The Importance Of Teaching Gorman’s “The Hill We Climb”

Teach Amanda Gorman Poem

Nothing makes my English teacher heart happier than seeing a young writer — poet even! — celebrated on a national stage. We all had that opportunity during the Inauguration this year when we were honored to hear 22-year-old Amanda Gorman perform her spoken word poem.

If you missed it, you can watch it online below:

And you can read the transcript here.

Not only did we have the opporunity to be blessed with her wit and wisdom, but as English teachers, we are now charged with the task of helping the students in our classes see the value in their own voices through the mirror or window of her performance (Bishop, 1990).

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There's an Amanda Gorman at every HS you call underperforming, inner city, and/or the G word. Honor. Black. Students. Art. #InaugurationDay

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Like any sentient being, I loved @TheAmandaGorman's inaugural poem. I wrote about how, in portraying the US as a project that isn't yet complete but is worth fighting for, Gorman roots her poem in a distinctly Black expression of love for country. https://t.co/RLZ4amF2q1

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RepresentationMatters https://t.co/Pck4yNucN1

Several educators tweets have encapsulated more reasons why it's so important for Gorman's poem to be shown in our classrooms:

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Being able to use literature to connect with students about real life issues is the greatest blessing 💫🙏🏿Thank you @CBCTashauna @callmemrmorris @CBCTheNational @WheresJaiswaldo for such an exciting opportunity! https://t.co/WTlqD1MagO

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Beautiful. Lovely. Poignant. Powerful. 🖤 https://t.co/mgyjHZrDN5

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While the “adults” are fighting in this world our youth are proving that they are the capable leaders. They see the problems in the world and address them. We stifle their progress. Embrace the change that is coming in this world. Protect the earth and love your neighbor. pic.twitter.com/2U6bhJqgrP

Gorman's poem is also a primary source with commentary that reflects current, historically significant events.

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“Both times the poem raises ‘democracy,' Gorman pairs the word with ‘delay,' which tells us that democracy is a thing expected, anticipated-not a thing that we have built, or possessed, but a dream.”Analysis by @mashagessenhttps://t.co/TPBxzCF3MU

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I'm gonna teach it as a primary source next week. Syllabus? What syllabus? https://t.co/i5Q5cVhuUg

Just hours after her performance several sources had published free lesson plans for introducing Gorman's poetry to our students. (And teachers have also admonished us not to overteach her work.)

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All my classes will most definitely be watching @TheAmandaGorman ‘s stunning performance. We'll talk and reflect on it a bit, but I'll be staying away from anything that looks like “teaching” it. It feels like the best thing to do is just say, “let's enjoy this art together.”

Amanda Gorman Inaugural Poem

With this said, it may be wise to sit with the poem for a few more days, explore it, look to sources of lesson plan inspiration like Teaching Tolerance.

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It seems-as far as public education is concerned-that today is Amanda Gorman Day. I'm here for it. But, I need to sit with that piece for a little while longer. To take in suggested pathways from Carol Jago, PBS, Teaching Tolerance, many more. The poet/poem merits/warrants this.

TQEs

If you're wanting a simple, no-prep, student-led exploration and discussion of the poem that will enable your students to sit with the poem for however long they need to, I recommend you listen to this podcast interview I did with Marissa Thompson of Unlimited Teacher: reThink ELA #010: Fostering Student-Led Discussions with the TQE Method.

You can also try this Pointed Reading strategy described in a Facebook post by Kylene Beers.

If you're looking for lesson plans that require a bit more planning or context, check out the resources below.

Lesson Plans

A student wrote a thread about her analysis of a few of the poem's lines. Click the tweet and read the whole thread. Then share with your students:

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Gotta analyze Amanda Gorman's poem at the inauguration for class and she's just a genius for the line “that even as we tired, we tried.” Not only is she making a relationship between tired and tried since they have the same letters, but also highlighting our dialect since pic.twitter.com/ED9tk9lVHV

A 5th grade teacher created lessons in Google Drive that are free to download:

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folks, you've been so generous sharing your Inauguration teaching materials. @mdawriter said #TeachAmandaGorman, so here are the slides I built for 5th grade tomorrow! #TeachLivingPoets https://t.co/Q6kusVTOuK

Melissa Smith from Teach Living Poets has also created a lesson and chat to help students connect across the nation in a Twitter slow chat to discuss Gorman's poem on January 29. Check it out below:

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Connect your students with other classes nationwide to learn together & discuss the Inaugural poem “The Hill We Climb” by @TheAmandaGorman #TeachLivingPoets ✨✨✨✨✨✨✨✨Here's what you need to know to make it happen: https://t.co/7VfCgChXrQ pic.twitter.com/uKV6twmQY6

You might also consider providing some context for this poem through some of our blog posts:

Also, you'll need to be aware of the brewing disparagement against this poem and its young author. I recommend you view this retweet by Dr. Ebony Elizabeth Thomas and her pushback against “adultifying and ungendering our beautiful and vulnerable young Black women.”

Large publishers also disseminated free teaching resources for you to consider as you are looking for ways to engage the students in your class and help them see how their voices are important, too.

New York Times

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Thank you so much for this @nytimes write-up on how to teach my work in the classroom. While she was with me in D.C., my mom, a middle school English teacher, was scrambling to finalize the lesson plan for her absent days. She was so happy to send this to the substitute!

PBS

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Teachers, I hope you'll be sharing Amanda Gorman's poem with your students. Here's a lesson plan. https://t.co/vonJ7358ef

School Library Journal

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Youngest Inaugural Poet in History Impresses. Lesson Plans Available for Amanda Gorman #Inauguration2021 https://t.co/xCvOPmqeny pic.twitter.com/V2SA4QXHG4

Tolerance.org

More Lesson Ideas

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Inspired by @TheAmandaGorman's powerful poetry? We are too!We hope you'll share her words and encourage your students to share their genius, reflections, and healing through poetry.The @BLMAtSchool week of action(Feb 1 -5) is a great time to do so! Here are ideas:

If you're looking for a paired text to go along with Gorman's poem, check out Jericho Brown's inaugural poem:

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An original poem by Jericho Brown, winner of the 2020 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry, on the occasion of the inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. https://t.co/Z4jvCx5BvG pic.twitter.com/3xwcmjTPYX

Additional Resources

Looking for ways to support Gorman's work? Check out her new poetry book:

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So humbled by everyone's support! If you'd like to read more of my words, you can pre-order my first ever poetry collection, The Hill We Climb, here! @penguinrandom https://t.co/vNSo3WFpuf

After teaching Gorman's poem, you can continue inspiring and nurturing student voices with our Explode the Moment Personal Narrative Writing Project or A Time for Change Writing Project. Even better, a portion of the proceeds (50 percent) from both projects goes to support young reThink ELA writing partners.

About the author 

Michelle Boyd Waters, M.Ed.

I am a secondary English Language Arts teacher, a University of Oklahoma student working on my doctorate in Instructional Leadership and Academic Curriculum with an concentration in English Education and co-Editor of the Oklahoma English Journal. I am constantly seeking ways to amplify students' voices and choices.

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