Lesson Plans

Poetic Justice: Using Journalism and Poetry to Illuminate Injustice

A poster for María Guadalupe Pérez Montes is displayed. Image by Erika Schultz. Mexico, 2020.

A poster for María Guadalupe Pérez Montes is displayed. Image by Erika Schultz. Mexico, 2020.

This unit was created by Anne Lape, a Special Education English teacher at KRESA Juvenile Home School in Kalamazoo, MI, as part of the fall 2020 Pulitzer Center Teacher Fellowship program on Arts, Journalism, and Justice. It is designed for facilitation across approximately four class periods.

For more units created by Pulitzer Center Teacher Fellows in this cohort, click here.


Students will be able to...

  • Define basic journalism terms
  • Explain what an underreported story is, and why some stories might go underreported
  • Explore how poetry can contribute to content and style in a news story, and how it can be used to resist injustice
  • Analyze and write poems that respond to an issue of injustice

Unit Overview:

This unit focuses on underreported news stories and the power of poetry to both tell a story and get to the emotional core of an issue. It consists of four lessons and culminates in a performance assessment in which students write and perform a poem about a justice issue. In Lesson 1, students will begin by learning basic journalism vocabulary, understanding the idea of an underreported story, and analyzing the underreported story of femicide in Juarez, Mexico through video poems in the journalism project "Disappearing Daughters." In Lesson 2, students will consider how poetry can be used for justice by analyzing "Disappearing Daughters" and "A Spoken Word Poet in Myanmar Speaks Out Against Hate and Injustice." In Lessons 3 and 4, students will brainstorm ideas for, write, and perform poems about justice issues that matter to them.

Resources for Facilitating this Unit:

Click here for a PDF outlining lesson plans for this unit, including warm-ups, resources, discussion questions, and activities.

Click here for a worksheet to guide students in exploring underreported stories, used in lessons one and two.

Click here for a poem-writing worksheet and template for the unit's performance task, used in lessons three and four.

Performance Task:

1. Students will choose an issue of injustice that is close to their hearts. Encourage students to choose an issue that is underreported. (If students would like help thinking about what issue they would like to focus on, they can explore the Pulitzer Center “Issues” page to get some ideas.)

2. Students will brainstorm ideas around their chosen topic. What are some of the roots of this injustice? Who does it affect? How does it affect people’s daily lives? What steps could be taken to improve the issue?

3. After students have made their lists, ask them these questions:

  • What message do you want to convey through your poem?
  • How can you use a poem to convey your message and the impact of the problem you are presenting?
  • What are some words that are essential to your issue? What are the most powerful words you can find to get your point across?

4. Provide time for students to write, peer review, and edit their poems, using this poem template, inspired by “It Starts with You” by Aung Kaung Myat and Than Toe Aung.

If you would like to share more examples of poems written about justice issues by other students, they could explore the winners and finalists of the Pulitzer Center’s Fighting Words Poetry Contest from 2020, 2019, and 2018.

5. Time permitting, students can perform their poems for the class and celebrate one another / give feedback. Here is a format for giving peer feedback:

  • What injustice do you think the poet wanted to address with this poem? (Let the poet respond)
  • What do you think the message of this poem was? (Let the poet respond.)
  • What words/phrases did you like in this poem, and why?
Educator Notes: 

Common Core Standards:

Determine a central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.

Analyze various accounts of a subject told in different mediums (e.g., a person's life story in both print and multimedia), determining which details are emphasized in each account.

Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 9-10 topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

Analyze in detail how an author's ideas or claims are developed and refined by particular sentences, paragraphs, or larger portions of a text (e.g., a section or chapter).

Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (e.g., how the language of a court opinion differs from that of a newspaper).

Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas, concepts, and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.

Use precise language and domain-specific vocabulary to manage the complexity of the topic.

Social Justice Standards from Teaching Tolerance:

Justice 12 JU.6-8.12
I can recognize and describe unfairness and injustice in many forms including attitudes, speech, behaviors, practices and laws.

Diversity 8 DI.9-12.8
I respectfully express curiosity about the history and lived experiences of others and exchange ideas and beliefs in an open-minded way.

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