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We are trying to show how the bad feelings start, rather than how they escalate into violent actions. And remind them that all the usual rules of good writing apply: using metaphors or similes and plenty of sensory details.
Invite students to contribute what they know about the recent events that have brought these names to the attention of the nation.
Some students may be keenly aware, others not at all.
Ask the class to notice how, throughout the poem, the speaker uses the second person, calling herself “you.” Ask them why they think she does this.
Tell them that they can use this technique as well, if they want, in their own writing.
Ask the class to think deeply about times when they have been made to feel different, or “less than,” whether because of their race or some other factor.
Tell them that everyone, at some point, has probably experienced this feeling: If you think it would be helpful, you can give the class an example from your own experience.
Next, invite the class to read some of Rankine’s poems on the handout.
You may need to fill in a little background information about the airplane trip and why a busy professional person might have priority seating, even if they’re not rich.
But in Rankine’s patient presentation of prose poems, her use of the second person, and the accessibility of her language, the book also offered a devastatingly effective model for how to write about this particular kind of trauma.
I decided to build a lesson around Rankine’s work to use with my sixth-grade students.