Activism and Cultural Identity Through Works of Art in Chicago Neighborhoods

byLaura Gillihan


Chicago is beautifully diverse. Its population is almost evenly split between African Americans, Latino and White. Granted, most ethnic groups live in separate neighborhoods throughout Chicago, such as Greektown, the Polish Triangle, Pilsen, Bronzeville, Chinatown and Humbolt Park just to name a few. This segregation dates back to the Jim Crow Laws of 1877 and the Great Migration of 1916, to more recent historical events such as Redlining and public-school closings in Chicago. Despite the intentional segregation of people of color that was used as a catalyst for oppression, especially true for African American, Latino, and Chinese Americans, neighborhoods in Chicago have used art to preserve cultural identity, and also as a vehicle for activism.

Aside from being known as a diversely segregated city, Chicago is known for its arts. From classical museum art found at the Art Institute, to more recent art found at the Museum of Contemporary Art, to small local neighborhood galleries, Chicago has it all. One of Chicago’s specialties includes its array of public art stretching from murals, to sculptures, to mosaics, and even graffiti. Chicago’s arts expand even more, from blues and jazz music to poetry readings during open mic nights at the Green Mill. Artists use their work as their voice and as a tool to drive change. In this unit, through discussion and interpretations of poetry and other works of art, students will gain confidence to use their voice through ekphrastic poetry and other works of art to promote change and make their community a place they’re proud to call home.

Rationale and Objectives

Walking into McClellan Elementary, located in Chicago’s Bridgeport neighborhood, one might well feel inspired by the diversity of the student population and its celebration of all cultures. As the fifth grade teacher at McClellan, I know I am. And I know students are too, but this inspiration is short lived once school ends. Bridgeport is quite radically diverse, roughly comprised of 34 percent white, 34 percent Asian, 27 percent Hispanic, 3 percent African American, when compared to other neighborhoods in Chicago. The same is true for McClellan Elementary. Our student population is made up of 43 percent African Americans, 33 percent Hispanic, 12 percent White, and eight percent Asian. This diversity is very uncommon in Chicago as you’ll learn later in this unit. At McClellan, the core values we strive for are inclusion and tolerance as well as student voice. Students feel they are reflected in curriculum and that their voice matters, and as a result they take pride in our school and the culture we created together. Once students leave the building, though, this changes. Students have valid reasons not to feel safe in their community. What upsets me is that perhaps because of the violence, they don't feel any sense of pride or belonging in the community. Whether students just come to Bridgeport for school or they live there, I want all students who attend McClellan to feel that their neighborhood represents them and that they are proud to be a part of it. I also want students to know that they can create change in their community, despite what they may think. In this unit, student will learn that their voice matters and they can use their voice to make change, through the mediums of poetry and other works of art, to make their community and city a place that represent them.

In this unit, students will explore ekphrastic poetry about works of art together with other works of art, gaining the confidence through meaningful, authentic, and extensive discussion, to create their own visual and verbal artworks. Inspired by local artists and art, students will explore ways in which the art they create can be used as activism to create change they want as well as a way to preserve cultural identity. Finally, students will collaborate and create a work of art that preserves our own culture as a school and neighborhood as well as bringing about an inspiring change in our community. 

This is an integrated unit for both language arts and social science targeted for fifth grade.  In this unit, there are several themes to unpack, such as activism, injustice, discrimination and racism, identity and so much more. The unit is set up to ensure that students are active participants and taking an active role throughout the entirety of the unit rather than being spectators. The unit is broken up into four parts. Part one will serve as an introduction to ekphrastic poetry. Students will explore ekphrastic poetry, gaining confidence through meaningful and extensive discussion, interpreting ekphrastic poetry both by from well known poets and also by student poets. Finally, students will create their own ekphrastic poems using local art as inspiration. Part two is focused on how to use works of art for a greater purpose. Students will learn how this can be done from the artist Latoya Ruby Frazier and her body of work titled Flint is Family 2016, a work of art intended to raise awareness about Flint Michigan’s water crisis. Students will then become activists themselves, creating a work of art to raise awareness about an issue they care deeply about in their neighborhood or city. The third part of the unit will question why we need activism in our community, city and beyond. This part will also analyze the impact of using art as form of activism. Students will learn about the history of three Chicago neighborhoods, Bronzeville, Pilsen and Chinatown. They will understand that discrimination was inflicted on the people of these communities and understand from their public art how the art they create can be used as activism to create change they want as well as a way to preserve cultural identity. The final part of this unit will require students to use everything they learned about activism, works of art as empowerment, and ekphrastic poetry to create their own mural that will represent the class as a whole and as individuals. Students will accompany the mural with an individual ekphrastic poem discussing the mural’s meaning from their point of view. The essential questions students will explore are what are ekphrastic poems, how can art be used as a form of activism, why do we need activism, how has art preserved culture, and who are we as one and as a community? With these questions to guide students’ learning, they are sure to be active participants as they use this unit to create change.

History of Segregation in Chicago

Chicago, like any major city is immensely racially and economically diverse. In order to understand how the city is divided today, we must understand how Chicago came to be segregated. As you stroll downtown, you see people of all races, cultures, and classes enjoying Chicago’s cuisine, shops and sights. However, don't confuse Chicago’s diversity with the belief that it is integrated. Chicago is historically known for holding the inglorious distinction of being one of the country’s most segregated cities.  African American Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, known as the “father of Chicago,” was the first to settle in Chicago in the 1770s. Chicago was named a town in 1833 and then incorporated as a city in 1837. In 1877 Jim Crow Laws, which enforced racial segregation, were implemented in the south after the Reconstruction Era. To escape the racist laws, seven million African Americans migrated north, in what is known as the Great Migration, for better opportunity. Slightly more than 500,000 African Americans resided in Chicago. The cultural impact of Great Migration would change Chicago forever. However, not all Chicagoans enjoyed the integration of African Americans into the city. Laws and systems, such as redlining, were put into place to oppress those of color, including African Americans, Mexican Americans, and Chinese Americans, by confining them to certain areas in Chicago. When they defied the boundaries and began to move into “white areas,” whites began to flee to the suburbs in the so-called “white flight.” Today, we still see the impact of the Jim Crow Laws, the Great Migration and redlining in a number of ways, mainly in regards to housing and the public school system.

