Using the Poetry of Langston Hughes to Spark Discussion

The following guest post, part of our “Teacher’s Corner” series, is by Rebecca Newland, a Fairfax County Public Schools Librarian and former Teacher in Residence at the Library of Congress.

Langston Hughes, half-length portrait, facing left, 1942. Photo by Jack Delano. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3a43849

Langston Hughes, half-length portrait, facing left, 1942. Photo by Jack Delano.

On September 22, 2016, the New York Times published the poem “I, Too” by Langston Hughes on the back page of its stand-alone print section on the Smithsonian’s new National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC. This is a poem I believe can be used to spark discussion with students.

Begin by reading “I, Too”  aloud to your students. Pair students to reread the poem one or more times. Ask them to react to the poem in writing, answering the question: Why do you think the New York Times dedicated an entire page of their newspaper to print the poem? Next ask partners to share their thoughts with each other.

Open the discussion to the class. Follow this discussion by asking for ideas about why the New York Times chose this poem to celebrate the new museum.

Perhaps one or more of the students will make observations about the poem as commentary on the experiences of African Americans in America. This then creates the impetus for a conversation about the need for the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Extend the discussion with other poems by Hughes such as:

Consider offering a choice of poems to individual or small groups of students to continue the conversation about how Langston Hughes used poetry to present his ideas about the African American experience.

Ask students to write a narrative or original poem about their own experiences or others of their culture or to grapple with their understanding about the experiences of those of another culture.

This post explores another way to engage students with “I, Too.”

Which poems or poets do you use to spark discussion?

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