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Replacing Fear with Curiosity: Using Photographs and Poetry to Process Election 2016

December 11, 2016

Tracy Kent-Gload



“I’m Young, Black, and Male. I Live in Fear of a Trump Presidency.”


Intended Audience: Elementary School Students

Overview: This material is not designed not as a formal lesson plan, but simply to replace fear with curiosity. We have a long road ahead of us. What do students need from teachers after the election? One thing we do know, is that Trump MUST work with lawmakers and the Supreme Court. He does not have absolute power. The following activities are designed to open respectful dialogue, connect our history as a country to what is going on in our country right now.

Scope and Sequence: This lesson uses poetry and art to build a foundation for college and career readiness. It offers students an opportunity to explore their own conceptions of fear as curiosity. As well, it provides ample opportunities to engage in Part I, a variety of rich, structured conversations- as part of a whole class, in small groups, and with a partner.  Being productive members of these conversations requires that students contribute accurate, relevant information; respond to and develop what others have said; make comparisons and contrasts; and analyze a multitude of ideas in various domains.

New technologies have broadened and expanded the role that speaking and listening play in acquiring and sharing knowledge, and have tightened their link to other forms of communication.  Digital texts confront students with the potential for continually updated and dynamically changing combinations of words, graphics, images, hyperlinks, and embedded video and audio.

Common Core State Standards

SL.5.2  Summarize a text read aloud, or information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

SL5.3 Summarize the points a speaker makes and explain how each claim is supported by reasons and evidence.

Lesson 1:  Walk into the Photograph

  1. Give each student a photograph… for older students, a cartoon may be appropriate as a follow up.  Have them take notes on their personal feelings and record them on the Walk into the Photograph page.
  2. Create a postcard telling a family member or friend about what you are doing and seeing on your visit to the place.
  3. Gather in a group and discuss using the attached the Teachable Moments guide sheet.

 Lesson 2:  Poetry Connection

  1. Pass out poems by various Civil Rights Notables.  Discuss in groups.  As you facilitate analysis of metaphors and symbolism, take notes.  Illustrate the way you visualize the symbols and metaphors.
  2. Pass out the current poem, Election 2016.  Have students analyze the poem, and make their own connections with what they read in the older poems.
  3. The teacher will ask a question of those in the inner circle only. Those in the outer circle will observe the discussion and be prepared to summarize what they have heard.
  4. Take a few minutes to think about your answer. You can use the notes from the activity above if you would like.
  5. Go around the circle, letting each person answer the question.
  6. After everyone has had a chance to answer, you can respond to what has been said. If you disagree with someone’s answer, this is your chance to explain. You might want to connect to something in your own experience or raise a related question.
  7. The inner circle group should answer the first two questions and then ask the outer circle group to summarize what they heard.
  8. Then the groups should switch and the outer circle group should become the inner circle group and answer the third and fourth questions.

Essential Questions:

  • How do I respond when faced with tough circumstances?
  • How have my background and experiences contributed to the person I have become?
  • What struggles and obstacles have I, and others who share my cultural background, had to overcome?
  • How and why does society continue to put down certain groups?
  • For what do I want my “voice” to be used?

Materials Needed:

  • Various poems written by people active in the Civil Rights Movement, such as “I, Too” by Langston Hughes
  • Poems from current events, such as “Election 2016”

Lesson 3:  Word Work


Authors often use imagery to create comparisons between literal and figurative elements, add depth and understanding to a literary piece, and evoke a more meaningful experience for the reader. Examining use of imagery in poetry can help you understand and interpret the poem’s theme and message.

  1. Before reading the poem, define or review definitions for the following elements of imagery: personification, metaphor, simile, onomatopoeia and hyperbole.
  2. Read poems in small groups or partners.
  3. Use a highlighter to identify examples of imagery in the poem.
  4. Each group should select one of the poems to analyze and illustrate.
  5. Discuss examples of imagery in your stanza, the type of imagery used and what you believe the element of imagery represents in the poem’s theme. For example, the crystal stair in Langston Hughes’ poem—would be symbolic of slave owner’s mansions in the past, and now would symbolize white privilege.
  6. Once you have finished, present the analysis to the rest of the class. Encourage other groups to add to their interpretation.
  7. Once all groups have presented, combine with another group and draw conclusions about how the imagery in the poem contributes to the poem’s overall message. Connect to the present with what is going on in 2016.

Close and Critical Reading

Readers are free to develop their own interpretations. Interpretation may be dependent on students’ own cultural identity, experiences and knowledge, and it may be different than the interpretation of their classmates.