Jim Crow Era

“It shall be unlawful for a negro and white person to play together or in company with each other in any game of cards or dice, dominoes or checkers.” -Birmingham, Alabama, 1930 (1)

This quote is the essence of what is known as the Jim Crow era, a time in U.S history when laws enforced racial segregation in the South under the Jim Crow Laws. The segregation and disenfranchisement laws took effect at the end of the Reconstruction era in 1877 and ended during the civil rights movement. However, legal scholar Michelle Alexander suggests that there is a new Jim Crow era at our present, the mass incarceration of African Americans. In an interview with NPR she explains, “although Jim Crow laws are now off the books, millions of blacks arrested for minor crimes remain marginalized and disfranchised, trapped by a criminal justice system that has forever branded them as felons and denied them basic rights and opportunities that would allow them to become productive, law-abiding citizens.” (NPR 2012) In fact, this does sound similar to the codified system of racial apartheid that dominated the American South for three quarters of a century beginning in the 1890s known as the Jim Crow era. The Jim Crow laws required separation of whites from “persons of color” in public places. “Persons of color” referred to anyone who was not white, including those of Latino and Asian descent. The laws affected almost every aspect of daily life by mandating segregation of schools, parks, libraries, water fountains, restaurants, public transportation, and restrooms. Diane Nash, an American civil rights activist, and a leader and strategist of the student wing of the Civil Rights Movement, recalls, "Travel in the segregated South for black people was humiliating. The very fact that there were separate facilities was to say to black people and white people that blacks were so subhuman and so inferior that we could not even use the public facilities that white people used." (2)This was codified on both local and state levels due to the decision “separate but equal” in 1896’s Plessy v Ferguson. Segregation laws began to change during the civil rights movement. In 1954, the decision of Brown v Board of Education of Topeka stated that segregation in public schools is unconstitutional. Due to the tireless effort of civil rights activists, The Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964 which superseded all state and local laws requiring segregation. The Civil Rights Act should have been the end of the Jim Crow era in Chicago and in our nation. However, we still see segregation in Chicago, overwhelming in public schools, neighborhoods and housing to be discussed in the what follows. So, along with Michelle Alexander, I too believe that perhaps we are in a “new era” of Jim Crow.

The Great Migration’s Impact on Chicago

This year marks the 102nd anniversary of the Great Migration in Chicago, a time when hundreds of thousands of African Americans left the South for better opportunities. Chicago attracted just over 500,000 of the approximately seven million African Americans who left the South during these decades. When African Americans arrived in Chicago, they were restricted to the Black Belt on the South Side. Even as overcrowded conditions cramped black families, a host of real estate policies prevented them from moving to white areas, for instance redlining which will be discussed later. The Great Migrations flowed for six decades and became the foundation of Chicago’s African American industrial working class.  Prior to the Great Migrations, African Americans constituted two percent of Chicago's population, approximately 44,000; by 1970, they made up 33 percent, roughly one million. Although the Great Migration is known for its impact on cultural life in Chicago which is most evident in Southern blues music, cuisine, and churches, “it also set the stage for the lingering hypersegregation, a division between black and white that shaped the Chicago experience.” (3) The hypersegregation that began during the Great Migration is a current problem. Moore suggests that because white people forced blacks into second-class citizenry, it led to low-quality housing, overcrowded schools and other discriminatory treatment in Chicago. (4) Nonetheless, Chicago became the heart for “black America” and that has forever changed our city.

The Effects of Redlining in Chicago

Redlining is not a problem unique to Chicago. Two hundred twenty-five cities across the country have been and continue to be affected. Understanding the long history of discrimination by housing officials is essential to promoting equitable public policy and practice today. By definition, “Redlining is the practice of arbitrarily denying or limiting financial services to specific neighborhoods, generally because its residents are people of color or are poor.” (5) It began in Chicago when a number of scholars in sociology and economics helped shaped the housing policy which was later studied by then real-estate specialist Homer Hoyt at the University of Chicago in 1930. HOLC color-coded maps were created to assign values to neighborhoods. Green areas were the “best” investments, blue areas were “still desirable,” yellow areas were “definitely declining” and red areas were “hazardous.” The maps show black neighborhoods drenched in red. This was the beginning of the pattern of how discrimination by banks kept people of color from building wealth. Hoyt took what he learned at the University of Chicago with him when he became the principal housing economist for the Federal Housing Authority. It wasn’t unit the mid 1960s that the negative effects of redlining were recognized by policy makers. The Fair Housing Act of 1968, which prohibited housing discrimination, was implemented, however, it did not make a difference. Racial discrimination in lending continued. African Americans and Latinos continued to be routinely denied conventional mortgage loans or received them at rates far higher than whites. Redlining made it nearly impossible for African Americans to build credit and to move out of neighborhoods of the South Side of Chicago where black neighborhoods did not receive the same quality of city services. Areas that once looked promising later became another slum. In 2016, WBEZ reported rampant discrimination in Chicago home loans in the 1930s are still being felt today. “Studies have found proprietary credit score algorithms to have a discriminatory impact on borrowers of color.” (6) This long-term effect shows why today, the homeownership gap is wider is wider between whites and African Americans than it was in the Jim Crow era. Willings states that so called “good” and “bad” neighborhoods are due to the wide array of public and private investment influences that shape the quality of neighborhoods, not the inhabitants. (7) The effects of redlining didn’t stop at housing, as segregation in schools followed residential segregation patterns.

Segregation in Chicago Public Schools

I teach on the near South Side of Chicago at McClellan Elementary in Bridgeport. When you walk into McClellan Elementary, you might be inspired to believe that Chicago Public schools share the same diversity, just as if you were to take a walk downtown and believe Chicago to be culturally intertwined, Chicago and Chicago Public Schools, CPS, are far from this picture of harmony. In fact, the segregation of CPS reminds me of a quote from the Jim Crow era, “Separate schools shall be maintained for the children of the white and colored races.” (8) Chicago schools are barely more integrated than they were 54 years ago when Brown v Board of Education ruled segregated schools unconstitutional. Housing segregation has a direct correlation to school segregation and even though residential segregation has slightly decreased, school segregation has increased for African American students in Chicago. If we analyze the history of CPS, we can see this segregation affects one of the most basic elements of black lives, educational opportunity. CPS supported school segregation by drawing school attendance lines to match racial segregation patterns. They also supported segregation by allowing white students to transfer out of African American schools and overcrowding those schools. These practices continued well after the 1954 Supreme Court Ruling Brown v Board of Education as well as after the passing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964. In 1971, 85 percent of all black students in CPS were in intensely segregated schools and roughly 40 years later, in 2012, 70 percent of African American students attended intensely segregated schools. An intensely segregated school is one where 90% of the student body is African American. (9) From 1971 to 2015, the number of CPS students who attend school where are 90% or more African American students jumps from 35 percent to 42 percent. (10) This data thus proves that CPS is becoming more segregated. The problem with school segregation in Chicago is not only its connection with ingrained personal beliefs and its impact on beliefs that could be changed in a different atmosphere, with the resulting failure to decrease racial prejudice, but the disportionate school closings of African American segregated schools. One out of four intensely segregated black schools were closed, phased-out or turned around from 2001 to 2012.  (11) Just in 2013 when the mass school closing crisis occurred, of the 50 public schools that were closing, 94 percent had majority African American school populations, 86 percent were intensely segregated schools with a population of students over 90 percents African American and more than 70 percent of closed schools had a majority of African American teachers and student population. (12) The other percentage affected schools with majority Latino population. The segregation of the city is not an excuse for the pursuit of policies that intensify segregation and worse assault the school communities that have endured the weight of segregation’s harmful effects. Despite being known for having some of the best public schools in the nation, in Chicago we see public schools closing around us and more selective enrollment, with magnet and charter schools opening. The fight to keep public schools open in predominantly Latino and African American communities has been a continuous fight. Dating back to 1962, parents have fought for educational equity in some of the most under-resourced communities. Just in 2015, parents, staff and community members led a successful 34-day hunger strike to keep Dyett High School, in the historically black neighborhood of Bronzeville, open. The segregation of Chicago Public Schools doesn’t just impact those in the front line, but the entire city.

