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The Study of Poetry and Literature for Children & Young Adults

Poetry Module 4: Poetry Across the Curriculum

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Poetry Break #1: A Poem Relevant to Social Studies
 
Anderson, Maggie & David Hassler. 1999. Learning by Heart: Contemporary American Poetry about School. Iowa City, Iowa: University of Iowa Press. ISBN 0877456631

Introduction:  This poem is perfect for middle through high school age students. The juxtaposition of the historic images with the common ones will intrigue the students.
 
The History Teacher
By Billy Collins
 
Trying to protect his students' innocence
he told them the Ice Age was really just
the Chilly Age, a period of a million years
when everyone had to wear sweaters
 
And the Stone Age became the Gravel Age,
named after the long driveways of the time.
 
The Spanish Inquistion was nothing more
than an outbreak of questions such
"How far is it from here to Madrid?"
"What do you call the matador's hat?"
 
The War of the Roses took place in a garden,
and the Enola Gay dropped one tiny atom
on Japan.
 
The children would leave his classroom
for the playground to torment the weak
and the smart,
mussing up their hair and breaking their glasses,
 
while he gathered his notes and walked home
past flowers beds and white picket fences,
wondering if they would believe that soldiers
in the Boer War told long rambling stories
designed to make the enemy nod off.
 
 
Poetry Extension:  Read the poem to the class then break them into groups assigning one paragraph per group.
 
Have them create conflicting displays with a media of their choice showing the two sides of each period in history. For example, the Ice Age shown painted on a poster with a corresponding poster showing people wearing sweaters because they were chilly. 
 
When finished have the groups present their art in the correct sequence of the poem, reading it as they present. When the poem is finished discuss the seriousness of watering down history. Ask them why they thought the students in the poem tormented others at recess and why the professor created his own version of history.
 
If applicable to the class, discuss times in history when fighting occurred because a leader had changed history to suit his particular agenda, for example--Adolf Hitler. 
 
 

Click on the following link to advance to the next poetry break.

Module 4: Poetry Break #2