Photo of Amanda Gorman at Biden's Inauguration.
Mini-Lesson
Current Event

Reflecting on Amanda Gorman's "The Hill We Climb"

Use these activities to help students reflect on the themes in Amanda Gorman’s Inauguration Day poem and consider how their unique experiences and voices can help America “forge a union with purpose.”

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At a Glance

Mini-Lesson

Language

English — US

Subject

  • English & Language Arts
  • History
  • Social Studies

Grade

6–12
  • Democracy & Civic Engagement

Overview

About This Mini-Lesson

On January 20, 2021, 22-year-old Amanda Gorman made history as the country’s youngest inaugural poet. Only four previous presidents have invited poets to speak at their inaugurations, lending their voices and visions for the country to these historic moments. 

Gorman—poet, activist, and author—has been speaking on issues of social justice since she was a teenager growing up in Los Angeles. In a 2017 The Project for Women interview, having just been named America’s first National Youth Poet Laureate, Gorman reflected on the power of poetry, explaining, “The fight for social injustice not only inspires my writing but my life’s work. Through poetry I can speak to both the world’s problems and its solutions, as well as the microcosms of conflict inside myself. I love writing poetry because it is innately cutting-edge; as a black female poet, every time I take the stage I have a new opportunity to defy limitations placed on the art, contributions, and leadership of creative women of color.” 1

Amanda Gorman’s Inauguration Day poem, “The Hill We Climb,” is a powerful call to action focusing on themes of hope, unity, healing, and resilience. In this Teaching Idea, students reflect on these themes and consider how their own unique experiences and voices can help America “forge a union with purpose.”

  • 1Amanda Gorman quoted in Lauri Levenfeld, “Amanda Gorman,” The Project for Women, October 4, 2017.
  • 7 activities 
  • Student-facing slides 
  • 3 teaching strategies

Preparing to Teach

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Activities

If you have 20 minutes:

Help students learn about the inaugural poet Amanda Gorman and examine her ideas about unity and “forg[ing] a union with purpose” as a class.

Share a few highlights from the LA Times article How a 22-year old L.A. native became Biden’s inauguration poet with your students. 1

  • 1Note: Without a subscription to the LA Times, you and your students will have access to a limited number of free articles per month.

So that students can hear Amanda Gorman’s voice, play an excerpt of the video of her recitation of “The Hill We Climb” from 00:00-01:35. Then project or distribute the following excerpt:

And yes we are far from polished

far from pristine

but that doesn’t mean we are

striving to form a union that is perfect

We are striving to forge a union with purpose 1

 

Read aloud this section of the poem two times. You might ask a different student to read each line. Then read it again, asking one student to read it in full or reading it to the class yourself. Then in pairs or small groups, depending on what’s possible given social distancing, ask students to discuss the following questions:  

  1. What does it mean to be unified?
  2. What does it mean to “forge a union with purpose”? To help students answer this question, you might give them a few synonyms for the word purpose (motivation, grounds, cause, reason, justification, intention, aim, objective, goal, etc.).

Ask for volunteers from each pair or group to share their response to one of the questions. Responses are not intended to arrive at an answer, but rather to offer reflection on one of the poem’s core themes: unity.

  • 1Amanda Gorman, “The Hill We Cimb,” (poem read January 20, 2021, Washington, DC). Transcript from CNN.

To close, use the following prompt to help students think about “forg[ing] a union with purpose.”

What is the difference between a country that is perfect and a country with purpose? What three words would you use to describe an America with purpose?

Have students share their three words in a wraparound.

If you have a full class period:

Watch a recording of Amanda Gorman’s recitation of “The Hill We Climb” and then do a close reading of a section of the poem in order to consider Gorman’s call to action.

Share a few highlights from the LA Times article How a 22-year old L.A. native became Biden’s inauguration poet with your students. 1

  • 1Note: Without a subscription to the LA Times, you and your students will have access to a limited number of free articles per month.

Watch the video of Gorman's performance (05:32) after distributing the transcript to your students. Invite students to star lines of the poem or moments in the recitation that resonate with them. Alternatively, they can jot words and images on their copy of the transcript or in their notebooks. After watching the video, give students the opportunity to reflect on the poem with the following journal prompt: 

Imagine that you are going to post 1–2 lines from Gorman’s “The Hill We Climb” to social media. Which line or lines would you choose and why? 

Have students share their lines and why they chose them in pairs. 

Invite students to take a closer look at Gorman’s masterful use of language in the middle section of the poem in order to deepen their understanding of her call to action. Start by rereading the following section or replaying the video (starting at 03:40). You can also invite volunteers to read it out loud, perhaps alternating each line.

So while once we asked,

how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe?

Now we assert

How could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?

We will not march back to what was

but move to what shall be

A country that is bruised but whole,

benevolent but bold,

fierce and free

We will not be turned around

or interrupted by intimidation

because we know our inaction and inertia

will be the inheritance of the next generation

Our blunders become their burdens

But one thing is certain:

If we merge mercy with might,

and might with right,

then love becomes our legacy

and change our children’s birthright

So let us leave behind a country

better than the one we were left with 1

In pairs or small groups, depending on what’s possible given social distancing, have students discuss the questions below. Then have groups share their ideas in a class discussion, focusing on the call to action in the final question.

  1. What “catastrophes” might Gorman be referencing in this section of the poem? How have one or more of these catastrophes impacted you, your family, and your community?
  2. Reread this section of the poem and circle the word “we” every time it gets repeated. 
    1. What is the impact of this repetition? 
    2. Why do you think Gorman repeats “we” here and throughout the poem?
    3. How do you see or not see yourself as part of this “we”?
  3. Discuss the final phrase of this section: “So let us leave behind a country / better than the one we were left with.
    1. What would it look like, sound like, and/or feel like if your generation were to leave behind a country that is better than the one you are inheriting
    2. What specific actions can you take as part of Gorman’s call to action?
  • 1Amanda Gorman, “The Hill We Cimb,” (poem read January 20, 2021, Washington, DC). Transcript from CNN.

To close the lesson, read aloud the final lines of the poem to consider its impact:

When day comes we step out of the shade,
aflame and unafraid
The new dawn blooms as we free it
For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it
If only we’re brave enough to be it

Ask students to answer the following question in a journal or as an exit card:

When your light shines brightest, what are you brave enough to see and what are you brave enough to be?

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Materials and Downloads

Resources from Other Organizations

These are the resources from external sources that we recommend using with students throughout the activities in this mini-lesson.
The Project for Women Interview
The Project for Women

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