Chicago Neighborhoods of Focus  

Chicago was my first love, teaching my second. So, imagine the excitement and gratitude I felt when I was first offered a teaching position in Chicago. The initial excitement was short lived when I heard my students say they hate this city and they can’t wait to get out. I was confused and heartbroken. How could these children hate a city that has so much to offer? Chicago has always been a “tale of two cities.” I had been naive to think that we were living in the same “tale” when that was in fact not the case. We were living two very different tales in one very segregated city.

Chicago is grouped into 77 community areas with over 180 neighborhoods. Some neighborhoods seem to reflect the old Hollywood image of Chicago, rich, dreamy and full of opportunity and adventure, while some have been forgotten. Nevertheless, each has its own unique culture that adds to the vibrant diversity of Chicago. For this unit, we are going to focus on three neighborhoods, Bronzeville, Pilsen and Chinatown, that surround our neighborhood of Bridgeport. Each of the three neighborhoods of study have a distinct, immediately perceptible culture and you can’t help but feel their pride as you explore. Bridgeport, located in the center of the three, couldn’t feel more different from them. I want students to feel proud of Bridgeport and I want them to see themselves represented in the neighborhood, even if it is only where they go to school. We are going examine how each neighborhood used and continue to use art and culture as a form of self-expression and empowerment.


Bridgeport is a working- class neighborhood of Chicago’s near South Side. It is the birthplace and home to five Chicago mayors but it is more well known for being home to the Chicago White Sox, one of Major League Baseball's oldest franchises. Today Bridgeport’s population is relatively diverse with roughly 34 percent white, 34 percent Asian, 27 percent Hispanic, 3 percent African American, 2 percent mixed and 1 percent other. These demographics are much different from when Bridgeport was founded in 1930 and 99% of its population was white. Unlike today, diversity was not always welcomed. Bridgeport used art as a hinge point for revitalizing the area and connecting cultures. Bridgeport has diverse food options, parks and art centers. The Zhou B Art Center promotes contemporary convergence of Eastern and Western art and is meant to be an exchange between local artists and the global art community. The Bridgeport Art Center and Co-Prosperity Sphere are prevailing staples in the community that both serve as a space for local artists to be creative and showcase their exhibits. Bridgeport is also home to Boys and Girls Club where students can participate in afterschool programs. Despite these organizations and creative outlets that prove staples to the community, my students don’t feel proud of their neighborhood once they leave the school building and they have valid concerns that are not to be taken lightly. Their concerns for lack of safety both in their neighborhood and elsewhere in the city are valid; Chicago’s violence is real and it affects us all. However, I do want my students to feel a sense of pride in their community and not just within the realms of our school building. They can create change by raising awareness through works of art for the issue they care most deeply about in both their communities and the city to truly make their neighborhood both a place they are proud to call home, just as the three neighborhoods that surround us do.


Bronzeville is a neighborhood located in the community area of Douglas, just east of our neighborhood of Bridgeport. Bronzeville is part of the South Side of Chicago, a place of rich black heritage made up of a mix of poverty stricken, working class and upper-income black residents. The South Side was home to the first black woman senator and the first black President of the United States and other African American elites such as Vivian Harsh, Nat King Cole, Red Fox, Joe Louis, Louis Armstrong, Dr. Daniel William, Sam Cook, Ida B. Wells, Richard Wright and Gwendolyn Brooks. Bronzeville was known for its nightclubs and dance halls that developed with the migration of Southern musicians during the Great Migration. It has always been known for being a national center of urban African-American commerce and art. In 1925, Bronzeville was part of what is known as the Black Metropolis and in 1930, it earned its name “Bronzeville,” reflecting the skin tone of most of its residents. The idea for Negro History week, which evolved into Black History month was formulated at the YMCA in Bronzeville by scholar Dr. Carter G. Woodson. After the end of racially restricted housing, Bronzeville fell into a decline due to upper and middle-class families moving away and overcrowding and poverty overwhelmed the neighborhood. From the 1970s though the 1980s, unemployment hit 90 percent and Bronzeville became an impoverished neighborhood. In the mid 1980s, middle class black professionals began rehabbing houses, but unfortunately it did not make up for the loss in business. Throughout the 1990s, there were promises of improvement with a new McCormick Place Convention, one of Chicago’s biggest meeting places, that aimed to serve as a gateway to the city center, but sadly it only served as the end of the line for many white people. Despite the fact that Bronzeville never did quite reach its promised potential, Bronzeville celebrates that the identity of its black residents. (13) Bronzeville is home to some of the most celebrated works within the City of Chicago’s Public Art Collection. Sculptures fill the grass along Martin Luther King drive, which features Alison Saar’s “Monument to the Great Northern Migrations,” “The Bronzeville Walk of Fame”, and the “Victory Monument.” All of these works honor those who have made extraordinary contributions to the African American community. The South Side Community Arts in an organization that has a long history of tolerance and understanding the use of art to enrich a community. At times when racism and segregation prevented many African Americans from contributing to the cultural life of the United States, the South Side Community Arts was a place where they could tell their story as African American artists. Today, African American culture is still celebrated each year during the Bud Billiken Parade, a black back-to-school parade, as well as through sculptures, murals, and mosaics. Each work of art you see as you pass through Bronzeville pays tribute to influential African Americans as well as to African culture.


Pilsen is known as the heart of the Mexican community of Chicago. Pilsen was first occupied by Czechs in the 1870s and its name originated from the Czech city of Plzen. The neighborhood is located in the Lower West Side community of Chicago, which served as an entry point to the city for many immigrants.  Immigrants were always attracted to the industrial opportunities the neighborhood had. Pilsen didn’t become predominantly Mexican American until the 1960s. In 1987, the National Museum of Mexican Art was opened. It is the nation’s largest Latino art institution. The museum was influenced by the Mexican immigrants of the area. Pilsen is known as the backbone of Chicago’s Lower West Side Strong because of its cultural heritage and rich working-class legacy. (14)  The walls of Pilsen are decorated with colorful murals dating back to the 1960s and tile mosaics which both reflect its traditions. Pilsen brings everyday art to the working class. Pilsen has a long history of using its art as a tool to speak for the working class and create change. Historically influenced from government funded murals in the 1920s and 1930s, the murals made their way to Pilsen in the late 1960s and 1970s, becoming the voice of the people. In 1968, the first anti-Vietnam mural of Chicago was painted in Pilsen. In the 1980s, artists painted a mural illustrating a massive statue of a U.S supported Nicaraguan dictator toppled by working and middle-class rebels in protest to keep U.S out of Columbia. Other political murals referencing presidents have been updated with current presidents to discuss the issues that we face today. Other murals were created by artists to inspire the youth and educating them by providing opportunities for them. There are religious murals and murals that honor their ancestors. Along with public art, Pilsen is also known for hip galleries, live music and authentic Mexican restaurants. Its cultural pride is the reason why it was honored as one of the “coolest neighborhoods in the world” according to Forbes Magazine in 2018. (15)


