In the famous poem, the mother narrator describes her life as a metaphorical staircase. She describes "tacks" and "splinters" along the way, but she continues "a-climbin' on." Given the emphasis on figurative language in fifth and sixth grade curricula, we decided to really take this metaphor and run with it.
First, we have students reflect on their background knowledge pre-Civil Rights Movement United States. I asked them to brainstorm some ideas about what those tacks and splinters might have been in the mother's life, as well as the victories and "turned corners." Once they have brainstormed, they organize their thoughts onto a poster of a staircase.
Finally, students will write about their own "stair" as a homework assignment.
Earlier this week, we read another poem featuring a life metaphor, Edip Cansever's The Table. After reading both poems, we also created a Venn diagram comparing the metaphors for life in both poems - a table and a staircase. More than anything, comparing these two poems and their tone really got the students to start thinking metaphorically and to think critically about the abstract meaning of poetry.