American Odyssey

American Odyssey

 A Poetry Unit

Presentation Days

  • Day One: Multi-media presentation
  • Day Two: Frozen tableau
  • Day Three: Artistic interpretation
  • Day Four: Drama
  • Day Five: Ceremony
  • Day Six: Readers Theatre

7. Before your group presents on any given day, be sure you've read, studied, and analyzed the poem to be presented. Every person in your group will have a responsibility in this analysis so that each of the following elements in your selected poem is addressed. In literature circles, everyone had a job for each discussion. Your small group, in a way, is a poetry circle group. For each day, you should divide the responsibilities this way:

  • Form-finder - This job involves identifying the style or pattern of the poem. Is there a particular rhyme scheme? Is the piece, for example, a sonnet like Shakespeare's? How does the meter affect the mood of the poem? Does the poet employ alliteration? Explain the use of white space or stanza divisions in the poem. What poetic devices are used in this poem? Is it a common ballad form? Use quatrains? Free-form?
  • Theme-Finder - This position requires the circle member to identify important general ideas or, even better, to explain how some specific ideas progress through the piece to arrive at a universal idea. For example, in "To an Athlete Dying Young," could this be written about an ancient Greek or about one of the professional or college football players that have died on the sports field in the last twelve months? This team member will offer a paraphrase of the poem to the class.
  • Background-finder - This historian's job is to put the poem in context related to time (when it was written, when it takes place, and how it relates to today). He or she would also check out obscure references in the poem and might also include a brief biography of the poet or historical background to put the poem's theme into context. For example, Walt Whitman's "Captain, O' Captain" was written after the death of President Abraham Lincoln. A group presenting this poem should include information on Whitman's tribute to a fallen president. This team member should also look up definitions of unusual vocabulary or common words used in an unusual way.
  • Image-finder - This circle worker will identify images, metaphors, similes and symbols. Are there animals? What kind? In Frost's "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening," there is a horse. What do we associate horses with? (Perhaps, taking a journey?) In Auden's Shield of Achilles, what do we think of when we think of a great warrior's shield? What would we expect to find on it? Are there references to weather in the poem? What ideas do we associate with cold, snow, ice? What about spring? Do we think of rebirth?

Rotate the team jobs for each presentation. I am expecting a notebook page of notes from each team member for each presentation to ensure individual accountability.

8. Before the first day's presentations, your group should give Mrs. Adams sort of "critic's review" sheet so that students can offer feedback on the effectiveness of the poetry presentation. The "critic's review" form should shadow your traveling personas. for example, the traveling hobos might have their feedback forms be faded Campbell's Pork and Bean can labels. [Draw a facsimile label or photocopy the real thing ]. A group traveling in a 1959 pink Cadillac might have their evaluation forms be a 1959 license plate. These evaluation forms should be able to contain as much writing as on a 3" x 5" index card. Make 25 copies of your form. 

9. Each day, after all the presentations are completed, Mrs. Adams will pass out ONE of the sets of evaluation forms. Students will write a critic's review of the best presentation of the day using the language of poetry such as "effective metaphor," "emphasized the alliterative first words of each line," etc. We will end up using one set of each group's "critic review" forms for each presentation day.

10. Each group picks a poem by its author that fits the theme for the day best. You will be performing in front of the class ( so make sure it's a quality event!). You should have a copy of the day's poem for each student. Suggestion: Type your poem using 8 pt. font, try to fit several copies of the poem on a single sheet, ask one of group members to print off these sheets from a home computer. If you can fit 4 copies of the poem on a single sheet, you'll only need about 6 copies of the sheet.

Day One: Multimedia Presentation

Perform your poem with lots of moody backgrounds. Remember all the senses, and use them to set the tone of the poem. Music, scents, sound effects, backgrounds (painted cardboard, etc.), balloons, food, tactile images (poems written on sandpaper or fabric and handed out), lighting effects like strobe or slide projected backgrounds - all these can make your performance effective.

Present your poem and then "teach" the poem to the class. Each day's theme-finder in a group is responsible for coordinating the entire presentation.

Day Two: Frozen Tableau

Your group will make a talking statue formation that is the "soul" of your poem and recite it to the class.. Pose yourselves in a statuary group that tells us something about the poem. Recite the poem, using all the people in the group to say part(s) of the poem. Pause, and then do a frozen tableau - what is each character thinking or saying at that instant? Each "statue" should briefly unfreeze and explain what his/her role is in the poem. Have a decorated title placard in front of your tableau, giving the title, author, and group members.

Day Three: Artistic Interpretation

You may recreate your poem in any art form. Read it to the class as a group, either as a choral reading or in individual sections. Show us how you represented the poem in an art form. You may use any media, but no two art forms in the group may be alike. Dioramas, posters, sculpture, water color, collages, etc. are all welcome. Each member must complete a project. Each team member is responsible for artistically representing the poem and showing it to the class.

Day Four: Drama!

Your group will act out a poem, using props and costumes as necessary. Make your poem come alive. You may use sound effects, costumes, dramatic entrances and exits, and lots of color to give your poem some flair!

