“What We Are Part Of” Found Poem Lesson

Title: “What We Are Part Of” Found Poem Lesson

Context/Objectives: I developed this lesson for an Honors Intro to Poetry course  at Queens College in Spring, 2015. This course had 18 students, but this lesson could work with 25 or more. Students had previously read Adrienne Rich’s “Diving into the Wreck” and were about to discuss her poem, “North American Time.” I hoped this exercise would help students become more attune to the kinds of extra-poetical rhetoric Rich used which would in turn help them to pay closer attention to the language of the poem.
Materials: In addition, to help provide context into Rich’s activist-teacher work at CUNY, and to help students also develop a picture of late 60s into early 70s activism specific to CUNY, I photocopied a section of the Rich chapbook starting from, “When you come out of here, who will you be?” (25-8). (After reading poetry by Rich, students then read a few poems/texts by Audre Lorde. Once all the L&F chapbooks are done, we can teach a CUNY poets class!).
Time Frame: 45 min or half of a one hour and fifteen min class period
Lesson: After distributing the handouts, we did a choral read where everyone goes around in a circle and reads aloud one of the mini-paragraphs in Rich’s text (my classroom is always U shaped). I also participated in this.
After reading aloud as a group, I asked students to respond in writing for 3 minutes, jotting down their reactions, thoughts, questions, etc. This worked as a structured or focused free write. Students then shared their reactions to Rich’s text in partner share (3-4 min) and then aloud to the class.
Next, I asked students to create a “found poem” out of this text working in partners. The guidelines for the found poem assignment are: Use at least 10 words from the Rich document. Your poem must be at least 8 lines and find an interesting, creative way to play with, respond to, and transform these “found” words.  I gave them 12-15 minutes in class with which to work on this.
After completing a draft of their poems, we went around the room and shared. Students turned these into me for participation credit, although there are a number of ways in which you can deepen or continue this assignment. Students could continue to work on and revise poems; they could post their collaborative poems to the class blog; partner groups could swap poems for further feedback (peer-review), etc.
Note: Although an Intro to Poetry class, this small introduction to CUNY’s history, one that Rich participated in, helped build students’ understanding of this time period a bit further (‘68-’74). My students didn’t realize that CUNY was free or open, and they had many things to say both positive and critical of Rich’s text. Since “North American Time” is a poem that questions American roots, having encountered this document from the Lost&Found chapbook helped students continue to respond to her poem analytically and emotionally.
CUNYRichFoundPoemLessonContributed by: Wendy Tronrud

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What Do You Demand From Your Education?

Title: What do you demand from your education?

Context/Objectives: I developed this activity for a two-day peer mentoring workshop, organized by the Futures Initiative, which brought students from across the CUNY system to the Graduate Center to talk about student empowerment, leadership, and support networks.

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Type: In-class activity

Time: 45 minutes

Lesson: After reviewing the history of student activism and protest at CUNY (one campus, or university-wide) and introducing students to the history of Open Admissions, this activity uses the five demands of the 1969 student strike and asks students to reflect on what they “demand” from their educational institution.

  • I have students read through some events on this timeline (created by students in my spring 2015 Introduction to Narrative course) to familiarize themselves with some moments in CUNY history.
  • We then discuss open admissions, and watch this video in which the Chancellor of CUNY defends the initiative.

  • The Five Demands (from Conor Tomas Reed, “‘Treasures that Prevail’: Adrienne Rich, the SEEK Program, and Social Movements at the City College of New York, 1968 – 1972.”)
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Prompt: Using the Five Demands of the student strike as an example, craft a list of five things that you demand from your education.

Additional Resources:

  • Conor Tomas Reed, “‘Treasures that Prevail’: Adrienne Rich, the SEEK Program, and Social Movements at the City College of New York, 1968 – 1972.” (Read here.)

Contributed by: Danica Savonick

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Imagine a Course

Title: Imagine a course

Context/Objectives: I found this writing assignment in the Lost and Found collection of Adrienne Rich’s teaching materials (Toni Cade Bambara also used a version of it with students) and used it as a warm-up, in-class writing assignment in my “Introduction to Narrative” course at Queens College.

Type: In-class writing (could also be a blog assignment)

Time: 15 min


“Write a description of a course you would like to take some day–on any subject, or covering any kind of material. Talk about how you feel this material could best be taught, and what you would hope to be doing in this course. (It might be film-making, writing, history, some technical skill, contemporary issues, art, etc.)…If you know books you would like to be reading in such a course, name them, telling why you chose them. Also tell why this particular course would seem valuable to you, what you hope to gain from it for your life.”

–Adrienne Rich, ‘What We Are Part Of’ Teaching at CUNY: 1968-1974. 2 vols., edited by Iemanja Brown et al. New York: The Adrienne Rich Literary Estate.

Additional Resources:

  • Rich, Adrienne. (1968-1974) 2013. ‘What We Are Part Of’ Teaching at CUNY: 1968-1974. 2 vols., edited by Iemanja Brown et al. New York: The Adrienne Rich Literary Estate.

Contributed by: Danica Savonick

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English Department Teaching Workshop

Teaching CUNY at CUNY

Talia Shalev, Danica Savonick, Wendy Tronrud

August 25 | 12:00 – 1:00 | The Graduate Center, CUNY rm. 4406

In this workshop, we will share approaches for thinking alongside students about the kinds of spaces for learning and writing that have been created – and challenged –  by administration, activist students, and faculty at CUNY. In particular, we will share reading and writing assignments and other resources that refer to the late 1960s as a key moment of change and activism at CUNY (Open Admissions, SEEK Program)–resources that draw on the poetry and pedagogy of writers who taught at CUNY: June Jordan, Audre Lorde, and Adrienne Rich.

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