Teaching Students About Leaves Of Grass
Leaves of Grass, published in 1855, is a collection of poems by Walt Whitman that has become an iconic piece of American literature. This masterpiece was groundbreaking for its experimental style and expression of personal freedom. Teaching this work to young students can provide them with invaluable insight and inspiration for understanding human nature, creativity, and individualism in the context of the American literary tradition.
How to Approach Teaching Leaves of Grass
1. Provide historical context:
Begin by exploring Whitman’s life and the era in which he wrote Leaves of Grass. Understanding 19th-century America’s social and political climate, as well as its perception of literature and artists, will help students comprehend the significance and controversy surrounding Whitman’s work.
2. Teach the poetic form:
Whitman’s free verse style deviated from traditional forms popular during his time. Introduce students to free verse, its purpose, structure, and how it allows for more expansive expression compared to structured poetry styles. Discuss how this style sets Whitman apart from his contemporaries and predecessors.
3. Familiarize students with key themes:
Explore the main recurring themes within Leaves of Grass such as democracy, sexuality, individualism, nature, death, rebirth, and spirituality. Discuss these themes with students and encourage them to recognize examples as they read through selected poems.
4. Select representative poems:
While it might be impractical to read every poem in Leaves of Grass with your students, you can select a few that showcase Whitman’s diverse range and voice. Examples include “Song of Myself,” “I Sing the Body Electric,” “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d,” and “O Captain! My Captain!” Analyze these poems as a class or have students analyze them independently before discussing their interpretations.
5. Encourage personal connections:
Whitman’s poetry often invites readers to reflect on their own experiences and emotions. Encourage students to draw parallels between the poems and events in their lives, helping them make personal connections with the text.
6. Use creative assignments:
To help students engage with Leaves of Grass on a deeper level, incorporate creative tasks that require them to interact with the text. Consider activities such as writing a poem in Whitman’s free verse style, creating artwork inspired by select poems, or asking students to perform their favorite lines.
7. Discuss Whitman’s influence on modern literature:
End your study of Leaves of Grass by considering its influence on contemporary authors and literature. Explore how Whitman’s themes, style, and ideas have impacted subsequent generations of American poets and writers.
Teaching Leaves of Grass to students offers a unique opportunity to study an innovative voice in American poetry and delve into some of the most profound themes that influenced literary history. By providing historical context, discussing key themes, and utilizing creative assignments, you can inspire students to appreciate Whitman’s work for its originality, passion, and enduring influence on American literature.