“Chinatown offers a revealing look at how a group of people bound geographically, culturally, linguistically and economically during hostile times has flourished to become a vibrant, contagious and proud community for Chinese Americans.” (16)This is true for Chicago’s Chinatown and “Chinatowns” across the nation. Chicago’s Chinatown is located in the community area of Armour Square Park in Chicago’s near south side. With more than 65,000 Chinese residents, Chicago’s Chinatown is one of the largest neighborhoods of its kind in the United States. Chinatown is known for a vibrant and energetic culture that’s reflected in the shops, authentic cuisine, and landmarks like Ping Tom Memorial Park and a Buddhist Temple. From its description today, we almost forget how it was founded. Chinatowns in the United States evolved in large part because of the anti-Chinese racism and because of the legal barriers that prevented assimilation. (17) Chinatowns arose in major cities such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Cleveland, Chicago, and many others. Chicago’s Chinatown aimed to preserve and promote common cultural values and protect and expand its ethnic Chinese economy, which proved a challenge. (18). Chinese immigrants first came to the United States for opportunity during the “Gold Rush” in the mid 1800s. During this time, they were paid less than fellow white workers. When the railroad was completed, the ensuing Great Depression hit and in 1869, 20,000 Chinese immigrants found themselves out of a job. Since they couldn’t earn wages through traditional work, they developed their own business, predominantly in laundry services and restaurants. Chinese were driven out of towns and riots began to break out nationwide that discriminated against Chinese Americans. Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 because Chinese were said to be “...incapable of assimilation into U.S. society.” (19). The act prohibited all immigration of Chinese laborers. The act was then renewed in 1892, this time making it mandatory for Chinese Americans, including U.S born citizens, to carry an ID at all times. If they didn’t, they were risking jail time or deportation. During this time, it was hard for Chinese Americans to find a place to live outside of Chinatown. The act was enforced for 61 years, finally being repealed in 1943 once Japanese Americans became the main xenophobic target after WWII. Since the act was no longer in effect, the Chinese community in Chicago was finally free to thrive. Chinatown became a cultural identity heritage maker for Chinese Americans in Chicago. Besides award winning restaurants, Chinatown has an incredible collection of public art that includes zodiac-inspired animal sculptures and twin pagodas. The area's signature piece, an enormous tile mosaic created by celebrated artists Yan Dong and Zhou Ping, represents the accomplishments of Chinese people in America. Today, Chinatown is defined by its history of welcome, rejection and acceptance. 

Poetry About Works of Art, Ekphrastic Poetry

Ekphrastic poetry, or poetry about works of art, dates back to the Greek poet, Homer. Homer wrote a passage about a shield in The Iliad, not referring to an actual shield, and “critics have commented that no actual shield in the real world would be able to contain the disparate elements mentioned.” (20) Although most ekphrastic poems are about specific works of art, the same that was said about Homer’s poem can be said about other poems about works of art. An ekphrastic poem can provide new perspectives on visual art. It can devise conversations between subjects in a work of art and it can defy the boundaries of time to which works of art are confined by reimagining the work of art in a kind of verbal college.  Art has been used as a form of self-expression, empowerment, freedom and activism. Allowing students to analyze and create their own ekphrastic poems will allow them to write narratives for pieces of art which will encourage them to use their voice in a way they haven’t before to create change.

Activism in Art

History and current examples show that art can change the world. During the Great Depression of the 30s, American artists began to address politics using their art to influence society. They had exhibitions that had both social and political themes such as poverty, lack of affordable housing, anti-lynching, anti-fascism and workers’ strikes. Since then, art has been a consistent catalyst for advocacy, promoting solidarity and preserving history that is often neglected by the mainstream. In 1935, the NAACP drew attention to lynching and encouraged the passing of a federal law banning it by using works of art. Although art alone did not eliminate lynching, artists’ work proved to be a powerful tool that gained attention and planted seeds for future struggles by being a vital organizing tool when it came to fighting injustices. In the late 1960s, artists focused nuclear disarmament among other issues. Some artists focused on poverty and homelessness. In 2000, artists in San Francisco founded an organization focused on using graphic arts to support social justice organizing. They focused on the injustice of displacement that gentrification brought about. Today, we see art as form of activism being used to protest immigration travel bands, separation of families, and women’s rights. Artists, past and present, have used art as a way to express their voice and to create change by raising awareness of acts of injustice.

One of the most recent examples of using art as a form of urban activism is the body of work titled Flint is Family by artist Latoya Ruby Frazier. We are all aware of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan that began in 2015 when reports revealed dangerous levels of lead that infiltrated residents’ homes and public buildings. Three years later in 2018, the crisis continues and will continue until 2020 when the goal of replacing all pipes is met. In 2016, artist Latoya Frazier found a way to get people’s attention to this crisis and start making and demanding change through her body of work titled Flint is Family. Frazier followed a family and documented through her photography what everyday life in Flint was like since the water crisis.  She assembled her photographs into a short film accompanied by an original spoken word poem composed by a family member, a feature of the film. Frazier used her work to expose truth about the injustice that continues through the water crisis. Not only did Frazier use her work to raise awareness of this unjust issue by exposing the truth about the injustice that continues, she provides practical steps for the everyday person that when implemented can reduce the damage of the crisis.

Strategies that Create Transcending Poems and Authentic and Extensive Interpretations About Works of Art

Throughout this unit we will use several strategies that build students’ confidence in both creating a work of art and analyzing one. The strategies used help students organize thoughts, analyze and reflect on works of art and promote creativity. Students will have ample time in the unit to pursue both collaborative and independent work.

Collaborative Work

What collaborative learning style empowers and enables is a student's resilience - how do you look to your neighbor as a resource, how do you test your own theories, how do you understand if you're on the right track or the wrong track? ( 21)

Collaborative learning is the most important teaching strategy I will use. In fifth grade, students benefit from group work. Collaborative learning experiences require students to work together to learn the content and apply what they have learned to the activity or project at hand. I also find that in the fifth grade, typically ages ten and eleven, students feel insecure about sharing their knowledge in an academic setting, and asking for help when they need it. Collaborative learning is a way for students to ask a peer, someone they trust, for help in a less threatening environment. It’s also a way for students to gain confidence in their strengths and use them to strengthen others. At the same time, collaborative learning teaches cooperation and teamwork which are essential to any workplace. Group work can have positive impacts on learning because it creates an environment where students teach each other through explanations. This reinforces what was taught by the teacher but also promotes peer learning --- that is, students learning with and from each other as fellow learners, and using each other as resources. Collaborative learning holds students accountable to each other, which will, in turn, instill ownership, when they know they’re responsible for a part of the project and their peers are counting on them. I value collaborative learning in my classroom for those reasons. In this unit, I plan to use two collaborative learning strategies, “Graffiti Walls” and “Pass it On.” Both strategies help reinforce the importance of peer learning as well as building confidence in their work through accountability and ownership.

Graffiti Wall

A Graffiti Wall is a shared space where students can record reactions, thoughts, feelings, emotions, comments, and/or questions using a word, phrases and drawings.  They are a way for students to gain confidence expressing their thoughts, feelings, and reactions to a poem or other work of art and to begin to feel pride in sharing their work. They’re accommodating for all learners, including ELL and students with special needs. Graffiti Walls can be represented in a variety of ways. In this unit, I plan to use them to lead conversation when interpreting a poem or other work of art. I also plan to use them as a form of brainstorming before students write their own ekphrastic poems. For our Graffiti Walls, I will put a poem or other work of art, either as a whole or in part, on an anchor chart and post them around the room. Student will be allotted time to write and draw their interpretations of the subject matter. We can use the Graffiti Walls to guide whole group discussion or discussion in small groups. Students can take ideas from the wall and incorporate them into their own poems or use simply use the ideas from the wall for further evaluation of the work of art.

