Lesson Plans: Grades

“Every Day We Get More Illegal” by Juan Felipe Herrera

Created April 8, 2016

Tools

The Lesson

Introduction

Juan Felipe Herrera

Juan Felipe Herrera

Credit: Photo Randy Vaughn-Dotta

Immigration, both legal and illegal, is one of the most debated topics in the United States (and around the world) today. In his poem “Every Day We Get More Illegal” Juan Felipe Herrera, the Poet Laureate of the United States, gives voice to the feelings of those “in-between the light,” who have ambiguous immigration status and work in the United States. The following lesson plan, aimed at facilitating a structured discourse around the issues raised in Herrera’s poem, shows how the humanities provide a lens through which we can explore issues central to maintaining a civil society.

This lesson plan provides a sequence of activities that you can use with your students before, during, and after reading “Every day We Get More Illegal.” Use the whole sequence, or any of the activities, to help your diverse learners enter, experience, and explore the meaning of the poem. Feel free to adjust each activity to meet the needs of your particular students. This lesson can be adapted for secondary students in grades 6–12.

Link to a video of the poet, Juan Felipe Herrera, reading “Every Day We Get More Illegal.”

This lesson is an adaptation of an original lesson by the Academy of American Poet’s Educator in Residence, Madeleine Fuchs Holzer.

Learning Objectives

  • Students will analyze a visual image.
  • Students will interpret a poem based on concrete images in its language and structure.
  • Students will explore poetry as lens through which we can maintain a civil society.

College and Career Readiness Standards

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.7
Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.2: Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

Preparation and Resources

Poem at the Academy of American Poets website: “Every Day We Get More Illegal

Background on the poet at the Academy of American Poets website: Juan Felipe Herrera

Incredible Bridges: Poets Creating Community, “Every Day We Get More Illegal” by Juan Felipe Herrera version of this lesson is available from the Academy of American Poets

Link to a video of the poet, Juan Felipe Herrera, reading “Every Day We Get More Illegal”

Lesson Activities

Activity 1: Experiencing a Visual Image

Perform this exercise before viewing the video and reading the poem.

Objective: 

Students will hone their skills for noticing details.

Students will interpret Desert Survival using evidence from the photograph. 

Please tell your students the following activity will help them prepare to experience “Every Day We Get More Illegal” by Juan Felipe Herrera.

  • Show your students the photograph, Desert Survival, by Sandy Horvath-Dori, but do not share its title as it might influence their perceptions.

    A view of the photo without title can be found at this PDF.
  • Ask them to write down what they see in the photograph. Make sure they record the details first before interpreting those details. For example, instead of, “I see a dandelion growing out of a crack in a rock,” encourage them to write something such as, “I see some red with a line running through it and something green and yellow.” Then they can go into interpretation—“The red might be a rock, or maybe dry earth with a crack, the green and yellow object looks like a flower.” Make sure to remind them to give the details first, then to offer their interpretations.
  • Conduct a whole-class discussion around the questions:

What do you think the photograph is telling us about the flower? How do you know? What is the evidence in the photograph for your interpretation? How does the photograph make you feel? Why?            

Activity 2. Reading Herrera’s Poem

Objective: Students will do a close reading of the poem “Every Day We Get More Illegal” by Juan Felipe Herrera, paying particular attention to the placement of words on the page.

  • Project “Every Day We Get More Illegal” from www.poets.org. Ask your students to read the poem silently. As they read, they should write down the words, images, and phrases that jump out at them. This includes words and phrases they do not know. What do they notice about the way the words are placed on the page and the punctuation? Ask them to remember to write down those words that are placed in positions that seem unexpected, and write a note to themselves about the punctuation.
  • Ask two students to read the poem, one after the other, out loud to the class. Tell them that the way the words are placed on the page should influence how they pause when they are reading the poem out loud. This may be difficult for some students, but they should try. The listening students should write down what they hear when the poem is read that adds to what they noticed when they read it.
  • Vocabulary

    Ask your students to keep a running list on the front board of the words they have read and heard that they do not understand. You can either conduct a separate vocabulary lesson about these words in which students try to figure out their meaning from context and connections or review the vocabulary as you progress through the other activities.
Activity 3. Watching Juan Felipe Herrera Read “Every Day We Get More Illegal”

Objective:  Students will notice the difference between reading a poem on a page and experiencing a poet reading his poem.

  • Tell your students that when they watch the video, they will record what they notice about the way Juan Felipe Herrera reads the poem.
  • Ask them what they notice in the poem that is new and different after watching the video. What more have they learned? Make sure they record this with their other notes.
  • Show the video of Juan Felipe Herrera reading his poem. 
Activity 4. Small-Group Discussion

Objective: Students will synthesize what they have noticed from reading the poem and watching the video.

Ask your students to get into small groups to share what they have noticed. They should compile a group account of what they think are the most important things they have recorded from the written poem and the video.

Do their earlier observations of the photograph relate to what jumped out at them in the poem? If so, how?

Exit Ticket: Ask students to write two or three things they think are particularly important, drawn from the list that the class has created. 

