lesson plan

Teach This Poem: "Hey Phil" by Juan Felipe Herrera

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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.

Featured Poem

“Swing Dance, 1941”

Watch this video of a swing dance from the 1941 short film Skinnay Ennis and His Orchestra.

Philip Levine Gives Inaugural Reading as U.S. Poet Laureate

Watch this video of Philip Levine’s inaugural reading as the 18th U.S. Poet Laureate.

Classroom Activities
  1. Show your class the video “Swing Dance, 1941” twice. The first time ask them to watch the video straight through and write one or two words they associate with the dance they have just seen. The second time, ask them to write down what they notice about the dance—the steps, moves, tempo, body posture of the dancers, etc.
  2. Ask your students to pair up and share what they wrote with their partners. If one person gives an interpretation, such as “they trusted each other,” their partner should ask for evidence from the video for the interpretation.
  3. Project Juan Felipe Herrera’s poem so all your students can see it. Ask them to read the poem silently and write down words and phrases that jump out at them. Play the audio of Herrera reading the poem twice. Ask your students to write down new words and phrases that jump out at them from the reading.
  4. Ask your students to gather in small groups to share what they noticed in the poem and what they learned about the poet Philip Levine.
  5. Play an excerpt of Philip Levine giving his inaugural address as U.S. Poet Laureate, starting from the beginning of the video. Be sure to listen to him read at least one or two full poems.
  6. Whole-class discussion: How do you think Juan Felipe Herrera feels about Philip Levine? What does the jitterbug have to do with the way Philip Levine lived in the world? What questions do your students still have about Philip Levine, his poems, and his life? (Use his poems and biography on Poets.org as a resource to help answer these questions.)

Other ideas for teaching this poem can be found in a lesson plan specifically designed for the National Poetry Month poster.