Teach This Poem: "Don’t Let Me Be Lonely [Mahalia Jackson is a genius.]" by Claudia Rankine
Produced for K-12 educators, Teach This Poem features one poem a week from our online poetry collection, accompanied by interdisciplinary resources and activities designed to help teachers quickly and easily bring poetry into the classroom. The series is written by our Educator in Residence, Dr. Madeleine Fuchs Holzer, and is available for free via email.
- Warm-up: Ask your students to get into small groups, with one laptop or iPad in each group. Ask your students if anyone knows who Mahalia Jackson was; those who do should share what they know with the rest of the class. Then, your students should quickly look up as much information as they can about Mahalia Jackson, using the laptops or iPads, and share this among the members of their group.
- Play the video of Mahalia Jackson singing “Let There Be Peace on Earth” so all your students can see and hear it. Play the video a second time and ask them to jot down what they see and hear.
- Whole-class discussion: How does this video make your students feel about this song? What, in the video, leads them to feel this way?
- Project Claudia Rankine’s poem “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely [Mahalia Jackson is a genius]” so all your students can see it. Ask them to write down what jumps out at them, including words, phrases, and structure. Ask a student to read the poem aloud so all the class can hear it. Ask the listening students to write down anything new that jumps out at them. Repeat this process with another student reading aloud.
- Ask your students to return to their small groups and share what they noticed in the poem and what questions they have. Ask them to try to answer their questions in their groups.
- Whole-class discussion: What are your students’ questions? Write them on the board and hold a class discussion around as many of these as you wish. (You should be prepared for questions about Paul Celan, George Wein, and Hegel, as well as questions about prose poems—students might want to discuss whether this is a poem at all.) What are the questions your students think Claudia Rankine might be raising?