in world history (and, unfortunately, many of them are learning it from YouTube conspiracy theorists).

Fight back against that influence by taking your students to a 9/11 memorial this year.

Marilyn Yung, owner of ELA Brave and True

Thanks for reading this week!

If you’ve taken your classes to a 9/11 memorial, share your experience in the comments below or drop me an email via my Contact page. I would love to hear from you!

Have a great week!

Marilyn


More 9/11 teaching resources:

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Back to school: Four icebreaker poetry ideas

Get to know your students with these poetry mentor texts

School is starting soon in most locales of the United States and teachers are busy gearing up to find interesting. low-stakes ways to get students writing. Poetry is always a no-fail way to encourage students of all ages to get back in the swing of things.

Here are four new poetry lesson and/or project ideas.

1. Something You Should Know

This poem by award-winning poet Clint Smith would be a great one to use as a getting-to-know-you writing activity. Smith is a staff writer at The Atlantic. According to his website, “He is the author of the narrative nonfiction book, How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning With the History of Slavery Across America, which was a #1 New York Times bestseller, and the poetry collection Counting Descent.”

Author and poet Clint Smith | Photo: Ryan Lash/TED | License

I’ve underlined those lines where students could substitute in their own lines and memories. Of course, this is just a guideline.

Something You Should Know
is that as a kid, I once worked at a pet store.
I cleaned the cages
of small animals like turtles, hamsters,
rabbits, and hermit crabs. 
I watched the hermit crab continue
to grow, molt, shed its skin and scurry across
the bottom of the aquarium to find a new shell.
Which left me afraid for the small creature,
to run around all exposed that way, to have
to live its entire life requiring something else
to feel safe. Perhaps that is when I became afraid
of needing anything beyond myself. Perhaps
that is why, even now, I can want so desperately
to show you all of my skin, but am more afraid
of meeting you, exposed, in open water.

Ask students to emulate Smith’s poem, using it as inspiration for their own. While middle and high school students are still kids, they may have trouble thinking of a memory from when they were younger. Allow them enough time to think of a writing topic.

To imitate this poem, have students model its structure, including using five sentences and past tense verbs. Ask them to notice the punctuation in the poem and attempt to phrase their sentences to support the punctuation. For example, the first line of the poem will end with a period. The next idea elaborates on the first sentence with a series. The third idea describes the last item in the series. The next idea begins with the word “Which” and includes infinitive verbs. The final five lines include the word “Perhaps” to suggest the meaning behind the story told so far in the poem. This is where the concrete topics discussed earlier in the poem explain an abstract notion.

Here’s a mentor text I wrote as an example for my students:

Something You Should Know
is that as a kid, I was a bird-watcher.
I roamed the backyards
of my neighborhood to see
sparrows, robins, the occasional oriole.
I spied the orioles perching
on branches, under canopies of leaves
as they migrated to far-away southern fields.
Which left me in awe of their fortune
to travel, to explore, to wander,
to have their entire lives to roam.
Perhaps that is when I realized
that birds have it best. Perhaps 
that is why, even now, I can want so much
to search and discover, uncover, 
and reveal the world’s treasures. 

Discuss the poet Clint Smith and further explore his writing at his website.

2. I’m a Good Person Because My Childhood Was

This catalog verse-styled poem by poet Jan-Henry Gray could also be used as a getting-to-know-you writing activity. According to his website, “Jan-Henry Gray was born in the Philippines, grew up in California, and worked as a chef in San Francisco for more than 12 years.” Today, he is an award-winning writer and professor at Adelphi University in Garden City, NY.

To emulate Gray’s poem, have your students assemble lists of objects, phrases, memories, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures from their childhoods. (This poem is similar to the popular Where I’m From poems, but with a more extended length.) They can include people from the news, events and happenings, statistics, TV shows, foods, greetings, urban slang, and more. Clearly, Gray drew on a wide spectrum of images and memories to create his list poem, which he assembled into a prose paragraph.

I'm a Good Person Because My Childhood Was
junk yard, Goodwill, crushed cans, buy-1-get-1-free, re-runs, dead leaves in the pool, no lifeguard, landlord no English, bounced check, smog check, two—no, need three jobs, back entrance, under the table, no ride after school, loud dogs, mean neighbors, no neighbors, someone died there, FOR RENT sign, up for months, rusted carts, bruised fruit, free bones, just ask, beef tongue, chicken broth, chicken hearts, clouded eye of fish on ice, fry it extra crispy, the house smells like patis and Windex and roses from the rosewater bath to heal the kidney, traffic, church is packed, late for church, not going to church, news of a shooting, news of a robbery, news of the boy raped at prom, pictures of the teens in court, animals!, those crying parents, his crying parents, Rodney King, Reginald Denny, everyone’s yelling on Ricki or Jerry or Maury or Montel and Oprah is on the cover of her own magazine, dentist office, insurance voucher, no social, permanent address, temporary address, magazines with the address torn off, it’s your first time, the handsome dentist says, he touches you and you feel special and rich and white and American and healthy and taken care of, T.C.C.I.C., keep in touch, have a nice summer, we’ll be friendz 4 forever, never change

This prose poem reveals so much about the writer. Obviously, your students may not wish to disclose so much personal information, and that’s completely fine.

Make sure to tell students their poem will not be displayed and, if you decide to have students share their work with a classmate, make sure to allow students to choose their partner.

The last thing I want to do is to make a young writer feel uncomfortable in my class on day one.

Discuss the poet Jan-Henry Gray and further explore his work at his website.

