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Instructional ideas for working with social justice poetry text sets by Starleigh Grass

My favorite poems tend to be poems which have a social justice theme. Social justice poems engage me because by highlighting specific injustices they act as catalysts which help me imagine a more just and equitable world. The only thing better than a poem with a social justice theme is a text set of poems on a specific social justice theme!

In celebration of poetry month, I am writing this post to share some instructional ideas for working with a social justice poetry text set and to share an example of what a social justice poetry text set might look like.

Voice Unit 

The poetry.org site has a number of resources for teaching poetry. One of the units that I appreciate is this unit on voice http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/17107

New York City ninth grade teacher Gigi Goshko has created her unit, “Voice,” as an introduction to poetry that presents students with a diverse group of poets and poems. The unit begins by defining spoken and written poetry and then moves into a more nuanced exploration of poetry as social commentary. Students begin to acquire a poetic vocabulary through a series of learning activities that include class discussion, critical writing assignments, and personal reflection. 

While the unit is American I think it could be easily modified to a Canadian context by using poems that focus on contemporary issues in Canadian society or using Canadian poems. The lesson in the unit which focuses on poems as social commentary would be particularly useful for a social justice poetry text set.

Sample social justice poetry text set 

For example, if you wanted to create a text set of poems regarding discrimination and Indigenous women you might include poems such as:

-Chrytos “I am not your princess” http://carlagunn.ca/writing/the-environment

-Marilyn Dumont reading her poem “For Betty” on a youtube video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wvmkrq_KY3A

-Janet Rogers reads “Insult to Injury” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vmlrbwF5IKQ

– Dallas Goldtooth reads “Thick with love”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n_o3SQzHpcQ

Media that Matters “Slip of the tongue” http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=Y1zpX4R33CA

(language caution, uses the “s” word)

 

Inquiry through social justice poetry text sets 

By creating a text set of poems around a common theme you could have students investigate an overarching inquiry question based on the theme (for example, “what are some forms of discrimination against Indigenous women?”) or around form (for example, “how can poems be a powerful method of social commentary?” or, “In terms of persuasion, what can a poem do that other texts cannot?”).

 

Looking at a social justice poetry text set through BCTF’s social justice lens

Another option could be to create a poetry text set around a social justice issue and then enrich comprehension of the poem by viewing it through a social justice lens http://www.bctf.ca/uploadedFiles/public/AboutUs/ServicesHandbook/18SocialJustice.pdf  and complementing it with a research component on the issue at hand.

Possible themes for a social justice poetry text set

If you are looking for topics to create social justice text sets around, you might want to look for poets  that address some of the following issues:

  • Aboriginal issues
  • LGBTQ issues
  • Gender issues
  • Peace
  • Environmental justice
  • Anti-poverty

Do you have a favorite social justice poem or idea for teaching social justice poetry? If so we’d love to hear about it in the comments section on Twitter!

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Blog post by BCTELA Executive Member, Starleigh Grass

Blogs at: http://twinkleshappyplace.blogspot.ca/

Twitter: @starleigh_grass

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