Walt Whitman Lesson Plan

Instructor: John Hamilton

John has tutored algebra and SAT Prep and has a B.A. degree with a major in psychology and a minor in mathematics from Christopher Newport University.

Educate your students about poet Walt Whitman with this lesson plan. Students will listen to a video lesson, take a related follow-up quiz on important material, and then participate in a few activities to cement core concepts about the legendary poet.

Learning Objectives

After studying this lesson, your students should be able to:

  • Explain what is involved in transcendentalist poetry
  • Name some of the major works of poet Walt Whitman
  • Point out how Whitman was viewed in the past versus the present

Length

1-1.5 Hours

Materials

  • Access to the internet
  • Printed copies of the poem 'O Captain! My Captain!'
  • Printed copies of the poem 'When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd' (with the first four verses on one page and the remaining twelve verses on another page)
  • Image of Walt Whitman
  • Video lesson Walt Whitman: Transcendentalist and Realist Poet along with the related lesson quiz
  • Paper
  • Writing Utensils

Key Vocabulary

  • American poetry
  • Democratic Vistas
  • Drum Taps
  • Franklin Evans
  • Free verse
  • Leaves of Grass
  • Transcendentalist
  • Walter 'Walt' Whitman

Curriculum Standards

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.11-12.1

Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.11-12.2

Determine two or more themes or central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to produce a complex account; provide an objective summary of the text.

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.11-12.4

Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including words with multiple meanings or language that is particularly fresh, engaging, or beautiful. (Include Shakespeare as well as other authors.)

Instructions

  • Inform your students that today they will be studying American icon and poet Walt Whitman.
  • Display the image of Whitman.
  • Ask the class if anyone knows about the life of Walt Whitman.
  • Start the video lesson Walt Whitman: Transcendentalist and Realist Poet and pause for the first time at 0:52.
    • In which century did Walt Whitman live and work?
    • What year was Leaves of Grass published?
    • What did people think of his work?
    • In what state was Whitman born?
    • When did he quit school? Why?
    • What other jobs did he hold?
  • Now resume the video and pause this time at 3:05.
    • What is free verse?
    • Why do some people not care for it?
    • What did many readers do to Leaves of Grass after reading it?
    • What concepts does transcendentalist poetry explore?
    • What are three collections of Whitman's works?
  • Next resume the video and pause for a final time at 4:21.
    • What did Mary Costelloe say about Whitman?
    • What did Ezra Pound (who was friends with Robert Frost) say about Whitman?
    • What did modern-day critic Harold Bloom say about Whitman?
  • Resume the video and watch the 'Lesson Summary.'
  • Review the entire lesson and answer any questions of relevance the students may have.
  • Finally, have the students try the lesson quiz to see if they can demonstrate a correct grasp of the material.

Activity One

  • Tell the students they will be studying the Whitman poem 'When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd.'
  • Pass out printed copies of the first four verses (there exist 16 total) of the poem. Don't tell them what the poem entails. (It refers to the death of Abraham Lincoln, although that fact is not clearly stated in the poem, which is over eight minutes in length.)
    • If anyone in the class knows what this poem is about, please do not give it away to their classmates yet.
  • Read the four verses while the students listen and read along.
    • With what season are lilacs usually associated? (spring, and Lincoln died in April)
    • What bird is the focus of the poem? (the hermit thrush, and interestingly enough, the related wood thrush is the official bird of the District of Columbia)
    • What is the star in the poem? (the planet Venus)
  • Now pass out the remaining 12 verses of the poem.
    • What do verses five through seven discuss? (coffins, and it appears a funeral)
    • To what do verses eight and nine refer? (the falling of a great star)
    • What do verses ten and eleven represent? (how the people will mourn)
    • What do the final verses suggest? (the beauty of nature, the greatness of America, the courage of the people to carry on without Lincoln.)
    • Does anyone have any other interpretations of what these lines might be saying?
    • Do you have any last comments or questions today?

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