As we approach Veterans Day, I wanted to re-share one of the best lessons I’ve ever taught.
Just yesterday, I had one of those AH-MAZING teaching moments with my 8th graders. I do get to experience these moments pretty regularly with my 6th graders and semi-regularly with my 7th graders, but, well, they just don’t happen with my 8th graders. That tough crowd is more likely to throw tomatoes at me than risk being caught in class even APPEARING to enjoy a lesson. So even though I knew I had a fabulous lesson, it still caught me off guard Friday.
Veterans Day is probably my favorite holiday to incorporate into lessons. I’m so passionate about honoring the men and women who make sacrifices for you and me every day, and my students almost always respond favorably to military-themed lessons. I’m right in the middle of a big poetry unit with my 8th graders, and to be honest, it’s a hard unit for me to teach. So after studying Langston Hughes and Walt Whitman, this lesson was a welcome breath of fresh air for both my students and me.
I gave them the song lyrics to Tim McGraw’s “If You’re Reading This” but didn’t tell them it was a song. In one class, I had 2 students tell me they recognized the lyrics, and in my other 8th grade section, NONE of my students recognized them. I started by having my students read the song lyrics silently to themselves. My students looked down, prepared to spend a minute pretending to read what was on the paper. I could tell even then from the looks on their faces that they were almost immediately interested in the poem and read it all the way through. In case you aren’t familiar with it, here are the first few stanzas:
If you’re reading this
My momma’s sittin’ there
Looks like I only got a one-way
Ticket over here
I sure wish I
Could give you one more kiss
And war was just a game we played
When we were kids
I’m layin’ down my gun
I’m hangin’ up my boots
I’m up here with God
And we’re both watching over you
So lay me down
In that open field
Out on the edge of town
And know my soul
Is where my momma always prayed
That it would go
And if you’re reading this
I’m already home.
Right away, I got lots of “that’s so sad” and “oh no.” I had the students give me words to describe the mood of the poem. Then, without a word, I turned on the song and watched the students follow along with the lyrics again. They were so serious and solemn! After the song was over, we had an awesome discussion about how hearing the music along with the lyrics affected the mood of the poem. WOW!
We also discussed symbolism in the poem.
“I’m layin’ down my gun
I’m hangin’ up my boots”
What do the words “gun” and “boots” symbolize? There are lots of good answers here. War, soldiers, the military, etc. Then, I show my students this image:
and ask them if they’ve seen something like that before. Most of them have. In this photo, what do gun and boots symbolize? Now, their responses are fallen soldier, sacrifice, grief. WOW!
After making a few more inferences about the poem, we moved on to annotating the lyrics, analyzing the poem’s structure with the following poetry terms: rhyme scheme, partial rhyme, complete (perfect) rhyme, stanza, refrain. All of these terms are a review from previous years.
This complete lesson is a part of my Veterans Day Differentiated Activities for Close Reading packet.
Have a great Veterans Day!