Teach This Poem: "Old South Meeting House" by January Gill O'Neil
Produced for K-12 educators, Teach This Poem features one poem a week from our online poetry collection, accompanied by interdisciplinary resources and activities designed to help teachers quickly and easily bring poetry into the classroom. The series is written by our Educator in Residence, Dr. Madeleine Fuchs Holzer, and is available for free via email.
“When the Old South Meeting House was built in 1729, its Puritan congregation could not foresee the role it would play in American history. In colonial times, statesman Benjamin Franklin was baptized here. Phillis Wheatley, the first published black poet, was a member, as were patriots James Otis, Thomas Cushing, and William Dawes. When rumblings started to shake the colonies and the Revolution grew imminent, patriots flocked to Old South to debate the most pressing issues of the day. They argued about the Boston Massacre, and they protested impressment of American sailors into the British Navy. And then, on the night of December 16, 1773, they acted. Some 5,000 angry colonists gathered at Old South to protest a tax on tea. When the negotiations failed, disguised men took action and destroyed over 1.5 million dollars worth of tea in today's money.”
- Whip-around: Go around the room and ask your students what associations they have with the words Boston Tea Party. If someone does not have an answer ready, they can say “pass” to wait until after all the other students have contributed.
- Ask your students to read the short excerpt about the Old South Meeting House, and the role it played at the beginning of the American Revolution. Ask them to write down what they think are the important words and phrases in the excerpt. Then, ask your students to gather in pairs to share what they learned about the Old South Meeting House from this excerpt.
- Project January Gill O’Neil’s poem so all your students can see it. Ask them to read the poem silently and write down the words and phrases that jump out to them. Ask one student to read the poem aloud to the whole class while the listeners add to their lists of words and phrases. Repeat this process with a second student reading aloud.
- In small groups, ask them to share their words and phrases. What do these words and phrases tell us about the poem? What is the structure of the words? What might this have to do with the Old South Meeting House?
- Whole-class discussion: What did your students learn from the historical excerpt about the Old South Meeting House? What did they learn from the poem? What do your students think accounts for the difference? Make sure they give detailed evidence from both the historical excerpt and the poem.