Pass it On

Pass it On is a strategy that will allow students to build off one another. This is a crucial skill in any profession that involves collaboration. It is also an essential skill for the culminating activity where students will be creating a collaborative mural that represents cultural identity and/or serves as an example of activism as well as an ekphrastic poem to accompany the mural. The strategy, Pass it On, will scaffold students to complete such an activity. Students will begin with a work of art to interpret. Each student will begin a poem on a new sheet of paper and write a line. Once they complete the line, they will pass the poem to the next student. We will continue to pass the paper around until the poem is complete. We will also use this strategy in reverse. Students will analyze a poem and pass around a paper to create a drawing to accompany it. This strategy will allow students to learn from their peers through word choices, the structure of a line, etc. This strategy, when used appropriately, can be powerful for building confidence in students to interpret poetry and other works of art.

Brainstorming Through Guided Imagery

Students are like treasure chests, they have so many great interpretations but sometimes remained closed shut. Writing, in general, but especially poetry can feel intimidating to students, but brainstorming is a way to unlock their treasures of thoughts, feelings and ideas. I will use this prewriting strategy as a way to encourage creativity and generate ideas before students write their ekphrastic poem in addition to other stages in the writing process. With pressures from high stakes tests, students aren’t always encouraged to think outside the box which proves to make writing creatively even more challenging. As my students examine the work of art that they will produce an ekphrastic poem for, I will guided them in their brainstorming by reading some of the following prompts and questions, “describe the work of art,” “what words would you use to describe the painting,” “how would you describe the people and objects in the work of art,” “how does it make you feel- what emotions,” “how does it relate to real life and how does it differ,” “what can you tell me about the colors in this painting,” “how do the colors make you feel,” “pretend this work of art is alive, what would it say,” “what does it smell like,” “if you were in this work of art, what would you hear,” “pretend you are inside this work of art, what does it feel like,” and “why do you think the author created this?” As you read these questions, student can write down words and phrases as well as draw pictures for their responses. Allowing students these options makes this an inclusive strategy that all will benefit from. For students who benefit from written prompts rather than oral prompts, provide students with these prompts on a worksheet. Brainstorming through guided imagery prompts will allow students to act as if the work of art has come to life and encourage them to be creative and produce extraordinary poetry. 

Three Reads and Three Looks 

Three Reads is a close reading strategy adapted from a similar math strategy I have previously used.  This close reading strategy will support students in creating a more detailed and specific interpretation of a poem.  Depending on your students’ level of advancement, this strategy can be implemented for the whole poem or it can be used for parts of a poem, for example each stanza. For this unit, I plan to use this strategy for both whole and parts, depending on the complexity of the poem. The first time students read the poem, they are reading for a basic comprehension of the poem. They should be able to name the characters, if any, and the setting of the poem. The first read is to identify the main idea of the poem. In the second read, we begin to dig deeper into the poem looking at craft and structure. Students will examine how many lines, how many stanzas, or other composition blocks, as well as the purpose of the poet’s word choices. They will analyze why the poet used the adjectives, figurative language, and other striking vocabulary. The focus of the third and final reading is the integration of knowledge and ideas. Students will synthesize the lines and stanzas of the poem and make connections for identifying the tone and mood. This is where students will also analyze the purpose of the poem in its entirety.

Three Looks is my take on Three Reads but for interpreting works of art. When interpreting works of art, students will most likely have a slide or print to work from. However, they are also able to apply this strategy when viewing an original work of art. The first time students view a work of art, they should look at it as a whole, taking note on what they see first and why it stands out. They should be able to describe the overall scene in the work. For the second viewing, students should begin to focus in on different parts of the work of art. Students can note the largest and smallest part, the varying depths of the objects, and the colors. Here students should start to look more closely. In the third and final viewing, students should, just as in a Three Read, start to connect to the work of art. They can connect it to another work of art by comparing and contrasting. Here, students want to note what they think is the most important part of the work of art and why. They will also analyze the mood of the work of art. This strategy will allow students to examine the work of art more closely and form a more well-developed interpretation of it.

Poems in Action

In a seminar led by Dr. Paul Fry, we discussed how to interpret poetry and other works of art. Both poems and other works of art want to be understood and taken for truth. When we interpret each, we are making sense of it as we understand it. In order for poem and works of art to be interpreted, they need to be looked at carefully and multiple times. During seminar, when I would begin to believe that I had exhausted the work of art with my own interpretation of it, Professor Fry would pull me back into the work of art by posing another thought, another perspective or by providing more context that would make me inquire more. The important factor here is for time is to be allotted for students to also arrive at appropriate and extensive interpretations. Along with seminar leader Fry, my peers also made me interpret the work of art in different ways. The importance of interpreting works of art in the classroom is the discussion. The goal that I will achieve with my students is deep, meaningful, and authentic discussion about poetry and other works of art.

Early Sunday Morning by Dan Masterson: Three Reads

In this unit, I will introduce ekphrastic poetry using the poem by Dan Masterson titled “Early Sunday Morning,” which reflects artist Edward Hopper’s “Early Sunday Morning” oil on canvas painting. This unit is about focuses on neighborhoods which is why I chose this ekphrastic poem Also, due to students’ ability to relate to both the poem.  I would first expose students to the poem, which can be found in the book Heart to Heart edited by Jan Greenberg, in isolation to build on their background knowledge of poetry and identify this as a free verse poem. As a whole group, we will then interpret this poem using the strategy “Three Reads” followed by the strategy “Three Looks” in turning to the painting, to get a better understanding of both the poem and the painting before we compare and contrast the two. To make sure students stay organized with their thoughts when interpreting the poem and painting, a graphic organizer will be provided for them to fill out.

During first read of the poem we will be focused on basic comprehension, the main idea of the poem, so I will begin by reading it aloud in whole group. Once finished, we will begin to interpret the poem by identifying the characters and setting. Looking at the first line, “My big brother & I grew up behind,” the “I” tells us that this poem is written in first person and that there are two characters, the narrator and their older brother. I would point out to my class that the narrator mentions three friends in the second stanza, but the poem is mainly about the narrator and their brother. Next, we will identify the setting of the poem by circling clue words that signify both time and place. We will first focus on place and then time. In the first stanza the narrator mentions the phrases, “grew up,” and “over our father’s barber shop.” I would model to my class how this tell me the setting of the poem is the narrator’s childhood neighborhood. Because the narrator said in lines two and three, “over our father’s barber shop,” this tells me that the narrator grew up in an apartment or condo that was above their father’s barber shop. The setting changes from inside the apartment to outside on the street in stanza two. We see this with words like “cobblestones,” “fireplug” and “schoolyard,” which describe a neighborhood. In the last stanza, “on the bubbly tar roof” indicate that the poem also takes place on a roof, their roof to be more specific. We also see in the sixth and seventh line of the stanza the mention of the Hudson River and the Atlantic Ocean. This leads me to believe that the narrator’s apartment is in New York. We now know where the story takes place, in the narrator’s childhood neighborhood, most likely New York, and more specifically in the narrator’s apartment, on the street outside the apartment and on the roof of the apartment. The second component of setting is time, what time of day or what time period does the poem take place in? The first stanza gives no time specifics except that this poem takes place in the past. We know this because the words “grew up” indicate that this poem is about a past memory. In the second stanza we read, “cobblestone,” “iceman” and “fireplug” which all indicate time. I would tell my students that cobblestone was what early streets were made out of, an iceman was someone who delivered ice for people’s iceboxes before refrigerators were invented and a fireplug is known today as a fire hydrant. I would provide pictures of each and let students come to the conclusion that this poem takes place quite some time ago. This conclusion will become more solidified in the third stanza when the narrator talks about feeding the horse that had pulled the ice man’s cart. It is also to be mentioned that the narrator is playing outside barefoot. My students are from the Midwest, so they might interpret this as a seasonal description of either summer or spring. If we are supposing that this poem most likely takes place in New York, we would be correct. The last stanza provides details that can help us narrow down the specific time of the poem. In the last three lines the narrator says that his brother will soon to be sailing off to war down the Atlantic. I would first ask students if they knew which war the narrator was talking about, reminding them to keep in mind that streets were made of cobblestone and horses were a form of transportation. Students can rule out the most recent war in Iraq, but will need help narrowing down that the war being discussed is WW1, beginning in 1914 and ending in 1918. Now that we know the setting of the poem, I would have a student summarize it for the whole class. Before we begin our second read, I want to make sure students comprehend the poem. I will have them summarize the poem by identifying the beginning, middle and end. In the beginning, stanza one, the narrator is remembering their childhood with their brother in their apartment. In the middle, stanzas two and three, the character is remembering games they would play outside their apartment and the shops around. At the end of the poem, stanza four, the narrator is remembering a talk he had with his brother about going off to WW1. Now that students understand the character and setting and can summarize the poem, we are ready for our second read.