3. To Whom It May Concern

This poem by writer Mark Wunderlich may appeal to your advanced writers, mainly due to its longer length, which can of course be shortened as you see fit.

According to his website, “Wunderlich was born in Winona, Minnesota and grew up in rural Fountain City, Wisconsin. He attended Concordia College’s Institut für Deutsche Studien, and later the University of Wisconsin from which he received a BA in German Literature and English.” He has taught at Stanford University, Barnard College, and Stonehill College in Easton, Mass.

I’ve underlined those lines where students could substitute in their own lines and memories. Of course, this is just a guideline.

To Whom It May Concern

In the polaroid in a drawer of the house
the other relatives picked over, I’m the blur in the background,

mop of silvery hair. The rasp of the ash pan when you empty the stove
is a bit like my voice, stuck in the chimney like a nest.

You won’t have to know how I procrastinated, of my abiding fear
of snakes, or how I gave terrible presents when I bothered to give them at all.

I was told by a psychic to remember the unloved dead,
and so I did, but not in a way they would like,

recalling how they got ugly when they drank
or stole the loose change from the laundry

when they thought nobody saw. I spent years
writing my last letters, writing off the debt of a cold bed,

pretending I was busy when really I was home
pinned to the couch by a cat.

For money I did many things—trapped muskrats,
forged thank you notes, let men pet me while I danced.

Mostly I played the role of someone who cared,
tilted in my chair and trying to appear engaged—

the preoccupied uncle you weren’t quite sure you liked.
That’s me smoking in the Winnebago, leaving the sink

clean of hair. I’m there deadheading the rhubarb
nobody bothers to pick and my worthless collections—

rag rugs, concrete gnomes—
were most likely put out in the trash.

Sometimes I lied when I was bored. I wanted you
to know what I knew, though I eventually gave that up

preferring to make you laugh.
This life I led was mostly private, and hours were spent

sweeping bat guano from a crumbling set of stairs.
Nobody knew the half of it, and nobody seemed to care.

I foresaw how neglected the town cemetery became,
glimpsed in a vision the rusted fence that let in the deer.

They stripped the bark from the junipers
that eventually came down in a storm.

I was in that storm, blown out across the ice
toward Arcadia. That’s a town in Wisconsin

and not some name for paradise.

Again, your students can modify this poem to fit their needs. It’s simply a starting point to get the creative juices flowing.

4. Headline Poetry

Try headline poetry, one example of “found poetry.” I love headline poetry for two main reasons: 1) it results in some of the THE MOST intriguing, flat-out creative writing ever and 2) it lets everyone talk and socialize as they collect and cut out their words. But don’t worry, things quiet down a bit when students start to arrange their words into meaningful poetry.

Side note: And yes, COVID-19 and all the needed precautions are on everyone’s minds. As of now, my school will be fully in-person. If your school is offering virtual learning, the headline poetry idea below may not apply to your situation. (It requires scissors, paper magazines, and glue.) Instead, depend on the other poems listed above to suit your needs.

Here’s a gallery of gorgeous headline poetry created by my students and a few by yours truly.

One final headline poetry tip: have a broom handy for early finishers or have them collect all those common words such as articles and prepositions for other students to use when needed in their poems.

If you need some inspiration or materials to try headline poetry, see my headline poetry toolkit on Teachers Pay Teachers.


Marilyn Yung

Thanks for reading!

If you try one of these poems with your students during the first weeks of school this year, please let me know. I plan to use “Something You Should Know” in a week or so and I’ll be sure to write a post to let you know how it goes.

Have a great 2021-2022 school term!


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Three back-to-school ELA lesson ideas

Fun ELA ideas for the first days of school

Needing some fresh ideas for the first days back at school? Want to avoid the ubiquitous “What I Did On My Summer Vacation” drudgery? All three of the activities below are road-tested by yours truly and I think you’ll find them beneficial to not only kick off the year, but to get your students creating on day one.

1. “Getting to Know You” One-Pager

Adapt the one-pager idea into a getting-to-know-you activity. Have students reveal their favorite memories, likes/dislikes, hobbies and more by letting them color up their choice of one-pager templates from Betsy Potash’s Spark Creativity. One-pagers work best for me when I enlarge Potash’s templates to 145%. Read about that trick here.

2. The Sometimes Poem from Middle Grades Author Kate Messner

Get the most out of your students’ Sometimes Poems by submitting them to Creative Communication’s Poetry Contest for middle schoolers. I just received an email yesterday announcing an extension of the deadline to August 26. This is NOT a pay-to-get-published company! There is no cost to apply and all winners who give parental permission have their poetry published in a hard-cover book. If you can’t tell, I’m a big fan of this company. (I just wish they still hosted contests for high school!)

3. Book Cover Analysis

This is a good reading activity for students to do in the first few days of school when they’ve only just begun to get into a book. Get your students up talking about a book’s cover design, typography, and graphic design and how those elements predict the book’s contents.

There! That should get you started.

Marilyn Yung, Owner of ELA Brave and True

I hope your 2021-2022 school year gets off to a fabulous start, despite all the Covid-19 precautions and teaching adjustments we are scrambling to reacquaint ourselves with.

And if you’ve already started school, or are teaching internationally without a U.S.-style summer break, know that I’m thinking of you out there already doing what you do best!

Thanks again for reading this week!


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“Gatsby? What Gatsby?”

I created a bunch of content this summer relating to the teaching of The Great Gatsby. Click on the post below to find all those resources.

ELA Brave and True | Love teaching. Make it memorable.