K-12 Teaching and Learning From the UNC School of Education

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Learning outcomes

Students will read selected poems and listen to jazz that have their roots in the Harlem Renaissance. The students will then discuss the similarities and differences of themes in the works of different poets and composers.

Teacher planning

Time required for lesson

3 to 5 days

Materials/resources

  • cd player
  • Access to as many of the following poems as possible:
    • Countee Cullen: “For a Poet,” “From the Dark Tower,” “The Loss of Love,” and “Saturday’s Child.”
    • From poet Langston Hughes: “As I Grow Older,” “Daybreak in Alabama,” and “Mother to Son.”
  • Access to as many of the following jazz pieces as possible:
    • Count Basie: “Every Day I Have the Blues.”
    • Billie Holiday: “God Bless the Child” and “Strange Fruit.”
    • Bessie Smith: “Back Water Blues,” “Down Hearted Blues,” and “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out.”

Pre-activities

Review the literary terms: theme, mood, and tone.

Activities

Class Activities

  1. Provide background on the Harlem Renaissance. See Drop Me Off in Harlem. Discuss how the jazz that was frequently heard throughout Harlem may have influenced the poets who lived and wrote there.
  2. Read the following poems aloud to your class, and then listen to the jazz pieces. You may want to listen to each piece more than once. Discuss the similarities and differences in their messages, themes, tones, and moods.
    • Langston Hughes’s “Mother to Son” compared to Bessie Smith’s “Down Hearted Blues.”
    • Count Basie’s “Every Day I Have the Blues” compared to Bessie Smith’s “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out.”

Small Group Activities

  1. In cooperative groups, have the students read the poems “Daybreak in Alabama” by Langston Hughes and “For a Poet” by Countee Cullen. Discuss the similarities and differences in their messages, themes, tones, and moods.
  2. Have the students independently read the poem “From the Dark Tower” by Countee Cullen and then listen to Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit.” Students should then write an essay discussing the similarities and differences in their messages, themes, tones, and moods. See the attachment labeled Student Activity for detailed instructions for the essay and a scoring rubric.

Assessment

  • Choice A: Students may choose to search for a modern poem or song that has a theme or message that is parallel with one of the poems or songs listed below. The students would then write an essay discussing the similarities and differences in their messages, themes, tones, and moods. See the attachment labeled Choice A - Assessment for detailed instructions for the essay and a scoring rubric.
  • Choice B: If the students have limited access to music and/or poetry, read one of the poems or play one of the jazz pieces listed below. Then have the students either independently or in cooperative groups identify the theme of the work and then compose a poem that has a similar theme or message. Use the attachment labeled Choice B - Assessment to score the assessment.
    • “The Loss of Love” by Countee Cullen
    • “Saturday’s Child” by Countee Cullen
    • “God Bless the Child” by Billie Holiday
    • “As I Grow Older” by Langston Hughes
    • “Back Water Blues” by Bessie Smith

Supplemental information

Comments

Although these activities are presented as a unit, any one of the activities could be used alone to enrich your class’s appreciation of the poets and composers of the Harlem Renaissance.

Biographies and audio samples can also be obtained from Ken Burn’s Jazz.

  • Common Core State Standards
    • English Language Arts (2010)
      • Reading: Literature

        • Grade 8
          • 8.RL.2 Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including its relationship to the characters, setting, and plot; provide an objective summary of the text.
        • Grade 9-10
          • 9-10.RL.2 Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze in detail its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.
          • 9-10.RL.7 Analyze the representation of a subject or a key scene in two different artistic mediums, including what is emphasized or absent in each treatment (e.g., Auden’s “Musée des Beaux Arts” and Breughel’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus).

