ALEX Lesson Plan


Writing for Catharsis: How Do We Survive?

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  This lesson provided by:  
Author:Amy Hill
System: Decatur City
School: Decatur City Board Of Education
  General Lesson Information  
Lesson Plan ID: 33321


Writing for Catharsis: How Do We Survive?


This lesson is an internet-based inquiry into the Virginia Tech Massacre and Nikki Giovanni’s poetic response. This lesson ties informative reading and inquiry with the craft of poetry and the role of poetry as catharsis. Students will also understand firsthand the  difference in reading a poem and the experiencing it as a public performance.

 Associated Standards and Objectives 
Content Standard(s):
English Language Arts
ELA2015 (2015)
Grade: 7
5 ) Analyze how a drama's or poem's form or structure (e.g., soliloquy, sonnet) contributes to its meaning. [RL.7.5]

English Language Arts
ELA2015 (2015)
Grade: 7
7 ) Compare and contrast a written story, drama, or poem to its audio, filmed, staged, or multimedia version, analyzing the effects of techniques unique to each medium (e.g., lighting, sound, color, or camera focus and angles in a film). [RL.7.7]

English Language Arts
ELA2015 (2015)
Grade: 7
11 ) Determine two or more central ideas in a text and analyze their development over the course of the text; provide an objective summary of the text. [RI.7.2]

Alabama Alternate Achievement Standards
AAS Standard:
ELA.AAS.7.11- Determine two or more central ideas; provide a summary of the text.

Local/National Standards:


Primary Learning Objective(s):

Students will:

  • read informational text to discover the background behind the Virginia Tech Massacre.
  • summarize the central ideas of informational text.
  • read and analyze the structure of a poem for impact and central theme.
  • compare the public performance of the poem and the experience of personally reading the poem.

Additional Learning Objective(s):

 Preparation Information 

Total Duration:

61 to 90 Minutes

Materials and Resources:

Students will need pencil and paper.

Technology Resources Needed:

Teachers will present a YouTube video to the class via a projector and/or computer.

Students will need to access the internet to read assigned websites.


Teachers need to pre-read the article and be prepared to discuss the controversial and violent topic of school violence.



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:

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:

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:

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.


Assessment Strategies

Formative assessments will include participation in the discussion points and the initial summary of the Virginia Tech article. Summative Assessment will be made through the final writing of the response poem and the “Facebook post” of the event chosen by the student. The post will be assessed for complete use of details to convey the central idea. The response poem will be assessed for expression of emotion and use of refrain. 


Students already familiar with the Virginia Tech incident will research other incidents of school violence and possible poetic responses to them.

Students could be encouraged to present their poems in small groups, via video on their smart phones, or to entire classes.


Reading of the article and poem may be done as a paired reading with a partner or small group.

 Writing of the final facebook post and response poem might be taken from a school or community event that students are familiar with or can read about in a local newspaper or school newspaper.

 The final poem could be written as a group writing project with the teacher supplying several choices for refrains and with groups each writing a separate stanza including key words supplied by the teacher to focus the groups on different aspects of the event.

View the Special Education resources for instructional guidance in providing modifications and adaptations for students with significant cognitive disabilities who qualify for the Alabama Alternate Assessment.