6 Powerful Poems by Black Authors

A group of students sitting at a table and looking at their computer screens.

These thematically rich poems are sure to engage your elementary students!

There is nothing quite like the magic of reading a beautiful poem. Descriptive imagery, figurative language, and multiple layers of meaning provide students with great opportunities to discuss themes, author’s craft, and more.

Here is a set of meaningful poems from well-known Black authors for grades 3–5. These thematically rich poems about overcoming obstacles, finding beauty in the world, and celebrating strength are sure to engage your readers!

The Rose that Grew from Concrete” by Tupac Shakur

In this poem by influential rapper Tupac Shakur, a speaker asks if the reader has heard of the rose that grew from a crack in the concrete. The speaker explains that the rose flourished despite growing in a difficult location. The extended metaphor helps students visualize how people can overcome difficulties and succeed.

After reading, provide students with the opportunity to make text-to-self connections. Ask Discussion Question 1, “Have you ever felt like a ‘rose that grew from concrete,’ as described by Tupac Shakur? If so, what was the difficult situation that you faced, and how did you rise above it?” Encourage students to reflect on their experiences in and outside of the classroom.

The CommonLit lesson "The Rose That Grew From Concrete."
Use Discussion Questions to help students make connections.

Learning to Read” by Francis Ellen Watkins Harper

In this moving poem by abolitionist Francis Ellen Watkins Harper, she describes how she and other formerly enslaved people were determined to learn how to read. Because knowledge is so powerful, reading provides the people in the poem with the chance to live independently.

Consider assigning CommonLit’s Guided Reading Mode to your students while they read this poem. There are multiple people and events described in the text, so answering the Guiding Questions as they read will help students understand each section.

Dreams” by Langston Hughes

In this poem, written by Harlem Renaissance author Langston Hughes, a speaker advises the reader to hold onto dreams. The two powerful metaphors used in the poem show that without dreams, life is painful and bleak. Therefore, dreams are essential and make life worth living.

Help students build background knowledge before reading by showing them the video “Langston Hughes — Leading Voice of the Harlem Renaissance” under the “Related Media” tab. Have students discuss why Hughes’ poetry was so popular during his time so they understand the context behind “Dreams.”

The Related Media tab for the CommonLit text "Dreams."
Related Media resources help build background knowledge.

Harlem” by Langston Hughes

In this classic poem, the speaker wonders what happens to dreams when they are postponed. The striking imagery will help students visualize the abstract concept and understand the deeper meaning behind Langston Hughes’ words.

After reading, provide students with the opportunity to analyze the author’s message. Ask Discussion Question 1, “In the poem, the speaker explores what might happen to dreams that are postponed. What do you think could make someone postpone their dreams? What do you think Langston Hughes would say to someone who was thinking about putting off their dreams?”

Poetry Means the World to Me” by Tony Medina

This unique poem comes from Tony Medina’s book Love to Langston, in which he tells the life of Langston Hughes in the voice of Hughes, as he imagines it. The speaker shares why poetry is so important to them. Students will be inspired by the speaker’s explanation of how they use words to fight hate and express love.

After reading, extend students’ learning with a creative writing opportunity. Ask students to think of something that means the world to them, like a person, pet, or activity. Then, have students write an original poem that shows why this thing is so important to them.

Dawn” by Paul Laurence Dunbar

In this poem by renowned author Paul Laurence Dunbar, a speaker uses personification to describe the dawn. This short but rich poem provides students with a meaningful opportunity to analyze the nuances of its figurative language.

As students read, have them follow the annotation task, which asks them to take notes on the author’s choice of words to describe nature. Then, after reading, have students use their notes to discuss how the figurative language conveys the poem’s message.

Next Steps

Looking for more texts to celebrate Black history and heritage? Browse the Black history text set and Black heritage text set on CommonLit!

If you’re interested in learning all about CommonLit’s free digital literacy program for elementary students, join one of our upcoming webinars!