  • North Carolina Essential Standards
    • Music Education (2010)
      • Grade 8

        • 8.CR.1 Understand global, interdisciplinary, and 21st century connections with music. 8.CR.1.1 Understand the role of music in North Carolina and the United States in relation to history and geography. 8.CR.1.2 Understand the relationships between music and...
      • Intermediate Music

        • I.CR.1 Understand global, interdisciplinary, and 21st century connections with music. I.CR.1.1 Use music to explore concepts of civics and economics (such as systems, functions, structures, democracy, economies, and interdependence). I.CR.1.2 Understand the...

North Carolina curriculum alignment

English Language Arts (2004)

Grade 8

  • Goal 5: The learner will respond to various literary genres using interpretive and evaluative processes.
    • Objective 5.01: Increase fluency, comprehension, and insight through a meaningful and comprehensive literacy program by:
      • using effective reading strategies to match type of text.
      • reading self-selected literature and other materials of interest to the individual.
      • reading literature and other materials selected by the teacher.
      • assuming a leadership role in student-teacher reading conferences.
      • leading small group discussions.
      • taking an active role in whole class seminars.
      • analyzing the effects of elements such as plot, theme, charaterization, style, mood, and tone.
      • discussing the effects of such literary devices as figurative language, dialogue, flashback, allusion, irony, and symbolism.
      • analyzing and evaluating themes and central ideas in literature and other texts in relation to personal and societal issues.
      • extending understanding by creating products for different purposes, different audiences, and within various contexts.
      • analyzing and evaluating the relationships between and among characters, ideas, concepts, and/or experiences.

Grade 9

  • Goal 5: The learner will demonstrate understanding of various literary genres, concepts, elements, and terms.
    • Objective 5.01: Read and analyze various literary works by:
      • using effective reading strategies for preparation, engagement, reflection.
      • recognizing and analyzing the characteristics of literary genres, including fiction (e.g., myths, legends, short stories, novels), non-fiction (e.g., essays, biographies, autobiographies, historical documents), poetry (e.g., epics, sonnets, lyric poetry, ballads) and drama (e.g., tragedy, comedy).
      • interpreting literary devices such as allusion, symbolism, figurative language, flashback, dramatic irony, dialogue, diction, and imagery.
      • understanding the importance of tone, mood, diction, and style.
      • explaining and interpreting archetypal characters, themes, settings.
      • explaining how point of view is developed and its effect on literary texts.
      • determining a character's traits from his/her actions, speech, appearance, or what others say about him or her.
      • explaining how the writer creates character, setting, motif, theme, and other elements.
      • making thematic connections among literary texts and media and contemporary issues.
      • understanding the importance of cultural and historical impact on literary texts.
      • producing creative responses that follow the conventions of a specific genre and using appropriate literary devices for that genre.

Music Education (2001)

Grade 8

  • Goal 8: The learner will understand relationships between music, the other arts, and content areas outside the arts.
    • Objective 8.01: Compare in two or more arts areas how the characteristic elements of each art form can be used to transform events, emotions, or ideas into works of art.
  • Goal 9: The learner will understand music in relation to history and culture.
    • Objective 9.01: Describe and explain the distinguishing characteristics of representative music genres and styles from a variety of cultures.
    • Objective 9.03: Compare in several cultures of the world and in history the functions music serves, roles of musicians, and conditions under which music is typically performed.

Grade 9–12 — General Music/All Other High School Electives

  • Goal 8: The learner will understand relationships between music, the other arts, and content areas outside the arts.
    • Objective 8.01: Apply rules of standard written English to explain the uses of characteristic elements, artistic processes, and organizational principles among the arts areas (dance, music, theatre arts, and visual arts) in different historical periods and cultures.
    • Objective 8.02: Identify and explain ways in which the concepts and skills of other content areas outside the arts are related to those of music.
  • Goal 9: The learner will understand music in relation to history and culture.
    • Objective 9.01: Identify representative examples of music using distinguishing characteristics to identify genre, style, culture and/or historical periods.
    • Objective 9.02: Examine situations to determine conflict and resolution in relation to music in history and cultures.
    • Objective 9.03: Recognize and identify ways that music reflects history.