Activity 5. Gleaning Meaning from Poetic Structure and Content of “Every Day We Get More Illegal”

Objective:  Students will use their synthesis of details from the poem to create shared meaning based on evidence.

Start this activity with your students by saying that you are going to honor interpretations of the poem that are based on specific examples of images in the poem and its structure. Remind them that this is not a discussion about their opinions on immigration. It is a discussion of the poem.

Hold a whole-class discussion, starting with what your students have noticed in the poem and moving from there to what they think the poem is saying. You may want to use the following prompts after recording on the board what they have noticed:

  • With what do you associate the image of the peach tree? The birds? The desert?
  • Is there a pattern to where the extra spaces and lines are in the poem? Why do you think they are placed where they are?
  • What do you think Juan Felipe Herrera is saying in this poem? Explain your ideas using evidence from the poem and no other source.

Assessment

  • Ask your students to write poems that show their perspectives on immigration using detailed images and/or unusual line or word placement. They can illustrate their poems with photographs, if they wish.
  • With your students, develop an evaluation tool for their work using the terms exemplary, proficient, developing, and basic. What, for example, do they (and you) think are the characteristics of an exemplary poem that uses detailed metaphoric language? A proficient one? One that is developing or basic? You may also want to prompt them to evaluate the appropriateness of their word and sentence spacing on the page.

Extending The Lesson

Have your students read “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus using the reading methodology outlined above. Ask them to write an essay that compares and contrasts this poem with “Every Day We Get More Illegal.” Questions to keep in mind as they write:

  • What have they learned about immigration from their study of these two poems?
  • How can we work together to create a community where people feel safe and, at the same time, honored as human beings?

The Basics

Time Required

1-2 class periods

Subject Areas
  • Literature and Language Arts > Place > American
  • Literature and Language Arts > Genre > Poetry
  • Literature and Language Arts > Genre > Incredible Bridges
Authors
  • Madeleine Fuchs Holzer, Academy of American Poets

Resources

Student Resources
Media

Related Lessons

  • Whitman’s Echoes in the Inaugural Poem “Praise Song for the Day” by Elizabeth Alexander

    Created July 1, 2016
    Elizabeth Alexander image

    This lesson plan is the seventh in the “Incredible Bridges: Poets Creating Community” series.  It provides a video recording of the poet, Elizabeth Alexander, reading the poem “Praise Song for the Day” composed for President Barak Obama’s 2009 inauguration ceremony. The companion lesson contains a sequence of activities for use with secondary students before, during, and after reading to help them enter and experience the poem.

  • “Cotton Candy” by Edward Hirsch

    Created May 6, 2016
    Edward Hirsch

    This lesson plan is the fourth in the “Incredible Bridges: Poets Creating Community” series. It provides a video of the poet, Edward Hirsch, offering a little backstory, then reading the poem “Cotton Candy.” The companion lesson contains a sequence of activities for use with secondary students before, during, and after reading to help them enter and experience the poem.

  • “From Citizen, VI [On the train the woman standing],” Claudia Rankine

    Created March 3, 2016
    Claudia Rankine

    This lesson plan is the second in the “Incredible Bridges: Poets Creating Community” series. It provides a video of the poet Claudia Rankine reading the poem “from Citizen, VI [On the train the woman standing]” and a companion lesson with a sequence of activities for use with secondary students before, during, and after reading to help them enter and experience the poem.

  • “Gate A-4” by Naomi Shihab Nye

    Created February 2, 2016
    Naomi Shihab Nye

    This lesson plan provides a sequence of activities that you can use with your students before, during, and after reading Gate A-4. Use the whole sequence, or any of the activities, to help your diverse students enter and experience the poem.

  • “Peaches” by Adrienne Su

    Created June 24, 2016
    Adrienne Su image

    This lesson plan is the sixth in the “Incredible Bridges: Poets Creating Community” series.  It provides an audio recording of the poet, Adrienne Su, reading the poem “Peaches.” The companion lesson contains a sequence of activities for use with secondary students before, during, and after reading to help them enter and experience the poem.

  • “Remember” by Joy Harjo

    Created September 27, 2016
    Joy Harjo image

    This lesson plan is the ninth in the “Incredible Bridges: Poets Creating Community” series.  It provides a video recording of the poet, Joy Harjo, reading the poem “Remember.” The companion lesson contains a sequence of activities for use with secondary students before, during, and after reading to help them enter and experience the poem.

  • “The Great Migration” by Minnie Bruce Pratt

    Created June 16, 2016
    Minnie Bruce Pratt

    This lesson plan is the fifth in the “Incredible Bridges: Poets Creating Community” series.  It provides an audio recording of the poet, Minnie Bruce Pratt, reading the poem “The Great Migration.” The companion lesson contains a sequence of activities for use with secondary students before, during, and after reading to help them enter and experience the poem.

  • “Translation for Mamá” by Richard Blanco

    Created August 8, 2016
    Richard Blanco

    This lesson plan is the eighth in the “Incredible Bridges: Poets Creating Community” series. It provides a video recording of the poet, Richard Blanco, reading the poem “Translation for Mamá.” The companion lesson contains a sequence of activities for use with secondary students before, during, and after reading to help them enter and experience the poem.