“We Real Cool” by Gwendolyn Brooks
We real cool. We
Left school. We
Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We
Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We
Jazz June. We
Gwendolyn Brooks’ “We Real Cool” is a fantastic poem for the language classroom. The poem’s conciseness and simple language is what first prompted me to use it in the classroom, but its universal theme of rebellion, of thumbing the nose at the establishment, is the real gem of this poem. I’ve never encountered a class of learners where there wasn’t at least a bit of a fire burning inside. I’ve used it in several contexts and I’m sure you can think of a heck of a lot more.
I’ve had learners complete these sentences:
- A good student…
- A bad student…
- A good son/daughter…
- A bad son/daughter…
We discuss after completing the sentences, then we read the poem as a class and discuss the poem and how it relates to their sentences on conformity and rebellion.
I’ve had students create a schema on the whiteboard. After doing the lexical map, we read and discuss the poem. After discussion, we add to the lexical map and discuss how their reality relates to the actors in the poem.
I’ve done choral readings with learners (not bangin’ out breakbeats on desks but still quite fun). Students are divided into pairs. One pair for each stanza. We decide on the beat of each stanza as a class. Using our hands, we drum the beat of the poem. Students read their assigned stanzas. Once the poem has been read once, each pair moves onto the next stanza. For example, stanza 1 goes to stanza 2 and stanza five moves to stanza 1.
Doing a disappearing text is fun and simple with this poem. Write the text on the board. Erase lexical items after each reading until nothing is left on the board and the text is memorized. After the text is memorized, have the learners replace key lexical items in the poem with vocabulary of their choosing and repeat.
I’ve had learners place themselves in the poem and write a narrative from the “pool player’s” point of view.
Students talk about what causes may have led the pool players to the Golden Shovel on a school day and what the effects may be. Then, students write a cause and effect piece based on the poem.
Learners’ compose a poem similar to Brooks’ on modern Korean rebellion as homework then share with the class. Extra props if they record their reading of the poem via voicethread or youtube.
Hopefully you and your learners find a place for “We Real Cool” in one of your classes. Keep fighting the month of June, and please let me know any ideas you have on finding a place for Gwendolyn in your classrooms. Cheers!