Reflections of a First-timer

Standing up in front of the class to teach last night was definitely a humbling experience, especially after following such great (and hilarious) presentations that were hard acts to follow. Thank you all for participating! If you can tell by my blog title, I have not yet taught in a classroom before, so this was a great experience for me to see what works and what needs tweaking (like perfecting the Blau guiding questions style.)

I would’ve liked to have had more time to present my mini-lesson on types of verse, ballad form, and pastoral, but for the sake of time I glossed over it. These were also ambitious concepts to cover (I am learning about this now in grad school and did not really cover this in undergrad), but I think it’s good knowledge for students to have in analyzing a poem. I am very thankful to Beth for answering what verse “Strange Fruit” might be in, and I am impressed that she recognized it would definitely not be accentual-syllabic (I think some students believe this is the only type of verse). I forgot to mention that I would have students keep a literary terms journal all semester that would be handed in with their portfolio at the end of the year.

When I wrote my reflection for my lit analysis, I was nervous that our class would develop an interpretation too quickly as I felt I did, because at our level of study it seems obvious. However, I also questioned whether or not an AP high school student or undergraduate student would understand what was happening right away, especially without historical context. My pre-writing on literature as protest and the drawing activity was meant to guide students into the interpretation, but I wonder if it was too much of a push?

I realize with the drawing activity, I should have started with the group that had stanza 3 (who would’ve drawn more literally based on context) and worked my way back to group 1. The idea of that activity was to get across the dichotomy of the Southern pastoral scene and the lynching. My fall back plan, which I think I would go with next time, was suggested by Prof Sample in my reflection paper. This was to give students one of the lines about the beautiful South and have them write a line of verse that would come before or after it.

My expectations were right that our class developed an interpretation quickly; however, I was still very impressed with the discussion and new developments I had not considered. I definitely had one of the “you learn more as the teacher” moments when the discussion went into Biblical references of Adam & Eve (I had not thought about this before, very interesting). You all had great informal and formal knowledge to contribute from knowing it was a Billie Holiday song, to sharing experiences growing up in the South, to providing intertextual grounding for the poem.

I also forgot to mention a post-writing activity for an end-of-year portfolio with the choice of writing a 3-5 page researched analysis on the poem or creatively writing an imitation of the style using imagery (or allegory for the overachievers).

Any and all advice will be greatly appreciated! Thank you again for being great sports.

5 thoughts on “Reflections of a First-timer

  1. abbie

    I was thinking exactly this as we were discussing our drawings: “I realize with the drawing activity, I should have started with the group that had stanza 3 (who would’ve drawn more literally based on context) and worked my way back to group 1.” I agree that it might be more interesting this way! It would likely lead right into a very interesting discussion.

    I also like the idea of giving students a line from the poem and having them write the preceding/following line/s.

    As for the pre-writing activity: I can’t speak as an AP HSer (though was it really that long ago?), so I don’t know what to tell you on how quickly they’d pick up on what was going on. It may come down to what backgrounds the students come from. If you’re teaching this to Tim’s class of ESL students, they might need the big push. If you’re teaching it to a class full of kids like me, they likely won’t. If nothing else, I suppose this lesson would provide you with a good reason to get to know your students!

    I thought the drawing activity was very creative, and it really got me thinking about word choice and juxtaposition and mood and all those yummy literary concepts. Nice job!

  2. jkathrynfulton


    I really liked the activity where you had us work in groups and draw a stanza! I plan to “steal” this activity for my own classes! 🙂

    I think that my IB students would pick up on the meaning of the poem right away, but I also think they would be able to have a lengthy discussion about the poem.

    I don’t think that your pre-writing prompt gives too much of a push. If anything, I think the topic plays with expectations about what the focus of the lesson will be.

    Nice job! Be confident! 🙂

  3. Lindsay


    I really loved your drawing activity! I think it is a great way to get students to start thinking about the imagery in the poem. “Strange Fruit” is full of imagery so the assignment works perfectly with this poem. I do agree with you that it might have worked better if you started with the Stanza 3 group, but again, the activity was great.

    Also, thanks for giving us that mini-lecture on the different types of verse. It’s been so long since I have studied that and it was really helpful for me.

    I LOVED how you showed us the Billie Holiday video. Watching her perform this poem was a great conversation starter about things like mood, tone, and form. I wish we had more time to discuss the “protest poetry” we brought in. I brought in the lyrics to CCR’s song “Fortunate Son” and was interested to see what others brought in. I thought that the homework/prewriting was a great idea! Nice job!

  4. afaye

    To join the chorus, I too love your drawing activity! I also wish we had some more time to discuss your protest/music/poetry connections, the homework was really engaging. Most everyone knows a protest song, but the device becomes transparent with some very popular pieces (I’m thinking of Bob Marley music). I think students would love sharing music with each other and the link between music and poetry is a great way to engage students! Really cool. I think your poem is a great choice and also think even younger students could potentially already be familar with it (it’s used in a lot of movies and refrenced in other literary works). However, hearing the history of the poem really shed some new light on it for me and it could raise some really interesting discussion! Great job overall!!

  5. deb56

    Susan, you did a dynamite job with an intricate subject. I appreciated how you culled the various aspects of poetry, sorted them out, and served them up. I realize the lesson time was limited, so your summary was just that: a recap of what the class would have studied in their block the day before yesterday. The jigsaw puzzle was clever and it would have engaged the tactile-kinesthetic learners who hardly ever sit still for poetry.

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