From the Blog

Lesson Plan: The Poetry of Serhiy Zhadan

Paula Sanders is a high school English teacher at DeSoto High School in DeSoto, Texas. A veteran educator with 18 years teaching experience, she currently teaches 12th-grade English. Ms. Sanders is a teacher whose impact on students extends beyond the classroom; as an educator who is deeply attuned to student wellbeing (she also led the DeSoto LGBTQ Eagle Pride group), she has also sustained lifelong relationships with students and inspired young people to become educators.

Ms. Sanders wrote the following lesson on the Ukrainian poet Serhiy Zhadan as a way to enable students to engage with current events and hear the voices of those most deeply affected by the war in Ukraine. We are sharing it here in case it can be helpful to any teachers who are looking for ways to help students develop a deeper understanding of what is happening in Ukraine. Ms. Sanders first shared her lesson during a session in which ELAR teachers from DeSoto High School were working with Great Schools Partnership coach Kate Gardoqui to craft this unit on rhetoric from the Ukraine war. Ms. Sanders’ set of activities provide teachers with some powerful ways to use poetry to help students develop a deeper understanding of world events.

Interview With Paula Sanders

What inspired you to design this lesson for your students? What were you hoping they would get out of it?

I designed this lesson with the real world in mind. Our students, especially the seniors, have lived through many historical moments: the pandemic, social justice protests, and now a war forcing the world to acknowledge its atrocious existence. My goal was to bring students to the realities of the world in juxtaposition with the fantasy that social media can present to them.

What skills were you hoping they would demonstrate in their work?

The goal was connections, which is why I titled the unit “What in the World Is Going On?” I wanted to give them background information on the conflict in Ukraine. Next, because April is poetry month, I wanted to expose them to protest poetry to humanize the people of Ukraine and the current perils of their existence. My desire is that they connect, analyze for meaning, identify poetic elements and the author’s purpose for using them, and discuss and question—and they did!

Can you share some quotes from student work that illustrate the kinds of thinking that students did in response to this assignment?

The following is one student’s work in response to the four poems published here: “You’ve got to live somewhere you aren’t afraid to die.” Contemporary Ukrainian Poetry From Kharkiv

Create a title for each poem "The Change" "Before It's Too Late" "There Is Light" "Nothing Lasts Forever"
Re-read and provide a full sentence on the theme or meaning of each poem The meaning and theme of this poem is knowing that a huge and noticeable change is on its way. The meaning and theme of this poem are to listen to what the person has to say and be saved or changed before time runs out. The theme of the poem is making the most of what you have while you have it. The main idea of the poem is that nothing lasts forever. Be patient and enjoy the little things.

What tips or instructions do you have for teachers who want to do this lesson?

If time had permitted, I would have shown video interviews with refugees fleeing to Poland. I would have added in a stronger social justice focus showing how initially Africans and Syrians, all citizens of Ukraine were discriminated against at the borders of Poland and Hungary. I would have incorporated a social media aspect, as there are many Ukrainian artists posting their reflections about the conflict in words and images as this war continues.

What TEKS or CCSS standards did this lesson address?

For English IV I used:

  • Multiple genres: listening, speaking, reading, writing, and thinking using multiple texts—genres. The student recognizes and analyzes genre-specific characteristics, structures, and purposes within and across increasingly complex traditional, contemporary, classical, and diverse texts. The student is expected to: (A) read and analyze British literature across literary periods; (B) analyze the effects of sound, form, figurative language, graphics, and dramatic structure in poetry across literary time periods and cultures.


  • Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:

    • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.11-12.7
      Analyze multiple interpretations of a story, drama, or poem (e.g., recorded or live production of a play or recorded novel or poetry), evaluating how each version interprets the source text. (Include at least one play by Shakespeare and one play by an American dramatist.)

    • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.11-12.9
      Demonstrate knowledge of eighteenth-, nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century foundational works of American literature, including how two or more texts from the same period treat similar themes or topics.
Lesson Plan

“On the following pages you will find a series of activities that you can use to help students explore the poetry of Serhiy Zhadan, translated by Amelia Glaser and Yuliya Ilchuk.”

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Unit Plan

Focus standards, focus STEM mindsets, and more. Includes 9-day schedule, learning targets, activities, and formative assessments.

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