Lesson Plans: Grades 3-5

Lesson 2. Hopi Poetry

Created November 18, 2015


The Lesson


Language of place: Hopi planting corn

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.

Learning Objectives

  • To make the connection between love of place and a poet’s expression of that feeling through poetry
  • To demonstrate understanding of literal and figurative language in samples of Hopi poetry about place and corn

Preparation and Resources

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.]

Reference the unit overview for general background on the Hopi culture and the pdf Language of Place: Extended Background for additional information on Hopi poetry.

Lesson Activities

Activity 1. Function of Language in Poetry

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:

  • Look carefully at the explanations of the figurative language in column 2, specifically the phrase “the darkness surrounded them...” How are the figurative phrases different from their literal meanings?
    Suggested Answers: Figurative phrases have more emphasis or detail. They can impart a feeling or tone as well as descriptive information. Figurative phrases sometimes convey meaning in fewer words. 
  • Why might authors or poets use figurative language instead of literal language? 
    Suggested Answers: Descriptions can be richer, more vivid, and help you “see things” more clearly. 
  • What other common examples of figurative language do we use in our day-to-day lives? 
    Suggested Answers:  Clean as a whistle; brave as a lion; you are my sunshine; dark as night; slept like a log; test was a breeze.

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. 

Activity 2. Hopi Poetry Analysis

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.

  • At the end of the video, ask students to brainstorm an answer to the question: Why is corn (and why are cornfields) so important and meaningful to Hopi people? 
    Suggested Answers: Growing corn helps the people survive and the culture grow. Corn is nutritious. Corn helps Hopi people live longer. Corn helps the people stay in one place and not move around all the time. Corn is symbolic of who the Hopi are; it is connected to their identity. It expresses human submission to nature. Over many years, corn has helped people form intimate relationships with the land and learn to be good stewards of the environment.

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.

  • Ask students what they think this figurative language means.
    Suggested answers: Corn and corn culture sustains life for the Hopi people. They cannot survive without it. Hopi people care for corn as they care for their children, with tenderness and attention. The life cycle of corn is similar to the life cycle of humans. 

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.

  • As you reread the poem, ask students to identify details about the poem— what is happening, what is in the cornfield. Students should circle or underline specific characters in the poem, writing directly on the page.
    Suggested answers: Characters include the sunflower; the swallow; the daylight; the bullfrogs; cattails; the crow; the rabbit; and the author. The author is describing what all the characters are doing in the early morning. 

Distribute Worksheet 4. Model Poetry Analysis: “In the Cornfield at 5:30 a.m.” [See Worksheet 4 (teacher version)].

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:

  • How is the environment Ramson Lomatewama writes about similar to or different from the place we live in?
    Suggested answers: Answers will vary depending on the location of each school community and students’ homes within it. Lomatewama’s environment is dry and gets big rain clouds. It is grand and beautiful with sandstone cliffs and rainbows. Many birds and animals live there. It is sunny and often warm.
  • Why do you think corn and the fields where the corn grows are important and meaningful places to Ramson Lomatewama?
    Suggested answers: Lomatewama likes to be in the cornfields: he describes them as vibrant, beautiful, quiet, peaceful places. Lomatewama cares a lot about how the corn grows; he pays careful attention to the corn and its needs: sun, rain, soil. He also believes things are interconnected in life: the happiness of the farmers, the rain clouds, and the happiness of the corn itself. He believes in human beings having a personal connection to the corn. Lomatewama calls the sun his “uncle,” explains that the “elders” will bring the rain...which relates back to his ancestors. He has personal and familial relationships with the land and sky. 
  • Make connections between the way you feel about important places in your life and the way Lomatewama feels about his corn and cornfields.
    Suggested answers: Answers will vary but students may make connections with places they experience as being beautiful, peaceful, and calm. In addition, they may identify places that are important symbolically and spiritually to their culture.


Option 1. Poetry Analysis

Select one of the poems that students have yet to study from Handout 2. Distribute an additional copy of Worksheet 5 and assign students to complete the analysis individually. 

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:

  • a description of the place;
  • some sort of action/characters or something happening there;
  • examples of figurative language that helps a reader understand how the poet feels about the place and what it means to them.


The Basics

Time Required

1-2 class periods

Subject Areas
  • Literature and Language Arts > Place > American
  • Literature and Language Arts > Genre > Common Core
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Common Core
  • History and Social Studies > Place > The Americas
  • History and Social Studies > People > Native American
  • Literature and Language Arts > Genre > Poetry
  • Creative writing
  • Critical analysis
  • Critical thinking
  • Cultural analysis
  • Making inferences and drawing conclusions
  • Map Skills
  • Anna Gahl Cole, Crow Canyon Archaeological Center (Cortez, CO)
  • Dee Lomawaima, Crow Canyon Archaeological Center (Cortez, CO)