  1. Poems are often best interpreted by first reading them aloud. Pair up with a partner. Take turns reading the poem aloud while your partner listens. What emotions do you hear in your partner’s interpretation? Did you read the poem in a similar manner or differently?
  2. Annotate the poem with your partner using the following questions:
  • Who do you think the speaker/narrator of the poem is? Is it a person? A cultural group? Identify words or phrases that help you identify the speaker/narrator.
  • How does the speaker/narrator seem to feel about themselves? Draw a face that represents that emotion (e.g., a smiley face, sad face or angry face) next to a word phrase that exhibits it. Have you ever felt that way about yourself? If so, share with your partner what makes you feel that way.
  • To whom do you think the poem is directed? Highlight words and phrases that support your answers and share them with your partner.
  • What message is the writer trying to give to the person or group to which she is writing? Have you ever had to give a similar message to someone? If so, when?
  • What do you believe the poem’s overall theme is? Examples include hopelessness, strength, resiliency, spirit and anger. Write the theme you have identified at the top of the poem. Then draw an arrow to a word or phrase from the poem that supports that theme.
  • Do you see this poem in a historical context? If so, explain that context to your partner.
  • Finally, consider and share with your partner how your own knowledge, experiences and cultural identify influence the way you have chosen to interpret the poem. Have you interpreted it differently than your partner?

Community Inquiry

After students have annotated the text, talk with others in the class about it. Divide into two groups. Set up the room with two concentric circles of chars—one large circle of chairs and a second, larger circle of chairs outside of it. One group will sit in the inner circle and one group will sit in the outer circle. Each student should bring a copy of the poem. Conduct like Socratic Seminar.

Follow this procedure for these four questions:

  • In what way(s) do you personally connect with this poem?

Write to the Source

  • From where does your voice come: your family, your culture, your beliefs, your friends, and/or your experiences?
  • For what would you like to use your voice, now and in the future?

Do Something

Work with your school counselor and other stakeholders to champion and create a club or group at your school dedicated to helping students find their voices and overcome adversity if necessary. The club could simply be a place for students to find resources or it could be a more complex, peer-to-peer support network.

Extension Activity

Research the civil rights movement, and make connections. Are we in the midst of another one?


Teachable Moments (adapted from Terry Poisson)

Some of the most personally gratifying teaching moments have come when I wanted to avoid a potentially uncomfortable situation but dove in head first! The Social Studies classroom should be the safe place you can “process” and reflect about events happening around the world and even in your back yard. The past several days have held many of us captive in front of our televisions and/or devices watching Baltimore’s pain, anger and resilience, so discussing the issue of freedom (slavery) may be a sensitive topic.

These discussions work best when teachers are honest with their students: These conversations are hard. They don’t always feel good. I do not have all the answers. Elicit their support  to help you understand the situation right along with them, all while reminding them that you honestly want to hear how they process this situation.

Before beginning controversial discussions, it’s essential to build in strategies for managing conflict. Do not just open the floor to wild debate about the topic. For many, this is not just a Social Studies history topic. Many of them know what its like to have their freedoms and their rights taken away. In addition, if it’s not about their families’ lives, activities, friends, school and/or property, it may be difficult to comprehend.

Agree to discussion ground rules:

Socratic Seminar Rules

Listen: start a sentence after the previous speaker has finished.

Share your opinion: support comments with personal experiences, connections, and/or text.

Build on the comments of others: when disagreeing, do it agreeably. Ask a question, rather than make a statement.

Disagree with Grace” Statements:

Remember: Using “but” negates.  Using “and” hears.

“You’re right and this is how I feel/think…”

“That’s okay and…”

“That’s true for you and what’s true for me is something else…”

“That’s a really good point and I feel/think differently…”

“I was curious what you thought when you said…”

“I was wondering what you thought/felt when you said…”

“Can you tell me more about what you meant when you said…”

Resources: Stepping Into a Painting

STEP 1: Imagine you are away visiting the place where this painting takes place. WALK INTO THE PAINTING: What do your SENSES tell you? What do you HEAR? What do you SMELL? What do you SEE? What do you TASTE? What do you FEEL against your skin? How do you FEEL inside?

STEP2: NOW, write a postcard home telling a family member or a friend about what you are doing and seeing on your vacation to this new place!

Resources: Poetry

Election 2016

Fading presence of a stranger,

People warn me of the danger,

Broken promises full of truth,

Debates held faults at the root.


One ballot in your favor,

One ballot I can savor,

Was mine counted I wonder,

Who will win I ponder.


Explosions and walls erected,

Some happy he was selected,

People crying and rejoicing,

Flags burning as they sing.


Will he keep his words?

Will his promises turn to birds?

Will this blindness fade?

Will I see past the shade?


One evil, one evil I shout out,

Only two choices I can count,

Together we are broken,

Sanity remains as a token.

Copyright © Kofoworola George-Taylor | Year Posted 2016


Other Resources

As I Grew Older  poem by Langston Hughes

Still I Rise  poem by Maya Angelou

Caged Bird  poem by Maya Angelou

I Wish I Knew How It Felt to Be Free  song by Nina Simone

A Change is Gonna Come   song by Sam Cooke

Political Cartoons

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