American Poetry

Through an analysis of figurative language, imagery and historical context, students will explore questions of race, immigration, poverty and self-realization in a plethora of American poetry.



Unit 15

7th Grade

This unit has been archived. To view our updated curriculum, visit our 7th Grade English course.

Unit Summary

In the poetry unit, students will continue to grapple with themes of race, class, immigration, and identity in the American experience. Poetry can be a game-changer for adolescent readers and writers. Once they see the freedom taken by poets such as Langston Hughes or E. E. Cummings, who express themselves without the grammatical restrictions of prose, a whole new pathway opens up as young readers and writers learn to interpret the language of the heart. 

Through an analysis of figurative language, imagery, and historical context, students will explore questions of race, immigration, poverty, and self-realization in a plethora of American poetry. Students will dive deeply into Langston Hughes’s poetry from the Harlem Renaissance. They will examine his powerful call of a more just and beautiful world. Other poets students will read from the Harlem Renaissance include James Weldon and Georgia Johnson. Students will also read contemporary American poets such as Maya Angelou, Pedro Pietri, Martín Espada, and Gloria Anzaldúa. 

The unit will culminate in a poetry slam (see composition project) in which students write personal poems in the spirit of a mentor text they have read from their poetry packets. Here, students get an opportunity to share their own experiences in a way that feels true to their deepest selves. Students must abide by specific guidelines requiring them to incorporate allusions, advanced vocabulary, imagery, and figurative language. Finally, they will perform their poetry in front of an audience, focusing on public speaking skills such as volume, eye contact, and body language. Students will be assessed for both their poetry and performance.

Texts and Materials

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Core Materials

Supporting Materials


This assessment accompanies Unit 15 and should be given on the suggested assessment day or after completing the unit.

Unit Prep

Intellectual Prep

  • Read and annotate the Unit Summary and Essential Questions.
  • Read and annotate the text with Essential Questions in mind. 
  • Take unit assessment. Focus on questions 1, 6 (contrast); 2, 3, 5 (interpreting figurative language); and 2, 4 (imagery). Write the mastery response to essay question. 
  • Unit plan lessons that align directly with test: 
    • Lessons 1, 5 (contrast)
    • Lessons 14, 15, 16 (interpreting figurative language, theme) 
    • Lessons 4, 5, 6, 8 (imagery)
  • Grade the Target Tasks of Lessons 3, 5, 8, 14, and 16
  • Plan a date for the poetry slam winners to perform in front of the entire school.

Essential Questions

  • How does the historical context shape the poet’s perspectives? 
  • Why does a poet choose to use rhyme scheme or not? What are its limitations?
  • How did the poetry of the Harlem Renaissance change the stereotypes of black culture in America?

Writing Focus Areas

Students will continue to write short responses (5–7 sentences) to most Target Tasks. They will work on organization of their thoughts, finding relevant evidence, and analyzing poet’s diction and structure. Grammatically, students will focus on using commas to set off introductory parts of sentences. 

Narrative Writing Focus Areas

See poetry slam guidelines in lessons 17-18 below.

Spiraling Literary Analysis Writing Focus Area


  • Put the parts of their writing in the order that most suited their purpose and helped prove their reasons and claim
  • Used topic sentences, transitions, and formatting (where appropriate) to clarify the structure of the piece and to highlight their main points


  • Gave at least one accurate reason/example and information to support reasoning, perhaps from a text, knowledge, or life to support a claim 
  • Discussed and explained the way that the evidence went with the claim in at least two sentences
  • Put reasons in an order that he or she thought would be most convincing 
  • Provided context for evidence/introduced quotations


  • Used periods and capitalization appropriately
  • Used quotation marks and citations when quoting text, for example, (pg. 4) or “In paragraph 4,…”
  • Used commas to set off introductory parts of sentences/around transitions (e.g., “At this time in history,…”) 
  • Varied their sentence structure, sometimes using simple and sometimes using complex sentence structure 


Literary Terms

verse, prose, rhyme scheme, stanza, free verse, alliteration, speaker, imagery, mood, tone, point of view, metaphor, onomatopoeia, theme, personification, structure, contrast, figurative language, hyperbole, sensory details


Renaissance (Harlem Renaissance), barren (“Dreams” by Langston Hughes)

Supporting All Students

In order to ensure that all students are able to access the texts and tasks in this unit, it is incredibly important to intellectually prepare to teach the unit prior to launching the unit. Use the intellectual preparation protocol and the Unit Launch to determine which support students will need. To learn more, visit the Supporting all Students teacher tool.

Content Knowledge and Connections

  • Harlem Renaissance
  • The Great Migration
  • Langston Hughes

Lesson Map

Common Core Standards

Core Standards

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Unit 6

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