Content Theme: Middle School Language Arts

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Content Theme:

Middle School Language Arts

Developed by:

Alizabeth Gooding

Contextual Paragraph for Resource Set:

This ARS collects primary source evidence of America's unique poetry. This ARS It is an example of the first stages of the inquiry process, in which learners:

1) Students immerse themselves into a theme and connect to a topic with a wide range of background knowledge.

2) Students consider how the primary sources fit together, how effectively they advance a particular line of inquiry, and whether to select or reject them

3) Students will formulate a specific focus on the broad topic in an area of personal interest.

4) Students will connect research questions to individual interests that are personally meaningful and relevant to each learner.

Note: In a final lesson, students will share, last stages, and synthesize the information and turn in a product of their inquiry.


  • What is “common” about the poetry created by such uncommon poets?

  • How does a poet convey power through words?

  • Is poetry more honest when coming from a young and developing mind? Does innocence equal honesty?

  • What drives uncommon people (non-authors) to write poetry?
Annotated Resource Set (ARS)

Resource Set

George Washington’s 1st Poem

George Washington, Diary, March 11 - April 13, 1748

George Washington’s 1st Poem (Cont.)

George Washington’s 2nd Poem

George Washington, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing left.
Pencil drawing.
[between 1850 and 1900?]

Jefferson as a Poet

Jefferson as a Poet (Cont.)

written at 17yrs. Of age

written between 15-30 yrs. Of age

Thomas Jefferson.
Photomechanical print.
[between 1890 and 1940(?)]

Tyler as a Poet

John Tyler: Tenth President of the United States.
Lithographic print.
[between 1835 and 1856]

Page of Abraham Lincoln's student sum (mathematics) book, ca. 1824-26.

Lincoln as a YOUNG Poet

Abraham Lincoln, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing front.
Photographic print.
[Nov. 8, 1863]

written at 20-30 yrs. Of fage

written at 15-17 yrs. Of age

Resource Set

Carter as a Poet

Young Jimmy Carter

An Example of Obama’s Handwriting

College Photo of Barack Obama

Recent Photo of President Obama


(Real Player needed to play this from loc.)

Link to his actual poetry:

President Barack Obama
Courtesy of Barack Obama: U.S. Senator for Illinois Web site


1. Some scholars believe Washington did not write the poems commonly attributed to him, and that he copied them from a now unknown book.

2. The text of both poems is taken from John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745-1799, vol. 1, (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1931), 46-47. Catalog Record

A number of scholars also have attributed to Jefferson an unfinished poem, "To Ellen," indicating that it may have been intended for his granddaughter Ellen Coolidge.

1. Until recently, most scholars thought that Jefferson's interest in poetry waned significantly in his later years. To learn why this may not have been the case, see Jonathan Gross's "When Jefferson Dined Alone" (, History News Network, February 12, 2006).

Presidents as Poets. Created by Peter Armenti, Digital Reference Specialist.

Grade Level

Curriculum Connections


Learning Objectives

Suggested Learning Strategies

Suggested Assessment Strategies

Links to Other Resources

AASL Standards

Colorado Standards

Content Objectives

Thinking Objectives


- Poetry



2. Draw conclusions, make informed decisions, apply knowledge to new situations, and create new knowledge.

2.1 Skills

2.1.1 Continue an inquiry-based research process by applying critical-thinking skills (analysis, synthesis, evaluation, organization) to information and knowledge in order to construct new understandings, draw conclusions, and create
2.1.3 Use strategies to draw conclusions from information and apply knowledge to curricular areas, real-world situations, and further investigations.

2.1.4 Use technology and other information tools to analyze and organize information.

Reading & Writing Standards

4. Students apply thinking skills to their reading, writing,

speaking, listening, and viewing.

As students in grades 5-8 extend their knowledge, what they know and are able to do includes

• recognizing an author's or speaker's point of view and purpose, separating fact from opinion;

• using reading, writing, speaking, listening, and viewing skills to solve problems and answer


• making predictions, drawing conclusions, and analyzing what they read, hear, and view;

Students might initially evaluate the poems without authors or knowledge of the connections to politics and presidents.

Students would gallery walk the images in print and take initial summary notes on their visual intake.

Students would in pairs to critically develop skills on how to modify, reject, and/or accept the primary sources.

Students will be able to both answer one essential question and CREATE one essential question about completing the lesson using primary sources.

Students will also do a reflective analysis of the AASL standards below. They will write a 2-5 sentences reflection on each standard so the educator can evaluate the growth in student learning and the student’s individual proficiency with the AASL standards.


