These classic and contemporary poems explore themes of identity and growing up.
During adolescence, students begin to question and explore their identities, sense of belonging, and who they want to grow into. These difficult yet exciting questions are a critical part of growing up.
Here is a collection of poems that explore different aspects of culture and identity from CommonLit for grades 6-12. Your students will relate deeply to the themes of these meaningful poems!
“I Am Offering This Poem” by Jimmy Santiago Baca (6th Grade)
In this poem, award-winning American poet Jimmy Santiago Baca explores the gift of love. Although the speaker has nothing material to give the reader, they show their love through poetry. The speaker uses figurative language to explain how their love can uplift the reader during hard times. This meaningful piece will make students think about how love shapes who they are.
“Mother to Son” by Langston Hughes (7th Grade)
In this short poem about identity written by Harlem Renaissance author Langston Hughes, a mother uses an extended metaphor to address her son. She compares her life to a staircase to depict the hardships she has experienced. Despite challenges, she continued to persevere and encourages her son to do the same. This poem provides students with the opportunity to reflect on the challenges they have faced and how these experiences have shaped their identity.
“Identity” by Julio Noboa (7th Grade)
In this poem, Julio Noboa explores how it feels to be independent. The speaker uses beautiful imagery to describe different kinds of flowers, which represent conformity and freedom. This poem provides students with the opportunity to discuss the value of individuality and how embracing our independence can make us happier.
“Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou (8th Grade)
In this inspirational poem about culture, Maya Angelou, an important American poet and outspoken activist for Black Americans, describes how she persevered in the face of adversity and oppression. Students will be moved by the poem’s powerful figurative language. After reading, ask students Discussion Question 1, “What makes you who you are? Can other people’s opinions affect how you see yourself? How can you stay true to the real you?”
“Jabari Unmasked” by Nikki Grimes (8th Grade)
In this poem, the speaker explores the idea of hiding parts of one’s identity in a judgemental world. The poem’s unique format provides an interesting opportunity for students to analyze how structure and word choice convey the poet’s message. After students read, have them discuss how the speaker uses poetry to deal with oppression.
“The Raincoat” by Ada Limón (9th Grade)
In this heartwarming poem, the speaker reminisces on her relationship with her mother when she sees a mother giving her daughter her raincoat on the street. This action sparks a moment of realization for the speaker and she understands that her mother made many personal sacrifices to support her. Ask students if they have ever had a moment of realization which changed the way they viewed aspects of or people in their lives.
“Children” by Khalil Gibran (9th Grade)
In this poem, the speaker explores children’s relationships with their parents. The speaker explains that children come from their parents but do not belong to their parents. Have students discuss what the speaker of the poem means to convey about family relationships, then ask them if they think their personalities are influenced by their family members.
“Immigrants in Our Own Land” by Jimmy Santiago Baca (10th Grade)
In this poem about culture, the speaker describes the experiences of people who leave their homes in search of a better future. The speaker uses compelling imagery to present the cruel realities many immigrants face, which often rob them of their humanity and take away parts of their identities. This poem can be used to start a meaningful discussion about identity and how we hold onto it throughout challenging times.
“Window Seat” by Molly McGinnis (10th Grade)
In this poem about identity, the speaker describes a snowstorm from the window of an airplane on her way home. The storm reminds the speaker of the sand swirling around her old home, implying that the speaker used to live somewhere much different, and the memory comforts her. This poem provides students with the opportunity to explore how their homes and communities have shaped them into who they are.
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