by Katie Upton

Unless you have been living under a rock, you have heard Amanda Gorman’s name numerous times over the past 24 hours. This 22-year-old black woman, the nation’s Youth Poet Laureate, delivered her poem, “The Hill We Climb,” at President Joseph R. Biden’s inauguration on January 20th, and she has captured the attention of the world. Let’s make sure that we give her the attention that she deserves in our AP English classes. Here are four ways to use her poem in your class:

  1. Studying the Rhetorical Situation: It is not often that our AP students get to study a text as part of the primary audience, but that is precisely what our students will do as they read and listen to this poem. In fact, one could even argue that they are the primary audience. Before reviewing the poem, prompt students to consider every aspect of this unique rhetorical occasion, including the purpose of an inauguration, the location in which it was delivered, and any other feature of this unique moment in American democracy. Next, they should consider what rhetorical choices Gorman might make to impact her audience: what beliefs, values, and needs do Americans, and subsequently the world, currently have? How can she acknowledge them to connect with her audience? Next, as students read or listen to her poem, have them create a chart that examines Gorman, the audience, the context, the exigence, the purpose, and the message. The culminating activity here could be a class discussion about the specific rhetorical choices that Gorman employs to reveal her understanding of the values, beliefs, and needs of her audience.
  2. Analyzing the Rhetorical Choices: Because students are part of the primary audience, they should be able to identify Gorman’s rhetorical choices and explain their importance efficiently. It is important to give students the opportunity to identify and analyze the rhetorical choices Gorman makes, but we must also allow them to make personal connections to her choices, identifying those that greatly impacted their experiences and examining why they might have had visceral reactions to her words and her message. Ask students to share their responses with the class or create Flipgrid videos to share their analyses.
  3. Producing Multiple-Choice Questions: Not to sound repetitive, but because students are among the primary audience members, they may find it easier to create multiple-choice questions that mirror what they will see on their AP English exams. They can create questions and share them with their peers, developing short answer responses to their peers’ questions or their own, and so on.
  4. Creating Authentic Written Work: Allowing students to find inspiration from Amanda Gorman’s poem and challenging them to be creative might be just what our students need to get out of the rut of a new semester of school. Give your students a few choices: to create their own poetry, a visual representation of Gorman’s poem, a chorus that could turn Gorman’s poem into a song, etc. I would argue that Gorman’s purpose was to bring hope to Americans, to inspire her peers, to call for unity, to challenge us to love our neighbor. Perhaps our students can create their own piece that does just that as well.

In five short minutes, Amanda Gorman accomplished true greatness: she used her words to move a country forward while acknowledging its past. She gave hope to millions of people, young and old. Let’s honor her words, her message, and her purpose in our classrooms.

Download a printable copy of Gorman’s poem to use in your classroom today.

Katie Upton has been teaching English courses for 15 years, helping students become college and career ready. She is an expert in AP® Language and Composition and a leader of the AP® Capstone program, and has led professional development as well, helping teachers blend 21st century learning with educational practices that have stood the test of time. A former basketball coach herself, Katie spends her free time cheering on her two boys in all that they do and supporting her husband, a head girls’ basketball coach.

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