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To Write with Fire: Unapologetic Poets of the Harlem Renaissance and Black Arts Movement

This curriculum unit will focus on the works of two significant literary periods of the 20th century- the Harlem Renaissance (New Negro Movement) and the Black Arts Movement

(BAM). The unit’s purpose is to introduce 7th and 8th grade students to African American writers of separate eras who shared an incredible talent of challenging the ills of their environment and expressing themselves through the art of poetry. Students will be engaged as they learn the historical background of both periods and understand how political elements play key roles in artistic movements through interactive lessons. The cultural awakening that occurred during both artistic periods was fueled by artists searching for ways to construct a self-concept without conforming to the assumptions and conventions of their time. Students will learn about poets such as Helene Johnson, Claude McKay, Sterling Brown, Gwendolyn Brooks, Amiri Baraka, Sonia Sanchez, and Nikki Giovanni. 

This unit will give students the opportunity to learn through reading/writing poetry and song lyrics, watching documentaries, taking trips, and participating in interactive activities. Students will discover a past of rich culture and creativity.  It is my goal for students to learn how to transfer the raw emotions of their personal realities into poetry as they construct self-concepts. Poetry allows struggling readers to gain vocabulary skills and word recognition strategies with shorter texts as opposed to a novel. Since poems are filled with figurative language and sensory details, poor readers can focus less time on decoding and more time visualizing and constructing meaning. This unit was inspired during my participation in Dr. Herman Beavers’ seminar, Thinking Black, Writing Revolution: The Harlem Renaissance and the Black Arts Movement. This unit will take at 18-20 days to complete. The Common Core standards used in this unit (aligned to the Core Curriculum of The School District of Philadelphia) will challenge students to use their critical and analytical thinking as they read and learn poetry of both periods.

Wendi Mungai Umoren

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