The second reading of the poem is focused on craft and structure as well as word choice. We will determine that there are four stanzas and the number of line varies in each. We will then do a close reading of each stanza focusing on the poet’s word choices. In the first stanza, we already know that the narrator is reminiscing about a memory with his brother that takes place in in his childhood apartment. We want to take a closer look at the description of the apartment by looking at the author’s word choices. From the second line, we understand that his apartment had three windows that were right over their father’s barber shop. The poet describes the how the light was shining in through the shades in the following line. In last line of the stanza, we can get a better glimpse of the apartment. We know there is a corduroy sofa with one worn side and that there is a sink and mirror in the apartment. In the second stanza, the narrator talks about how they used to play barefoot in the cobblestone street with friends and if it got too hot, one of their friend’s dad would open the fire plug to cool down the cobblestone. I would ask students to interpret why the poet used the detail of “played barefoot.”  Students might infer that the narrator couldn’t afford shoes or perhaps that they were just being kids and running around with no shoes on. I would then point out that the poem also refers to the narrator and friends playing stickball. I would tell students that stick ball is like baseball but it uses a stick, typically a broom, rather than a bat and a rubber ball and that stick ball is still played today. I would allow students time to infer that someone who doesn’t have money for baseball equipment would play stickball. Thus, we can conclude that the narrator lived in poverty as a child. Continuing on to the description of the water from the fire hydrant flowing down the street, the water passes a candy store and a diner and ends in the schoolyard. I want students to interpret what this says about the narrator’s neighborhood. They might decide that this means his neighborhood is small since the narrator is outside their apartment, next to their father’s business, and when the water from the hydrant flows, it ends up at their school. In the third stanza, the narrator begins by admitting that they do not know why the ice man came early on Sunday morning. Students can wonder why the poet uses this line this by talking with a classmate and sharing responses aloud. They might decide that the author can’t remember or there were just things the narrator never questioned as a child. In other words, when the narrator was a kid, things just were. The description of the iceman’s journey is somethings I would focus on in this stanza. The poet describes this journey with words like, “hauling 50-pound blocks of ice,” and “25-pounders.” Students might interpret that this means it was hard work, but then I would point out that it says that the iceman “danced” up the stairs with it for the neighbors and emphasize the poet makes here. The stanza concludes with the narrator and his brother feeding chips off the ice blocks to the very thirsty horse which caused the horse to dance. I want students to interpret the connection between the ice man dancing and the horse dancing. I might ask them, why did both the iceman and horse dance, what does this say about them? Students might decide that they both enjoy serving members of the community. In the fourth and final stanza of the poem, the setting changes. In this stanza the poem returns to the apartment as in the first stanza, rather than remaining on the street as in stanzas two and three. The narrator and his brother begin in the apartment, then go out onto the roof to watch the stars as they talk. I would ask my students why the narrator brings newspaper to lie on and not a blanket. Does this connect with the narrator not wearing shoes? Students may say they used newspaper so they wouldn’t get a blanket dirty or because perhaps they didn’t have a blanket. Finally, I would ask students to consider why the poet chose to end with the memory of his brother promising to return after the war. Students might say that promises create special memories and mean something or they might guess that his brother never returned. I would then focus students to reread the last line, “He even crossed his heart & hoped to die.” I want students to interpret this promise as the narrator having a close relationship with his brother. 

In the third and final reading, students are going to synthesize interpretations made thus far and identify the tone and mood of the poem. This can be completed as whole group, although I prefer to have students work in pairs or small groups and then reconvene as whole group for discussion. First I would ask students to make personal connections to the poem, how does their experience compare and contrast what goes on in the poem. I would ask students to be as specific as possible. Students might relate to playing outside in summer just like the narrator. However, they might also resist the thought of playing outside where the narrator does because most of my students don’t find it safe to play outside their home. I would then ask students to compare and contrast stanzas, focusing on the last two specifically. I want students to decide why the poet chose to end with the repetition of reminiscing about memories shared with their older brother. I would ask how this affects the overall mood of the poem. In the beginning of the poem, there was a melancholy nostalgic mood, then the mood shifts to a more saddened nostalgia that enforces acceptance that these memories belong to a past that is over. Nonetheless, the final two stanza solidifies the importance of the narrator's relationship with his brother. I would conclude by asking students to reread the poem independently and allow time for students to share any final interpretations. Once students feel that they have exhausted all interpretations of poem, I will tell students that this free verse poem is written about a work of art, making it an ekphrastic poem and that we are going to interpret the work of art this poem accompanies and use a strategy similar to this called “Three Looks.”

Early Sunday Morning by Edward Hopper: Three Looks

Similar to the strategy students previously completed, “Three Reads,” students will take three looks at the painting in order to make appropriate and extensive interpretation, just as they have done with the poem. When we interpret this painting, the first look is going to focus on the work as a whole. We want to examine what we notice first and what stands out. I will begin by telling students what I notice first. I would explain that I first notice the building. I notice three shops. I notice that above the shops there are ten windows. I would ask students what they infer from these observations. Students will be eager to connect the painting to the poem we previously read, but I am going to ask them to hold off on comparing and contrasting the two until we interpret the work of art on its own. Students might say that the windows above the shops are where people live and that there are apartments above the shops. I would then ask students what they notice in the painting. They might point out the fire hydrant, the barber shop pole, and/or the sun. I would ask students what interpretations they make of these objects.

On our second look, we are zeroing in on the painting, looking at different parts, size or objects and colors used. I will ask students to use a piece of copy paper and put it over the copy of the painting, slowly sliding the copy paper off the painting and pausing at certain parts to analyze more closely. For instance, students might slide the copy paper to the right and pause when they arrive at the first shop. They might notice that you can’t make out the name of the shop. I would ask them to interpret this. Students might say it’s because it’s a painting or maybe these shops are no longer in business and the names are faded off. I would ask students what they make about the shades in the apartment windows and why some are yellow and others not. Students might bring light into the interpretation at this point. I would ask them what time of day does the sun tell us it is. Students can see this as early morning or late evening, but not day time or nighttime because the sunlight is coming from one side of the painting. I would ask students what colors they see in the painting and why the artist chose the colors they did.

