Poetry in America for Teachers: The City from Whitman to Hip Hop

Poetry in America For Teachers: The City from Whitman to Hip Hop is a semester-length professional development course designed specifically for secondary school educators interested in developing their expertise as readers and teachers of literature. In this course, available for professional development, undergraduate credit, or graduate credit, we will consider those American poets whose themes, forms, and voices have given expression to visions of the city since 1850.  Beginning with Walt Whitman, the great poet of nineteenth-century New York, we will explore the diverse and ever-changing environment of the modern city – from Chicago to London, from San Francisco to Detroit – through the eyes of such poets as Carl Sandburg, Emma Lazarus, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Langston Hughes, Marianne Moore, Frank O’Hara, Gwendolyn Brooks, Allen Ginsberg, Robert Hayden, and Robert Pinsky, as well as contemporary hip hop and spoken word artists.



Deep study of the poems and poets on our syllabus will provide an opportunity to develop your expertise as a classroom educator.  As you develop and practice advanced strategies for studying American poetry yourself, you also will gain rich new resources for the classroom. This course will introduce content and techniques intended to help educators teach their students how to read texts of increasing complexity.  The course will meet relevant educational standards for grades 6-12, including the Common Core State Standards.


Poetry of the City is designed primarily for educators who would like to expand their own reading and teaching practice.  Specifically, this course will develop teaching expertise relevant to the Common Core English Language Arts (ELA) standards in grades 6-12.  Course participants will master advanced strategies for teaching students how to close read complex texts, and, relatedly, for facilitating productive classroom discussion centered on those texts.  Specifically, Poetry of the City is anchored in four approaches to close reading literary texts:

  1. Making Observations, with a focus on such skills as gathering and drawing conclusions from textual evidence; noticing patterns; tracing the development of central ideas and themes; detecting shifts in voice, tone, and point of view; and drawing comparisons across texts.
  2. Understanding Structure and Form, with a focus on analyzing structural features and patterns, such as the relation of structural sub-units (the sentence, the stanza) to one another and the whole; and the impact of formal choice (rhymed couplet or free verse, sonnet or limerick, lyric or narrative) on a given text.
  3. Situating Texts in History, with a focus on analyzing the relation of authors and texts to particular cultural, historical, and geographical contexts.
  4. Enjoying Language, with a focus on cultivating the pleasure and fun of poetry in the classroom, and on analyzing the function of such elements as figurative language, word choice, sound, and imagery within a literary text.


Poetry of the City features a combination of video tutorials and conversations, archival images and texts, expeditions to historic literary sites, sample classroom visits, and practical exercises designed to support skills development.  In this course you will:


The course is appropriate for educators at all stages of their teaching careers. No specialized scholarly knowledge of American poetry is required.

Course participants are encouraged to enroll with fellow educators from their schools.

Browse the DCE Course Catalog

A version of this course is also on offer at Arizona State University.

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