Lesson plan

African American Poets

Students will use a combination of graphic organizers in this lesson plan to learn about famous African American poets and their poetry. They will work in groups to research a famous poet, and choose one of their poems to analyze. Then, they'll share their findings with the class.
Grade Subject View aligned standards

Students will be able to conduct a short research project to learn about famous African American poets and their poetry.

(8 minutes)
  • Ask students to share what they know about poetry. Record their ideas on the board, and talk about some of the things they see in poetry, such as rhyming, imagery, etc.
  • Display and read an example of a poem, such as "The Little Clock" by Hattie Howard, and ask students what they notice and what they like about the poem. Point out examples of rhyming words and how each stanza has four lines each.
  • Explain that poetry is a type of writing that helps readers use their imagination and emotions. Poets carefully choose and arrange their words to make sound and rhythm, as well as meaning. Some poems are funny, and others are serious. Some poems rhyme and have a beat, while others do not. Share that poetry can be about anything, and it can have as many words as they want. Add that the person who writes poetry is called a poet.
(15 minutes)
  • Use the example of the poem from the Introduction section of the lesson to share some information about the poet. For example, share that there is not much to be found about Hattie Howard when searching online, but people who have read her poetry can tell that she often writes poems that have a funny ending and show a bright, hopeful spirit in the writing. Readers also say that she had natural talent for writing poetry.
  • Display a copy of the Biography Research worksheet to show students what they will fill out to learn about their famous poet. Go over each of the sections to clarify what type of information they'll look for in their research.
  • Read aloud the poem from the Introduction again, and think aloud to model how to analyze it. Record thoughts on the graphic organizer. (Note: This can be filled out prior to the lesson to save teaching/student work time.)
  • Tell the class that today, they are going to work in small groups to research a famous African American poet and their poems. Then, they'll analyze the poem and share it with the class. Explain or review that research is when we look closely and carefully to collect information about a topic.
(35 minutes)
  • Divide the class into small groups of three students, and provide a list of famous African American poets. A sample list could include:
    • Langston Hughes
    • Nikki Giovanni
    • Maya Angelou
    • Phillis Wheatley
    • Gwendolyn Brooks
    • Rita Dove
    • Walter Dean Myers
    • Nikki Grimes
    • James Baldwin
  • Allow groups to choose a poet, or assign them a poet.
  • Distribute a copy of the Biography Research and Analyzing a Poem graphic organizers to each individual.
  • Give groups time to research their poet, pick a poem, and analyze it. Circulate while groups work and provide assistance, as needed.
(25 minutes)
  • Have groups present to the class by reading aloud some or all of the poem they chose to analyze to give the class exposure to a variety of poems from African American poets. Ask them to share a little bit about their poet, as well. Specify exactly what you want groups to share about the poet's biography to ensure appropriate pacing of presentations. (e.g., In the presentation, share where the poet grew up, a common theme/idea/topic found in their poetry, and one important accomplishment for which they are known.)


  • Put students into mixed-ability groups for the research and poetry analysis portion of the lesson.
  • Provide sentence starters to support students with public speaking during their group presentation.


  • Have students compare and contrast two of the famous African American poets researched in class.
  • Encourage students to look for common themes found among the poems that were shared in the class and create categories. Have them share their conclusions with the class in a visual presentation.
  • Circulate throughout the Guided Practice section of the lesson to provide assistance, as well as monitor and observe students' ability to conduct research and offer insight about the poetry.
  • Collect students' research and poem analysis graphic organizers to determine their proficiency in conducting short research projects to learn more about a specific topic.
(2 minutes)
  • Remind students that poetry is a special type of writing that allows us to use our imagination and emotions as we read, and it allows the writers to express their thoughts, ideas, and feelings. Point out that the poets they researched today are influential and known for their special poems and writing abilities.

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