Annotations Continued

Grade Level

Curriculum Connections


Learning Objectives

Suggested Learning Strategies

Suggested Assessment Strategies

Links to Other Resources

AASL Standards

Colorado Standards

Content Objectives

Thinking Objectives

2.1.5 Collaborate with others to exchange ideas, develop new understandings, make decisions, and solve problems.
2.1.6 Use the writing process, media and visual literacy, and technology skills to create products that express new understandings.

2.2 Disposition in Action

2.2.1 Demonstrate flexibility in the use of resources by adapting information strategies to each specific resource and by seeking additional resources when clear conclusions cannot be drawn.

2.3 Responsibilities

2.3.1 Connect understanding to the real world.

2.4 Self-Assessment Strategies

2.4.1 Determine how to act on information (accept, reject, modify).


Students read and recognize literature as a record of

human experience.
• reading, responding to, and discussing a variety of novels, poetry, short stories, non-fiction,

content-area and technical material, and plays;

• reading, responding to, and discussing literature that represents points of view from places,

people, and events that are familiar and unfamiliar;

• distinguishing the elements that characterize and define a literary "classic";

• comparing the diverse voices of our national experience as they read a variety of United States


George Washington –

Poem #1: writing as a lovesick teenager

From your bright sparkling Eyes, I was undone;2

Rays, you have, more transparent than the sun,
Amidst its glory in the rising Day,
None can you equal in your bright array;
Constant in your calm and unspotted Mind;
Equal to all, but will to none Prove kind,
So knowing, seldom one so Young, you'l Find
Ah! woe's me that I should Love and conceal,
Long have I wish'd, but never dare reveal,
Even though severely Loves Pains I feel;
Xerxes that great, was't free from Cupids Dart,
And all the greatest Heroes, felt the smart.

Poem #2: unknown motivation

Oh Ye Gods why should my Poor Resistless Heart
Stand to oppose thy might and Power
At Last surrender to cupids feather'd Dart
And now lays Bleeding every Hour
For her that's Pityless of my grief and Woes
And will not on me Pity take
Ill sleep amongst my most Inviterate Foes
And with gladness never with to Wake
In deluding sleepings let my Eyelids close
That in an enraptured Dream I may
In a soft lulling sleep and gentle repose
Possess those joys denied by Day

Thomas Jefferson –

Poetry written in a composition notebook between the ages of 15-30.

"To Ellen"

Tis hope supports each noble flame,
'Tis hope inspires poetic lays,
Our heroes fight in hopes of fame,
And poets write in hopes of praise.

She sings sweet songs of future years,

And dries the tears of present sorrow,
Bids doubting mortals cease their fears,
And tells them of a bright to-morrow.

And where true love a visit pays,

The minstrel hope is allways there,
To soothe young Cupid with her lays,
And keep the lover from despair.

Why fades the rose upon thy cheek;

Why droop the lilies at the view?
Thy cause of sorrow, Ellen speak,
Why alter'd thus thy sprightly hue?

Each day, alas! with breaking heart,

I see they beautous form decline;
Yet fear my anguish to impart,
Lest it should add a pang to thine.

I will not be afraid whi

have to

John Tyler –

As Tyler biographer Robert Seager has noted, "when John Tyler was happy poetry invariably flowed from his lips and from his pen." [1] It is unsurprising, then, that Tyler wrote the ballad "Sweet Lady, Awake! A Serenade" during the heady period in 1843 when he was courting his second wife Julia Gardiner.

Sweet Lady, Awake!

     A Serenade. By Pres John Tyler

Sweet lady awake, from your slumbers awake,

Weird beings we come o'er hill and through brake
To sing you a song in the stillness of night
Oh, read you our riddle fair lady aright?
We are sent by the one whose found heart is your own,
Who mourns in thy absence and sighs all alone.
Alas, he is distant—but tho' far, far away,
He thinks of you, Lady, by night and by day.
     Sweet lady awake, sweet lady awake!

His hearth, altho' lonely, is bright with your fame,

And therefore we breathe not the breath of his name.
For oh! if your dreams have response in your tone,
Long since have you known it as well as your own.
We are things of the sea, of the earth, and the air,
But ere you again to your pillow repair,
Entrust us to say you gave ear to our strain,
And were he the minstrel you would listen again.
     Sweet lady awake, sweet lady awake! [2]

Lincoln -

Throughout his life, Abraham Lincoln was an avid reader of poetry. His attempts at writing poetry were more sporadic. Lincoln's oldest surviving verses, written when he was between fifteen and seventeen years old, are brief squibs that appear in his arithmetic book.

