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A Teacher's Guide to Poems by Langston Hughes

written by: Trent Lorcher • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 10/9/2012

Poetry by Langston Hughes has become a popular part of the high school English curriculum. Expose yourself and your students to Langston Hughes with this Teacher's Guide.

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    How Poetry by Langston Hughes Saved Lives

    I felt great. I had just taught an amazing lesson on analyzing poetry. Finally, my students could write intelligent analysis in their poetry essays.

    My joy turned to horror as I read "this poem is pretty" 2,345 times. I wailed, as students chuckled at my anguish. Seconds before peppering the class with sharpened staple removers, I had an idea: maybe I should teach poetry by Langston Hughes. I put the knife sharpener away, called my attorney, and kept her on retainer just in case.

    I had work to do. I had to create a list of Langston Hughes' poems with teaching activities. Here's what I came up with:

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    Poems by Langston Hughes for High School

    Use these Langston Hughes' poems to spark intelligent class discussions.

    "A Dream Deferred" - Hughes poses several questions regarding the results of deferred dreams. It touches, through deft use of simile, the end result of discouragement and unfairness. Depending on the prior knowledge of your students, you may want to give background on the history of racism in America.

    • Lesson Ideas:
      • Before reading the poem, have students write a paragraph about a time they really wanted something and it was denied. After reading the poem, instruct students to rewrite the paragraph using similes.
      • Point out the difference between metaphors and similes. Discuss the images using similes and the image using a metaphor. The metaphor is much more powerful.

    "Dreams" - Hughes employs metaphors to describe life without dreams.

    "Let America be America Again" - This ironic look at the America promised by the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States calls out the hypocrisy of segregation and oppression. Despite its criticism of an unfair system, the poem remains hopeful that America will some day live up to the ideals set forth in its founding documents.

    • Lesson Idea
      • Read The Declaration of Independence.
      • Discuss its promises. Keep in mind these are the principles on which the United States was formed.
      • Discuss contradictions between the Declaration and what has been historically practiced.
      • Discuss how America has righted these wrongs through the ideals presented in the Declaration.

    "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" - Hughes celebrates the history of his people through the central image of rivers.

    "The Dream Keeper" - Hughes employs symbolism, imagery, and personification to contrast the blessed love of heaven and the roughness of the world.

    • Lesson idea:
      • Distribute an individual white board or fresh slice of drawing paper to each student.
      • Draw a line down the middle.
      • On one side, draw the Dream Keeper, using Hughes' description.
      • On the other side, draw the world.

    "Life is Fine" - Hughes writes about the need for opposition in life, that not only are life's troubles inevitable, they are necessary to truly enjoy it.

    • Lesson Idea:
      • Before reading the poem, instruct students to write about a time that something bad happened that turned out to be good in the long run or about a time they did something they did not want to and were blessed for having done it.
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    Further your study of poetry by Langston Hughes online. You can find a complete list of poems released into the public domain here - http://library.crisischronicles.com/categories/263/hughes-langston.aspx and biographical information on the poet here - http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/83,

Teaching Famous Poets

These famous poems by famous poets are excellent for high school and middle school. Each list comes with lesson ideas and links to the actual poem.
  1. A Teacher's Guide to Poems by Langston Hughes
  2. A Teacher's Guide to Poems by Robert Frost
  3. A Teacher's Guide to Poems by Carl Sandburg
  4. Teaching Shel Silverstein Poems
  5. A Teacher's Guide to Poems by Emily Dickinson