Day Five: Ceremony

Find a poem that the poet wrote that would be exceptionally appropriate at a ceremony of some kind (wedding, funeral, graduation, bat/bar mitzvah, kick-off dinner for new business, inauguration, etc.). With the members of your group, stage the ceremony, including the speeches that would be made by those attending the ceremony. Include the poem in your ceremony.

Day Six: Readers Theatre

Choose a poem by your poet that works well with multiple voices. A readers theatre presentation can utilize no real acting. Only the voices can carry the message of the poem. Often, a readers theatre group will dress in the same color or style of clothes (example: white t-shirts and blue jeans) to appear as a UNIT when presenting. Your group cannot move once the readers theatre presentation begins, except to raise your head (if you decide to start out with bowed heads). You can speak as single voices, duets, trios, or whole groups. Decide how the particular speakers in your group work well and use the voices to best effect in presenting the poem.


Visit the Alabama Virtual Library for online poetry databases. If you do not have your AVL library card yet, visit the high school librarians who can set up an account for you.


Here is a general rubric I use to evaluate the small group presentations. I adapt it slightly to meet particular days' presentations.

American Odyssey Traveling Team Poem Presentations
(General Rubric - Each presentation theme day’s rubric will be specific to the day’s task.

Traveling Team Members: ____________________________________________________
Date: __________________ Period: ___________ Poet: ________________________
Poem Selection: ________________________________________













1. Significance and quality of material






2. Appropriate for speaker, audience, presentation theme












1. Appropriate information






2. Conversational directness






3. Attention-getting device












1. Communicated author's intended meaning






2. Accurate phrasing to convey meaning






3. Appropriate emphasis






4. Presentation follow-up “teaches” poem effectively












1. Communicated emotion the author intended






2. Communicated the climax












1. Pleasant , clear quality






2. Appropriate pitch level






3. Appropriate inflection and rate






4. Adequate volume






6. Clear articulation and pronunciation












1. Readers physically poised and at ease






2. Unobtrusively handled scripts






3. Bodily action coordinated with thought
and emotion






4. Adequate eye contact with audience














"What am I supposed to be learning? It seems like a lot of work, Mrs. Adams ! What good will it do me?"    

Grade 11 Alabama Course of Study Skills in this Unit:

  1. The learner will be able to share and support opinions about authors, issues, styles, and trends in American literature.
  2. The learner will be able to read and understand an informational, nonfiction story.
  3. The learner will be able to read selections written by American authors, 1900 to the present.
  4. The learner will be able to read secondary sources, written by literary critics, about American authors 1900 to the present.
  5. The learner will be able to identify the style of American authors, 1900 to the present.
  6. The learner will be able to expand upon the meaning of functional materials.
  7. The learner will be able to determine the author's point of view in a fiction passage.
  8. The learner will be able to apply literary devices to poetry.
  9. The learner will be able to use figurative language with poetry.
  10. The learner will be able to use correct grammar
  11. The learner will be able to use correct sentence structure.
  12. The learner will be able to identify masterful use of language.
  13. The learner will be able to identify supporting ideas in class discussions.
  14. The learner will be able to identify supporting ideas in oral presentations.
  15. The learner will be able to participate effectively in small group discussions.
  16. The learner will be able to listen in small group discussions.
  17. The learner will be able to listen for the main idea of an oral presentation.
  18. The learner will be able to analyze print media for audience appropriateness.
  19. The learner will be able to analyze print media for universal
  20. The learner will be able to draw conclusions about reading materials.
  21. The learner will be able to draw logical and supported conclusions from passages
  22. The learner will be able to understand and follow written instructions/directions.
  23. The learner will be able to identify the theme of a given reading passage.
  24. The learner will be able to make inferences from reading materials.
  25. The learner will be able to identify and understand figurative language in reading materials.
  26. The learner will be able to identify the tone of a given passage.
  27. The learner will be able to identify the literary device being used by the author.
  28. The learner will be able to assess the effectiveness of literary devices used in poetry.
  29. The learner will be able to read materials analytically.
  30. The learner will be able to speak effectively in a small group discussion.
  31. The learner will be able to demonstrate poise when giving oral presentations.
  32. The learner will be able to plan an effective oral presentation.
  33. The learner will be able to use logical content in an oral presentation.
  34. The learner will be able to create an effective mood when giving an oral presentation.
  35. The learner will be able to use tone to produce the desired effect in an oral presentation.
  36. The learner will be able to present research results.
  37. The learner will be able to use different types of technology to enhance learning experiences.
  38. The learner will be able to use available technological tools as a means of expression
  39. The learner will be able to write for various purpose, audiences, and formal and informal situations.
  40. The learner will be able to write in a variety of genres.


Each group will submit a folder with copies of their annotated poems and 2 multiple choice questions (with 4 answer choices) for each poem. These multiple choice questions should mirror questions found on the Alabama High School Graduation Exam or the SAT 1.

Each student will complete a group evaluation sheet much like the one we used for evaluating literature circle work. Keep all your notes pages from each presentation. I will sign each of these on presentation days, and then you'll turn them in with your project evaluation sheet at the end of the unit. 


Thanks to the NCTE List Serv English teachers who suggested some of these ideas in April 2001 and October 2001. Special thanks to Gretchen Lee who allowed me to experiment with the presentation day themes she developed in April 2001 for another project and to Michelle Garbis, a master unit analyst.

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