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

Even though African Americans gained a number of constitutional rights after the passage of the Thirteenth through Fifteenth Amendments following the American Civil War (1861­–1865), they still were not treated equally in Southern states or even nationally. Almost one hundred years later, during the post-World War II period, continued racial oppression, sanctioned by the segregation laws in the South and de facto segregation in the North, gave rise to the modern civil rights movement.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 sought to remedy inequality by prohibiting discrimination in schools, public facilities, and employment. Revisions to that act legally prohibited discrimination in other areas, such as housing and the work place. Despite these legal measures, racism and discrimination still persist in this country.

Claudia Rankine’s 2014 poetry collection Citizen: An American Lyric (Graywolf Press) recounts a number of situations in which racism, either blatant or subtle, is evident today. “From Citizen, VI [On the train the woman standing]” is one such poem.

The activities that follow in this lesson encourage students to enter the poem with a visceral understanding of the situation. They help them understand the poem and its structure and lead them into reasoned discussion of Americans’ experience of equality—considering how community members are treated not only in the eyes of the law, but in the eyes of one another.

This lesson plan provides a sequence of activities that you can use with your students before, during, and after reading “from Citizen, VI [On the train the woman standing].” 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, Claudia Rankine, reading “from Citizen, VI [On the train the woman standing].”

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

Guiding Questions

No guiding questions provided.

Learning Objectives

Students will identify the role of gesture in conveying an idea or emotion.

Students will compare the experience of reading a poem on a page to hearing a poet read a poem on video.

Students will create a shared meaning of the poem by synthesizing what they have noticed.

Students will explore poetry to arrive at a visceral understanding of American equality—how members of a community are treated, not only in the eyes of the law, but in the eyes of one another.