Hopi corn farmer by Kurt Lomawaima.
Credit: Reproduced with permission, Crow Canyon Archaeological Center, all rights reserved.
Hopi culture is deeply rooted in the arid landscapes of northern Arizona and the practice of dry-land corn farming. Hopi corn farmers depend upon natural precipitation and experienced, gentle, hands to grow corn. “Corn is life” and “corn are our children” are common metaphors used to explain the culture’s historic, physical, and spiritual commitment to farming corn in such a challenging environment. Hopi poetry reflects the reverence felt for corn and the harsh but beautiful environment in which it is grown.
In this lesson, students carefully examine literal and figurative language used in Hopi poetry to underscore the importance of place and corn to the Hopi culture. Examples are drawn from Hopi poet, Ramson Lomatewama, whose poetry celebrates his presence on the landscape, highlighting the things he sees, hears, feels, and experiences while working, walking, or simply standing still outside. These Hopi poems describe an intimate and personal interaction between the poet and the environment.
Lesson 2 is part of a three lesson unit on Hopi Language of Place and it may be taught in sequence or on its own. Teachers may link to the full unit with Guiding Questions, Background and Summative Assessment. Lesson 2 aligns with CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.4.5 and CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.4.5.a.
Preview the video used in Activity 1. Crow Canyon Archaeological Center video, "Corn," which offers an overview on the significance of corn in Pueblo culture.
[Note that “Pueblo” is a term used by the Spanish when they first arrived in what is now the southwestern United States and encountered groups of people (pueblo) living in villages. Today, “Pueblo culture” refers to the people affiliated with the Hopi Tribe as well as people from the 19 unique, sovereign nations of New Mexico’s pueblos. This includes Zuni, Acoma, and Taos Pueblos.]
Ask students to think about a place they love or care about deeply. This can be done by brainstorming independently, discussing with a partner, small group or the entire class. Have students make a list of all the reasons why they care so much about that place. What is it like there? What is important about it?
Review or explain the difference between literal and figurative language. Using literal language, a writer means exactly what is written. Figurative or non-literal language is symbolic or not actual. Writers use figurative or non-literal language to imply meaning other than the literal words written.
If your class is ready to discuss different forms of figurative language (metaphor, simile, personification, hyperbole, symbolism, alliteration) this is a good time to review or explain these forms, as well.
Distribute Worksheet 3 and work through it with the class. Worksheet 3 (teacher version) presents suggested responses. After doing a few together, pair students or have them work independently to complete the worksheet.
Follow-up discussion questions:
Invite students to return to their descriptions of important or favorite places and identify if they used any figurative language. Challenge students to use figurative language to describe those important or favorite places.
Begin by announcing in Hopi culture, cornfields are places of great importance.
By way of introduction, show students the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center video, which is about corn in Pueblo culture. “Pueblo” is a term used by the Spanish when they first arrived in the New World, in what is now the southwestern United States, and encountered groups of people living in villages there. Continue by explaining today, the term “Pueblo culture” refers to the people affiliated with the Hopi Tribe as well as people from the 19 unique, sovereign nations of New Mexico’s pueblos. This includes Zuni, Acoma, and Taos Pueblos.
Explain to students that Hopi people often use the figurative phrases, “corn is life” or “corn are our children” to talk about their relationship to corn.
Distribute Handout 2. Hopi Poetry Samples. Share with students that the author, Ramson Lomatewama, is a contemporary Hopi poet and artist who writes about places and things that are important to him.
Read aloud the first poem, “In the Cornfield at 5:30 am,” as students read along.
Distribute Worksheet 5. Divide students into small groups or pairs and assign each group one of the other Lomatewama poems to analyze, following the instructions on the worksheet. [Note: The poems increase in difficulty, and the third, “After the Rains,” may be an excellent challenge for students.]
Ask students to complete the poem analysis using Worksheet 5 and present the poem to the class as a whole. [Note: If you are conducting an assessment of this lesson, you might assign all students only two of the additional poems, saving the final one for the assessment.]
Worksheet 5 (teacher version) offers suggested analyses and responses. [Note: These are not comprehensive and students are likely to come up with different interpretations of the poems.]
Follow-up questions for discussion:
Option 1. Poetry Analysis
Option 2. Creative Writing Assessment
Have students write a poem about a place they love or care about in the style of Ramson Lomatewama.
Their finished poems should include:
1-2 class periods