Walt Whitman's I Hear America Singing Lesson Plan

Instructor: Angela Janovsky

Angela has taught middle and high school English, Business English and Speech for nine years. She has a bachelor's degree in psychology and has earned her teaching license.

This lesson plan utilizes a text lesson as well as discussion questions and group activities to summarize and analyze 'I hear America Singing' by Walt Whitman. The lesson concludes with a quiz as an exit ticket.

Learning Objectives

After this lesson, students will be able to:

  • Identify the message in I Hear America Singing
  • Explain the meaning or theme of the poem
  • Create their own poems mimicking I Hear American Singing


30-40 minutes

Curriculum Standards

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.10

By the end of grade 12, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poems, at the high end of the grades 11-CCR text complexity band independently and proficiently.

  • 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.)

  • 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.

Key Vocabulary

  • Free verse
  • Stanzas
  • Poetry
  • Patriotism
  • Voice
  • Achievement



  • Before using this lesson, be sure students already have a basic understanding of poetry, possibly having read American poets previously.
  • As a hook, write the word 'patriotism' on the board. Give students 2 minutes to write what they think this word means. Specifically, what it means to Americans.
  • Have students share some of their ideas. Discuss:
    • If you were to write a poem celebrating the American people, what ideas would you incorporate? Are they negative or positive ideas?
  • Distribute copies of I Hear American Singing. Read through it as a class then discuss:
    • What is the overall message? How are Americans portrayed?
  • Now distribute copies of the lesson Walt Whitman's I hear American Singing: Summary & Analysis
  • Read through the first section, 'American Pride'. Discuss the idea of patriotism as class. Refer to the responses from the hook as necessary.
  • Have students individually circle specific words in the poem that show patriotism. Share answers as a class. You can even write them up on the board.
  • Return to the lesson and read the next section, 'Summarizing I Hear America Singing'.
  • Focus on this line: 'The overarching idea of the poem is that each person has a role and a voice that belongs only to that person, but when added to the roles and voices of all other Americans, helps piece together the puzzle that is America.'

Group Activity

  • Split your class into pairs or groups of 3. Give them 3 minutes to discuss that line. Their goal is to explain the puzzle that is America, and then show 2-3 lines from the poem that support their answer.
  • Groups can then share with the class. Common ideas can be written on the board.

Return to the Lesson

  • Read the next section, 'Whitman's Intent'. This section adds more explanation to the puzzle that is America idea. Compare the information in this section to what the groups came up with previously. Connect it to the idea of achievement.
  • Now, read the section on 'Structure' and 'Lesson Summary'. Now, discuss:
    • Why do you think Whitman chose to write this poem in free verse? Why would he want it to sound more like a conversation than lyrics?

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