For our third and final look, students are to connect to the work of art personally or relate it to something else they’ve seen. Students may be reminded of their own neighborhood where there are also apartments above stores. They can also relate the desolation of the neighborhood painted with their own neighborhood, where a lot of stores have closed down. I would ask students what mood they gather from the painting, considering prior discussion as well taking account of color. Students can interpret the mood as calming, relaxing, peaceful, etc. I would ask students to be specific in providing evidence for their interpretations.  

Finally, I would provide context for the painting and tell them Hopper painted this in 1930. Having grown up in New York City, he painted “Early Sunday Morning” to resemble Seventh Avenue, even though his work is a more simplified rendering than one would imagine. Hopper said that he painted a person in a second floor window, but decided it didn’t fit so he removed the person. I would want student to decide why the painting is so empty and whether the emptiness affects the mood of the painting. I would ask students to take a final look and allow time for everyone to discuss any other interpretations and ask whether some of their interpretations have changed now having more context.

Once students have completed an extensive interpretation of both the painting and the ekphrastic poem, students will be ready to compare and contrast the two. For students who want to be challenged, they can read another ekphrastic poem on this Hopper painting and compare and contrast each poem with the painting. This strategy will only promote further authentic interpretations from students. Students can discuss what they would add or take out and what they would change about each or both, which will further encourage discussion. I will provide students with different kinds of graphic organizers to use for them to compare and contrast the works of art. They can complete the graphic organizer independently and then share with whole group or small group or they can complete them with a partner and then share. Since this is the introduction to the part of the unit on ekphrastic poetry, I will have students pair up and complete together and then sharing in small group. Once all students have had enough time, we will reconvene as a whole group for a final discussion.

Classroom Activities

Snapshot Activism

The main goal of this unit is for students to gain pride and a sense of belonging to their neighborhood of Bridgeport. To do this, students must understand that they can create the change they wish to see in it. So, once students have a solid understanding of ekphrastic poetry, we will then transition into using works of art as activism. This activity called, “Snapshot Activism,” will engage students in creating change. We will begin by using an example from artist LaToya Ruby Frazier titled, “Flint is Family.” As mentioned above, LaToya used her photography to document the water crisis that Flint still faces today and uses it as a form of activism to change this epidemic. As a class, we will identify the purpose of her project by understanding her intended goal. We will then decide why she used the photographs she did and what message they sent to audiences. Finally we will dig into the impact this project has made by asking ourselves whether if the intended goals were met. It will then be the students turn. As a class, we will take a walking tour of our neighborhood. On this tour, students will be equipped with a camera of some sort. They will be instructed to take photographs of things that they see as impacting their neighborhood in a negative or positive way. Each student should take a minimum of three photos each. By taking both positive and negative photos, students will learn what makes their neighborhood both a place where they want to be and one where they don’t want to be. When we return to the classroom, I will have students share with their peers the photos they took and why. In small groups they will discuss the positive or negative impact of each photo and create a t-chart to document. Students will then choose one of the photographs they took that they believe impacts our neighborhood negatively. Students will then identify why the photo negatively impacts our neighborhood and how they can use this photograph to promote change, just as LaToya did for Flint. Students will then write an ekphrastic poem for the photograph that will raise awareness of this issue with the intended goal of changing the problem. Students will each be allowed to share their poem with the class. Their photographs accompanying with their poem will be made available around our school as well as around the neighborhood in coffee shops, restaurants, the police station, etc. This activity will be the first of many that allows students to use their works of art and poetry to promote change in their community.

Engaging Neighborhood Artwork Using Graffiti Walls and Gallery Walks

Graffiti walls and gallery walks will be used several times throughout this unit. The first time we will be using graffiti walls will be to encourage students to learn about each neighborhood of focus by examining its public works of art. To begin this activity, I will post four graffiti walls around the classroom, each having of a work of art from the neighborhood of study on it. For example, when we begin to learn about Bronzeville, our first lesson will be to engage students by using Bronzeville’s public art and graffiti walls. On each graffiti wall I will post one of the following, an image of the statue titled Monument to the Great Migration, an image of the mural titled Bronzeville, an image of the laser cut steel work of art titled The Recognition Panels, and an image of the statue titled Victory Monument. The image of the work of art will be on each graffiti wall but students will not see the title of the work of art until half way through this exercise so that the title does not influence students’ initial interpretations. Students will begin the activity by walking around to visit each graffiti wall, equipped with a writing utensil of their choice. When they stop at each graffiti wall, they will write or draw whatever comes to mind when viewing the image of the work of art. They can describe what it looks like, what the work of art is made out of, what it reminds them of, emotions that arise as they view it, etc. It should take students roughly ten minutes to comment on each graffiti wall. Students will then have a chance to view all their classmates’ comments and the works of art again in a gallery walk. During the gallery walk, students will be equipped with a graphic organizer to guide them in interpreting the work of art beyond their initial reactions to the work of art and the title. See the graphic organizer below. Students should complete as much as they can of the graphic organizer during the gallery walk, with the exception of the row labeled “context.” After students complete the gallery walk and return to their seats, I will provide students with more context for each work of art. I will describe the work of art and the time period it was created in as well as the purpose of the work of art and any other details necessary for students. Students will choose one of the works of art and write an ekphrastic poem, using the graffiti walls and their graphic organizers. Once students have completed their poems, we will have a final gallery walk for this activity so students can share their work. Their poems will surround the work of art and students will have time to visit each work of art and read their classmates ekphrastic poems.

Chicago Neighborhoods: Works of Art Gallery Walk Graphic Organizer





Subject Matter

Sensory Qualities

Emotional Aspects

Technical Aspects



Neighborhood Art Walks, Writing Ekphrastic Poetry Using Guided Imagery and Poetry Slams

