In 1860 the original version of “I Hear America Singing” by Walt Whitman appeared in the first edition of Leaves of Grass. In this poem, Whitman rhythmically celebrated common citizens as they went about their daily lives as individuals and as part of the American whole. Flash forward to January 2009 when President Barack Obama gave his first inaugural address echoing Whitman’s style. Similarly, for that same occasion, Elizabeth Alexander, the inaugural poet wrote and delivered an original poem, “Praise Song for the Day,” that also echoes Whitman. Despite the different time periods, and differences in issues facing our country, Whitman’s poetic style continues to resonate with modern America. This lesson explores those echoes within a twenty-first-century inaugural speech and poem as they anticipate the future of a renewed American community.
The following activities seek to level the playing field among diverse learners by including multiple ways to enter, experience, and explore the meaning of the poems. Feel free to adjust them to meet the particular learning styles and needs of your students.
A Note about Vocabulary
There are several texts in this lesson plan, all of which may have complicated vocabulary for some of your students. Have your students keep a running list on the front board of the words they have read and heard that they do not understand. You can either conduct a separate vocabulary lesson on these words where students try to figure out their meaning from context and connections, or go through this process as you progress through the activities in the lesson.