Abraham Lincoln

his hand and pen
he will be good but
god knows When1

Abraham Lincoln his hand and pen he will be good

but god knows When Time What an emty vaper
tis and days how swift they are swift as an Indian arr[ow]
fly on like a shooting star the presant moment Just [is here]
then slide away in h[as]te that we [can] never say they['re ours]
                                                           but [only say] th[ey]'re past


Abraham Lincoln is my nam[e]
And with my pen I wrote the same
I wrote in both hast and speed
and left it here for fools to read

Carter –

Considering the Void

When I behold the charm

of evening skies, their lulling endurance;
the patterns of stars with names
of bears and dogs, a swan, a virgin;
other planets that the Voyager showed
were like and so unlike our own,
with all their diverse moons,
bright discs, weird rings, and cratered faces;
comets with their streaming tails
bent by pressure from our sun;
the skyscape of our Milky Way
holding in its shimmering disc
an infinity of suns
(or say a thousand billion);
knowing there are holes of darkness
gulping mass and even light,
knowing that this galaxy of ours
is one of multitudes
in what we call the heavens,
it troubles me. It troubles me.

Obama –

When President Obama was a 19-year-old student at Occidental College, he published two poems in the spring 1982 issue of Feast, the school's literary magazine. The first poem, "Pop," appears to capture a moment between the young Obama and his maternal grandfather, Stanley Dunham. The bond between the two is reinforced at the end of the poem by the framing and reflective properties of Pop's glasses.


Sitting in his seat, a seat broad and broken
In, sprinkled with ashes,
Pop switches channels, takes another
Shot of Seagrams, neat, and asks
What to do with me, a green young man
Who fails to consider the
Flim and flam of the world, since
Things have been easy for me;
I stare hard at his face, a stare
That deflects off his brow;
I’m sure he’s unaware of his
Dark, watery eyes, that
Glance in different directions,
And his slow, unwelcome twitches,
Fail to pass.
I listen, nod,
Listen, open, till I cling to his pale,
Beige T-shirt, yelling,
Yelling in his ears, that hang
With heavy lobes, but he’s still telling
His joke, so I ask why
He’s so unhappy, to which he replies...
But I don’t care anymore, cause
He took too damn long, and from
Under my seat, I pull out the
Mirror I’ve been saving; I’m laughing,
Laughing loud, the blood rushing from his face
To mine, as he grows small,
A spot in my brain, something
That may be squeezed out, like a
Watermelon seed between
Two fingers.
Pop takes another shot, neat,
Points out the same amber
Stain on his shorts that I’ve got on mine, and
Makes me smell his smell, coming
From me; he switches channels, recites an old poem
He wrote before his mother died,
Stands, shouts, and asks
For a hug, as I shink, my
Arms barely reaching around
His thick, oily neck, and his broad back; ‘cause
I see my face, framed within
Pop’s black-framed glasses
And know he’s laughing too.

When asked to comment on the merit of "Pop," Harold Bloom, Sterling Professor of the Humanities and English at Yale University, described it as “not bad—a good enough folk poem with some pathos and humor and affection.... It is not wholly unlike Langston Hughes, who tended to imitate Carl Sandburg." [1] Obama's poetry, Bloom makes clear, is much superior to the poetry of former President Jimmy Carter (Bloom calls Carter "literally the worst poet in the United States").

President Obama's second poem, "Underground," is more exotic and obscure:


Under water grottos, caverns
Filled with apes
That eat figs.
Stepping on the figs
That the apes
Eat, they crunch.
The apes howl, bare
Their fangs, dance,
Tumble in the
Rushing water,
Musty, wet pelts
Glistening in the blue.

Bloom feels that "Underground" is the better of Obama's two poems, reminiscent of some of D. H. Lawrence's poetry: “I think it is about some sense of chthonic forces, just as Lawrence frequently is—some sense, not wholly articulated, of something below, trying to break through.” [2]

While President Obama's poetry displays some signs of talent, by choosing politics over poetry he made, like the other poetry-writing presidents before him, the right career choice. As Bloom notes: “If I had been shown these poems by one of my undergraduates and asked, Shall I go on with it?, I would have rubbed my forehead and said, On the whole, my dear, probably not. Your future is not as a person of letters.“

Teaching with Primary Sources - Annotated Resource Set

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