Along with interpreting works of art and poetry as well as creating their own, students will be learning the history of four Chicago neighborhoods, spending about a week on each. To engage students in learning about each neighborhood, we will begin with the graffiti walls and gallery walks as described above. We will then use articles, current news and other texts to learn about how each neighborhood came to be and the reason behind the segregation of ethnicities in our city. Students will begin to explore each neighborhood’s works of art using online websites to get more familiar with the neighborhood and practice writing ekphrastic poetry. We will conclude each week with a neighborhood art walk. On the art walk, students will be equipped with a camera of some sort so they can take photographs of the works of art in the neighborhood. Students will be encouraged to take as many pictures as catch their eye, keeping in mind that they will be choosing one work of art to write a poem about. We will spend the whole day in each neighborhood exploring what it has to offer. We may have lunch in a park and stop in local stores to begin to really get an understanding for the neighborhood. When we return to school, students will choose two works of art to print out and begin to brainstorm which will be the best for them to write a poem about. Once students choose which work of art they will be writing about, we will use the strategy of guided imagery to brainstorm. Students will have a piece of paper and a color image of the work of art they will write about on their desk. The lights will be dimmed and I will tell students to close their eyes as I ask each question, but that they can open their eyes to write down their responses. Students will be encouraged to respond to as many as the following prompts as possible, but to a minimum of ten. I will ask the following, “Describe the work of art. What do you see in it? What else do you see? What words would you use to describe this work of art? What other words might we use?  How would you describe the lines in this picture? The colors? The shapes? How would you describe this painting to a person who hasn’t seen it? How would you describe the people in this picture? How are they like you? How are they different from you? Relate it to yourself. What things do you recognize in this work of art? What does this painting remind you of? How is this painting like the one we just saw? How is it different? How is this picture different from real life? What interests you most about this work of art? analyze it. What is the first thing you notice in this picture? Why does that stand out to you? What is the largest and the smallest thing you see in this picture? What objects seem closest to you? Further away? What can you tell me about the colors in this work of art? What color is used the most in this work of art? What do you think is the most important part of this work of art? Why? How do you think the artist made this work of art? Interpret it. What title would you give to this work of art? What sounds would this work of art make (if it could)? What can you tell us about the person in this work of art? What do you think this work of art is about? Why do you think that? Pretend you are inside this work of art. What does it feel like? Why do you think the artist made this work of art? Evaluate it. Why do you think other people should see this work? What grade would you give the artist for this work of art? Why? What do you think is important to remember about this work of art? How well did the artist do on this work? What makes you say that?” Students will use their responses to the prompts and create an ekphrastic poem. After we complete the writing process for the poems, students will present their poems to the class, as well as friends and family, in our poetry slam.


  1. "Jim Crow Laws - Separate Is Not Equal." National Museum of American History. Accessed July 18, 2018.
  2. "Jim Crow Laws." PBS. Accessed July 16, 2018. American Experience)
  3. Moore, Natalie Y. The South Side: A Portrait of Chicago and American Segregation. New York, NY: Picador, 2017. 36
  4. Moore, Natalie Y. The South Side: A Portrait of Chicago and American Segregation. New York, NY: Picador, 2017. 43
  5. "Redlining." Encyclopedia of Chicago. 2005. Accessed July 18, 2018.
  6. Moore, Natalie. "New Redlining Maps Show Chicago Housing Discrimination." WBEZ. October 28, 2016. Accessed July 18, 2018. 4
  7. Moore, Natalie. "New Redlining Maps Show Chicago Housing Discrimination." WBEZ. October 28, 2016. Accessed July 18, 2018. 2
  8. "Jim Crow Laws." National Parks Service. Accessed July 18, 2018.
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  13. Moore, Natalie Y. The South Side: A Portrait of Chicago and American Segregation. New York, NY: Picador, 2017. 86
  14. "Pilsen | Chicago Neighborhoods | Choose Chicago." English. Accessed July 16, 2018. Pilsen
  15. Abel, Ann. "The 12 Coolest Neighborhoods Around the World." Forbes. July 10, 2018. Accessed July 16, 2018.
  16. "The Story of Chinatown." PBS. Accessed July 18, 2018.
  17. Goyette, Braden. "How Racism Created America's Chinatowns." The Huffington Post. December 07, 2017. Accessed July 18, 2018.
  18. Ling, Huping. Chinese Chicago: Race, Transnational Migration, and Community since 1870. Stanford: California, 2012. 205
  19. Goyette, Braden. "How Racism Created America's Chinatowns." The Huffington Post. December 07, 2017. Accessed July 18, 2018.
  20. "Proverb: From A Poet's Glossary." June 20, 2016. Accessed July 18, 2018.
  21. Davis, Matt. "How Collaborative Learning Leads to Student Success." Edutopia. Accessed July 16, 2018.

Teacher Resources

Davis, Matt. "How Collaborative Learning Leads to Student Success." Edutopia. Accessed July 16, 2018.

Fernandez, Lilia. Brown in the Windy City: Mexicans and Puerto Ricans in Postwar Chicago. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014.

Genova, Nicholas De, Nicholas DeGenova, Ana Y. Ramos-Zayas, and Ana Yolanda. Ramos-Zayas. Latino Crossings. London: Routledge, 2003.

Innis-Jiménez, Michael. Steel Barrio the Great Mexican Migration to South Chicago, 1915-1940. New York: New York Univ. Press, 2013.

JANKOV, Pavlyn; CAREF, Carol. Segregation and inequality in Chicago Public Schools, transformed and intensified under corporate education reform. education policy analysis archives, [S.l.], v. 25, p. 56, june 2017. ISSN 1068-2341. Available at: <>. Date accessed: 02 aug. 2018. doi:

Ling, Huping. Chinese Chicago: Race, Transnational Migration, and Community since 1870. Stanford: California, 2012.

Moore, Natalie Y. The South Side: A Portrait of Chicago and American Segregation. New York, NY: Picador, 2017.

Moser, Whet. "How Redlining Segregated Chicago, and America." Chicago Magazine. Accessed August 03, 2018.

Pattillo, Mary E. Black on the Block: The Politics of Race and Class in the City. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008.

Student Resources

Ali, Tanveer. "The Definitive Guide to Pilsen Street Art." Chicago Sun-Times. Accessed August 03, 2018.

Bloom, Joanne Gazarek., Maureen F. Sullivan, and Daniel Pogorzelski. Bridgeport. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Pub., 2012.

"Bronzeville: The Black Metropolis | Riots to Renaissance | DuSable to Obama - WTTW." WTTW Chicago Public Media - Television and Interactive. Accessed August 03, 2018.

"Chicago South: Art in Bronzeville." Public Art in Chicago. Accessed August 03, 2018.

"Chinatown." WTTW Chicago Public Media - Television and Interactive. December 01, 2015. Accessed August 03, 2018.

"Ekphrasis: Poetry About Art | Scholastic." Scholastic Publishes Literacy Resources and Children's Books for Kids of All Ages. Accessed August 03, 2018.

Greenberg, Jan. Heart to Heart: New Poems Inspired by Twentieth-century American Art. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2001.

Jyoti. "Chicago's Chinatown." Public Art in Chicago. September 17, 2009. Accessed August 03, 2018.

Pero, Peter N. Chicagos Pilsen Neighborhood. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Pub., 2011.

"Stunning Street Art in Pilsen, Chicago • Cultural Xplorer." Cultural Xplorer. July 12, 2018. Accessed August 03, 2018.

Washington Post, adapted by Newsela. “Redlining is still making it hard for some families to own homes.” May 07, 2017.

Zangs, Mary. The Chicago 77: A Community Area Handbook. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2014.




Quote accurately from a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.


Determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text, including how characters in a story or drama respond to challenges or how the speaker in a poem reflects upon a topic; summarize the text.


Compare and contrast two or more characters, settings, or events in a story or drama, drawing on specific details in the text (e.g., how characters interact).


Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative language such as metaphors and similes.


Explain how a series of chapters, scenes, or stanzas fits together to provide the overall structure of a particular story, drama, or poem.


Describe how a narrator's or speaker's point of view influences how events are described.


Analyze how visual and multimedia elements contribute to the meaning, tone, or beauty of a text (e.g., graphic novel, multimedia presentation of fiction, folktale, myth, poem)

Change, Continuity, and Context SS.H.1.5: Create and use a chronological sequence of related events to compare developments that happened at the same time

Causation and Argumentation SS.H.3.5: Explain probable causes and effects of events and developments in U.S. history.

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