1. Have students do a quick response to the following question which should be posted where students can see it as they enter the classroom:
Why do we practice classroom lockdown drills?
After a few moments, briefly listen to a few student responses.
This should take 5 minutes or less.
2. As soon as a student mentions a past school violence incident such as Columbine, Virginia Tech or Newtown, direct them to the website below for a more detailed account of the Virginia Tech massacre.
Virginia Tech Shooting Leaves 33 Dead: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/16/us/16cnd-shooting.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
3. After students have read the article silently (or aloud in small groups) they should work independently (or in pairs) to create a Facebook post memorializing the fallen students and including the most essential details of the event. (Who? What? When? Where? Why?) It should be in succinct social media style and written from the point of view of a Virginia Tech student.
Allow a few students to share their “post.”
Discuss the characteristics of news articles that were left out of the students “bare facts” posts, such as interviews with people. Ask what these interviews accomplish for the reader other than verifying facts.
4. Discuss what the likely response on the campus was for the first few days following the incident. Explain that many people write to express deep emotions such as those accompanying such a tragedy. Introduce briefly the poet Nikki Giovanni who is a professor at the school. Be careful that students read her poem silently via the following website. If scaffolding must be done to accommodate lower readers, be careful that the poem is read as a memorial to a tragedy. Draw out the importance of the refrain to the poem’s structure and to its overall message.
We Remember: http://www.remembrance.vt.edu/2007/archive/giovanni_transcript.html
5. Remind students that typically memorial services are held after a national tragedy. Explain that this did happen on the campus of Virginia Tech and briefly introduce the video clip of Nikki Giovanni’s presentation of her poem, “We Are Virginia Tech.” Show the video first with little introduction. Show the video the second time asking students to use adjectives and phrases to describe the emotions that the audience seems to have as the poem begins, proceeds, and concludes. Draw out the turn of emotions within the crowd from deeply sad and tragic to one of empowerment and optimism.
This is CNN’s video clip of Nikki Giovanni’s memorial service address: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0cSuidxE8os.
6. Discuss the video with students by asking them how the public performance differed from their personal reading of the poem. Which experience of the poem was more powerful? What in the poem specifically transformed the crowd from mourning to celebrating? Was celebration appropriate in the situation? Do words have the power to transform the sorrow to empowerment?
7. Ask students to consider an event in their personal lives which was emotional in a positive or negative way (a new pet, an award, a death in the family, a birthday celebration, a holiday observance). Be sure students are aware of their audience with the upcoming writing. Students should first compose in a brief Facebook post including the basic facts of the event as though they were “announcing” the event via social media. Students will then compose a poem that is an emotional response to the actual event. Encourage the use of refrain to demonstrate the emotion most dominant in the response.