ALEX Learning Activity

Langston Hughes' Poetry, Bio, and Influence of Walt Whitman

A Learning Activity is a strategy a teacher chooses to actively engage students in learning a concept or skill using a digital tool/resource.

  This learning activity provided by:  
Author: Tammy Cook
School:University of Montevallo
  General Activity Information  
Activity ID: 2369
Langston Hughes' Poetry, Bio, and Influence of Walt Whitman
Digital Tool/Resource:
I Hear America Singing Google Doc
Web Address – URL:

This "After" Activity follows a discussion about four of Langston Hughes' poems and the similarities/differences of Fitzgerald's ideas of "The American Dream" in The Great Gatsby. Students will have completed a graphic organizer about the themes and topics which have universal appeal but diversity in interpretation.

This lesson features a short video clip about Hughes' life and influences, so Walt Whitman's poem "I Hear America Singing" will be compared to Hughes' "I, too, sing America." Students will engage in a whole-class discussion about themes of both poems and whether Hughes' poem is an answer to Whitman's.

This activity was created as a result of the ALEX Resource Development Summit.

  Associated Standards and Objectives  
Content Standard(s):
English Language Arts
ELA2015 (2015)
Grade: 11
1 ) Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain. [RL.11-12.1]

Alabama Alternate Achievement Standards
AAS Standard:
ELA.AAS.11.1- Answer who, what, when, where, and why questions to analyze stories, using textual evidence and inferences as support.

English Language Arts
ELA2015 (2015)
Grade: 11
2 ) Determine two or more themes or central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to produce a complex account; provide an objective summary of the text. [RL.11-12.2]

Alabama Alternate Achievement Standards
AAS Standard:
ELA.AAS.11.2- Identify how two themes develop throughout a text; create an objective summary of a story.

English Language Arts
ELA2015 (2015)
Grade: 11
8 ) Demonstrate knowledge of twentieth- and twenty-first-century foundational works of American literature, including how two or more texts from the same period treat similar themes or topics. [RL.11-12.9] (Alabama)

Social Studies
SS2010 (2010)
Grade: 11
United States History II: The Industrial Revolution to the Present
5 ) Evaluate the impact of social changes and the influence of key figures in the United States from World War I through the 1920s, including Prohibition, the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, the Scopes Trial, limits on immigration, Ku Klux Klan activities, the Red Scare, the Harlem Renaissance, the Great Migration, the Jazz Age, Susan B. Anthony, Margaret Sanger, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, W. C. Handy, and Zelda Fitzgerald. (Alabama) [A.1.a., A.1.b., A.1.d., A.1.f., A.1.i., A.1.j., A.1.k.]

•  Analyzing radio, cinema, and print media for their impact on the creation of mass culture
•  Analyzing works of major American artists and writers, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Langston Hughes, and H. L. Mencken, to characterize the era of the 1920s
•  Determining the relationship between technological innovations and the creation of increased leisure time

Alabama Alternate Achievement Standards
AAS Standard:
SS.AAS.11.5- Identify key social changes that occurred after World War I.
SS.AAS.11.5a - Identify notable people of the 1920s including Babe Ruth, Charles Lindbergh, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Andrew Wyeth, Frederick Remington, Langston Hughes, Louis Armstrong, Henry Ford, W.C. Handy, Zora Neale Hurston, and Al Capone.

Learning Objectives:

1. Students will analyze Langston Hughes' biography and four of his poems.

2. Students will read Walt Whitman's poem "I Hear America Singing."

3. Students will analyze Hughes' poem "I, too, sing America" with Whitman's "I Hear America Singing."

4. Students will compose responses to a "Personal Reflections Worksheet" after they have discussed themes in small group and in whole-class discussions.

  Strategies, Preparations and Variations  

1. Direct students to discuss their completed graphic organizers as they explore the similarities and differences of Fitzgerald’s “American Dream” presented through The Great Gatsby and Langston Hughes’ poems.

2. Direct students to reflect upon whether their American Dream definition has changed by the poetry read today and engage students in brief discussion.

3. Direct students to consider specific contemporary artists who may have been influenced by Langston Hughes and determine whether they think that his poetry is still relevant today in the 21st century.

4. Play a short YouTube clip (2:40 min.) about Hughes entitled, “Langston Hughes: Harlem Renaissance Poet, Novelist, Playwright by Biography

5. After students watch this video clip, direct them to read Walt Whitman’s poem “I hear America singing.” 

6. Direct them to read their copy of Hughes’ “I, too, sing America” again aloud. 

7. Guide students in a discussion by asking the following questions:

  • What do the singers have in common?
  • What is different?
  • In what way is the poem a celebration of America?
  • What is the theme of the poem?

8. Explain to students that some believe Hughes’ poem to be an answer to Whitman’s. Ask them to identify the elements of the poem that directly address Whitman’s work and then ask the following:

  • Why might Hughes have thought Whitman’s poem needed to be answered? What evidence is there in the poem for this?
  • What is the theme of the poem?

9. Finally, direct students to complete the “Personal Reflection Worksheet” for homework.

Assessment Strategies:

Formative assessment will occur 1) through class discussion of the graphic organizer and poems and 2) the Personal Reflection Worksheet completed for homework.

Advanced Preparation:

The teacher needs to make sure that the YouTube video clip is available and works. The teacher should open the files through Google Docs and make enough classroom copies for students: Langston Hughes Graphic Organizer, Langston Hughes Poems, Walt Whitman's Poem, and the Personal Reflection Worksheet.

Variation Tips (optional):

This activity does not have to follow the reading of The Great Gatsby. It can serve as an activity about poetry, the Harlem Renaissance, or themes like "The American Dream."

Notes or Recommendations (optional):
  Keywords and Search Tags  
Keywords and Search Tags: Harlem Renaissance, Langston Hughes, The American Dream, Walt Whitmans I Hear America Singing