Looking for a poem to evoke conversation
and to practice patterning?
“Dayrbeak in Alabama” by Langston Hughes is an excellent poem for any grade because it subtly addresses current social and political issues of diversity, it demonstrates the use of similes and an extended metaphor, and appeals to the senses in a way that students of all ages can understand and ultimately appreciate. This poem works well for introducing students to elements of poetry and provides a fine model for students to pattern in terms of content and form. Download Patterning Poetry with Hughes with worksheet to guide analysis and writing.
Why patterning? Most cultures teach by example, whether it be art, dance, music, or sports. Students of art try to mix colors to match those of a particular artist; they visit museums and attempt to reproduce texture and brush strokes of the master painters. Dancers learn by copying the movement and deportment of accomplished dancers. Some watch videos over and over, trying to move in just the same manner of famous ballerinas. The same is true of musicians. You may have students who learned to play the piano or violin using the Suzuki method developed in Japan. To learn in that way, students listen to recorded music and attempt to duplicate the sound of the masters. They watch their teachers’ bow and fingers – all the time copying what they see. We all know that budding athletes are arduous imitators.
You may have sons, daughters or siblings who spend hours dribbling and shooting, running and jumping, imitating the moves of their favorite sports figures – those basketball greats, football end zone dancers, hockey players and soccer whizzes. Many of you have husbands or wives, parents or friends who watch those golf videos straining to pattern the swing and putt of Jack Nicholas or Tiger Woods. Each of these artists, dancers, musicians, and athletes is trying to duplicate the skill of the masters – their idols and heroes. It is true; we copy what we believe to be good.
Usually my students buy into this idea, and several find that imitation not only is the highest form of flattery, but also is a key to opening the floodgates of those ideas they have kept stored in their hearts and minds. A number of these students have been pleasantly surprised at how much they have to write about and how well they do write when they begin by paralleling the sentence structure and style of published poets.
Fran Claggett, Louann Reid, and Ruth Vinz suggest this kind of writing in their DAYBOOK of Critical Reading and Writing and following their suggestions, I have adapted lessons for modeling and imitating. Using this idea, your students will see that patterning not only helps to expand their repertoire of style but also to expand their vocabularies. When my ninth graders try to model a poem that has a specific rhyme or rhythm pattern, they find that the first word that comes to their minds seldom fits the required rhythm or rhyme; so the students keep searching for another word that expresses the same idea. When they want to create a specific tone, these students hunt for for just the right words in a dictionary or thesaurus. These young writers have learned that successful poets and novelists carefully choose words for their sound and suggestive power as well as for their meanings.
So have fun with this wonderful poem, reading it aloud and directing students’ attention to the contents, structure and style. And then invite the students to draw on their own experiences or observations and to use these as they pattern the way Langston Hughes’ thoughts and images, music and emotion are seen in “Daybreak in Alabama”.
Here’s a worksheet to guide students in analysing the structure of their chosen poem before attempting to pattern it. PATTERNING A POEM