“Voices from the March on Washington” and social justice poetry in the classroom

Voices from the March on Washington

After reading “Voices from the March on Washington” by George Ella Lyon and J. Patrick Lewis last month, I knew I’d need to read it again. Now I wish I had a classroom full of kids to read it with.


Because when I looked for more information on the book, I found this blog post on Sylvia Vardell’s “Poetry for Children” blog. The post consists of excerpts from a magazine article that Vardell, an author and professor, wrote for teachers and librarians aiming to integrate social justice and poetry lessons. She addresses the topic broadly and then does deeper dive on “Voices from the March on Washington.” The 2014 book is a novel-in-verse featuring the voices of six recurring fictional characters, as well as other nonrecurring characters and historical figures.

Vardell’s post is full of fabulous discussion questions and activity ideas for teachers, and many could be adapted by parents. Here are two of my favorites:

  • “Invite students to find news articles that address a social justice issue and encourage them to create ‘black out’ poems by drawing through all unwanted words in their news articles with a thick, black marker, so that the remaining words create a ‘justice’ poem.”
  • Perform “Voices from the March on Washington” in readers theater style with individuals students taking on a character. “Hearing actual voices reading can assist in discussing the title of the book and the concept of ‘voice’ in poetry,” writes Vardell. “Whose point of view is represented? Why is it important to be heard? How are the concepts of justice and voice linked?”

Heck, maybe I don’t even need a classroom of kids for those activities. I’d be happy to do them with a group of friends. But Vardell’s ideas are great for getting children thinking and talking about social justice issues past and present through
a creative medium. Her post also includes some interview questions with Lyons and Lewis (the authors of “Voices”) and a plethora of related book titles. Go check it out.

3 thoughts on ““Voices from the March on Washington” and social justice poetry in the classroom

  1. Pingback: How I did on my 2015 We Need Diverse Books resolution | Kara Newhouse

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