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Poetry Across the Curriculum
Multicultural, Poetry and Literature for Young Adults

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A poem relevant to the social studies.

Introduction: I found this poem to be very effective as an introduction to the Indian Removal Act resulting in the Trail of Tears.

Shields, Carol Diggery. 2002. American history fresh squeezed. Illus. by Richard Thompson. Brooklyn, NY: Handprint Books. pp. 22-25.

"Trail of Tears"

Have you seen the Cherokee?
Lovers of their land, teachers of their children,
They learned the secrets of the written words,
They danced the Eagle Dance.

We have seen them.
They passed this way, going west.
Carrying all they owned, in their arms and on their backs.
They have not returned.

Have you seen the Choctaw?
Children of Nanih Waiya, the sacred mound,
Singers and poets, planters and harvesters,
They would let no person go hungry.

We have seen them.
They passed this way, going west.
Their old ones were dying, their children cried out.
They have not returned.

Have you seen the Creek?
Dwellers on the riverbanks, tall and strong,
Ruled by the Beloved Men,
Celebrating the days of the Green Corn.

We have seen them.
They passed this way, going west.
Their food was almost gone, and they had no more.
They have not returned.

Have you seen the Chickasaw?
Fierce in games and fierce in war,
Proud and tattooed, quick to fight,
Fishers of Mississippi waters.

We have seen them.
They passed this way, going west.
Their feet were bare, and they had no blankets.

They have not returned.

Extension: Using a map, locate the original lands of each tribe mentioned, then line out the route to the end of the Trail of Tears. Figure out how many miles each tribe walked.
Using other sources find three other things each tribe is known for other than what is given in the poem. Draw a picture showing how this poem makes you feel. Divide the class into two groups to interchange the stanzas with all joining in the last line.

A poem relevant to mathematics.

Introduction: How I remember the fear I felt when I first entered my geometry class. I had no idea what I would be studying and could have use a bit of humor as brought in this poem.

Silverstein, Shel. 1981. A light in the attic. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers. ISBN: 0-06-025674-5. p. 77.


A square was sitting quietly
Outside his rectangular shack
When a triangle came down - kerplunk! -
And struck him in the back.
"I must go to the hospital,"
Cried the wounded square,
So a passing rolling circle
Picked him up and took him there.

Extension: With the basic forms provided, students can divide their notebooks accordingly for assignments into formulas and information regarding each of these shapes. Examples of assignments could be placed throughout the year in these divisions also to help students with their own understanding. Object lists can be made of things that have different shapes too so students can begin to understand more of the use of the formulas.

A poem relevant to science.

Introduction: I would use the following poem to introduce the topic of animals and the way they adjust to their surroundings for protection.

Florian, Douglas. 1999. Winter eyes. New York, NY: Greenwillow Books. ISBN: 0-688-16458-7. p. 34.

"Winter Wear"

The weasel wears a coat of white.
He always keeps it zippered tight.
It helps him weasel out of sight.

The snowshoe hare from head to toe
Wears white wherever she may go
To help her hide against the snow.

The snowy owl perched in a tree
On snowy days is hard to see.
I don't see him, but he sees me.

In our white coats we come to peek.
On winter wildlife we sneak.
We play a game of hide-and-seek.

Extension: Find/draw pictures of the four animals in the poem as they look in summer and in winter. Make a list of animals that change colors in some way to stay safe. As a group, make this list into a poem. Then locate pictures to put around the poem of all the animals you put in the poem. Others can be added to the board as you find them throughout the school year. A trip to the zoo would stimulate more ideas and children could get actual photos of the animals in their poem.

A poem that can be matched with a novel or picture book ( and include bibliographic citation for novel or picture book).

Introduction: One of my favorite books while growing up was The Velveteen Rabbit. To introduce this book in class, I found the following poem to get things rolling.

Nye, Naomi Shihab. 1992. This same sky. New York, NY: Four Winds Press. ISBN: 0-02-768440-7. pp. 139-140.

"A Gift Horse"

Somebody must have
Given it to someone;
Only gifts and toys
Can suffer

Such love, such neglect,
In the wetness
Of this lawn.

Cloth, or perhaps wood,
It is only that.
The hard and soft,
It's all the same.

Its owner,
The child, must be
Asleep or have
Found something else/

I am unable
To make out
Its beginnings
Or end exactly:

The eyes are a bleary
The mouth seems sealed

As if to lock out
A couple of proverbs.
I do not think
It will speak.

Alamgir Hashmi

Bianco, Margery Williams. 1982. The velveteen rabbit. Philadelphia, PA: Running Press. ISBN: 0-89-471153-9.

Extension: I would bring in one of my stuffed toys from childhood to share my thoughts and feelings. Students could bring in their stuffed toy or a picture with it in it and these would be displayed around the poem. Students could write a poem about their particular toy with particular attention to activities they shared and feelings. A drawing of the toy would be acceptable if they no longer had ir or a picture of it.

A poem that can be matched with a book of nonfiction (and include bibliographic citation for nonfiction book).

Introduction: I really thought this would be the hardest find but there are many inscience in particular. However, I decided to choose a poem that related to a biography since this seems to be the major stress of teachers in my school.

Dove, Rita. 1999. On the bus with Rosa Parks. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. pp. 8-9.

"The Enactment"

Can't use no teenager, especially
No poor black trash,
No matter what her parents do
To keep up a living. Can't use
Anyone without sense enough
To bite their tongue.

It's gotta be a woman,
Someone of standing:
Preferably shy, preferably married.
And she's got to know
When the moment's right.
Stay polite, though her shoulder's
Aching, bus driver
The same one threw her off
Twelve years before.

Then all she's got to do is
Sit there, quiet, till
The next moment finds her-and only then
Can she open her mouth to ask
"Why do you push us around?"
and his answer: "I don't know but
the law is the law and you
are under arrest."
She must sit there, and not smile
As they enter to carry her off;
She must know who to call
Who will know whom else to call
To bail her out . . . and only then

Can she stand up and exhale,
Can she walk out the cell
And down the jail steps
Into flashbulbs and
Her employer's white
Arms - and go home,
And sit down in the seat
We have prepared for her.

Extension: This poem does not give her name so I would first have the students tell me who the poem is about and what clues did they get in the poem to help them identify the person. This poem also gives the feeling that the whole situation was planned ahead. Students are then to read further about Rosa Parks and decide if it was planned or not, and what facts would they use to prove their opinion. A biographical sketch would be a natural follow-up on her, but this may be an opportunity to have students find a famous person to write about and then a poem as well as a picture of the person for their projects.

Parks, Rosa and James Haskins. 1992. Rosa Parks: my story. New York, NY: Dial Book for Young Readers. ISBN: 0-80-370673-1.