Lesson Plans

State Poet Study

Grade Level

7 – 12


For 1000’s of years poets have taken on the task of chronicling the world around them. The work they leave behind tells the stories of the people we love and land that we all call home. In the last century, Nebraska has selected three poets of prestige to be the official voices of our shared experiences: John G. Neihardt, William Kloefkorn, and Twyla Hansen. In this activity students will discover why Nebraska needs a state poet, how a poet receives that honor, and what the work of a state poet entails. Then, they will write a poem honoring the Great State of Nebraska, as it is seen through the eyes of one of these esteemed poets.


In this unit students will:

  • Identify requirements for the position of Nebraska State Poet
  • Analyze the work of Nebraska’s State Poets
  • Illustrate understanding of each Nebraska State Poet’s voice and legacy by composing a poem dedicated to Nebraska in their honor
Required Materials
  • http://www.artscouncil.nebraska.gov
  • http://www.loc.gov/rr/main/poets/nebraska.html
  • http://poetryfromtheplains.org/state-poets/
Step-By-Step Procedures

(This activity could take one class period, or several class periods, depending on teacher objectives for the unit.)

  1. Direct all students to the websites:
    • http://www.loc.gov/rr/main/poets/nebraska.html
    • http://www.artscouncil.nebraska.gov
  2. Students should utilize the web resources listed above to hunt for answers to the following questions:
    • How many states have official state poets, or poet laureates?
    • How many states have official state poems?
    • Explain the process that Nebraska uses to select a state poet.
      • Who are the parties involved?
      • What qualifications should a nominated poet possess?
    • What are the expectations of the Nebraska State Poet, once the honor is bestowed? What type of work will he or she be asked to do?
    • Who is the current Nebraska State Poet?
      • How long has this person been serving in this capacity?
      • What has the focus of his/her work as state poet been?
      • If you wanted this poet to visit your school, what process would you follow for making that request?
    • Who are the past Nebraska State Poets?
  3. Divide students into groups of four and assign each group one of the Nebraska State Poets.
  4. In each small group, students should self-select the following roles:
    • Reader
      • responsible for reading poems out loud to his or her small group
    • Summarizer
      • responsible for re-telling the situation and/or philosophies of each poem in his or her own words
    • Imagery Recorder
      • responsible for recording all of the sensory images written by their poet in the selected pieces
    • Local Flavor Recorder
      • responsible for recording all references to people, places, and cultural norms of a specific time and place
  5. Small groups should find the poems featured by their state poet on the poetryfromtheplains.org website and read through each one with each student carrying out the duties of his or her assigned role.
  6. After completing the reading and recording of each poem, students in each small group should work together to answer the following questions:
    • What common threads seem to run through this writer’s work?
    • What does this poet seem to value?
    • In what ways is this poet chronicling your experience of living in Nebraska?
    • How is this poet’s experience of Nebraska different than yours?
  7. Have each small group report their answers back to the class.
  8. Direct students to compose a poem that honors Nebraska, as it is seen through the eyes of their selected state poet.
    • Poems should be titled “(name of selected poet)’s Nebraska.” For example, a student who studied Twyla Hansen would title his or her poem: “Twyla Hansen’s Nebraska.”
    • Ideas within the poem should be directly inspired by the poems written by the selected Nebraska State Poet and reflect how he or she engages with our state. For example:

Twyla Hansen’s Nebraska
This place is alive –
full of voices and ghosts
and light that is ever-changing
as the grass, the leaves.
This land breeds life
but there is loss here, too;
our stories forever drawn
with fingertips in the dust.

A Differentiated Activity for Upper-classmen or Advanced Students

Students should read the scholarly essays about their assigned poet posted to the poetryfromtheplains.org website. Essays could be used to model journalistic or expository form or as a practice in annotating infotext. After reading, students might compose an essay that answers the question: How has this poet fulfilled the expectations of a Nebraska State Poet?

A Fun Activity for Students of All Ages

Who should be the voice of your classroom? After learning the requirements and expectations of a Nebraska State Poet, have your class appoint five members to a Class Poet Selection Committee. If there is great interest, students could campaign or debate for their spots on the committee. Then, students should nominate classmates they feel would be good candidates for Class Poet and let the selection committee take over from there. The teacher could act as the governor, making the appointment official. Class poet terms might last a week, a quarter, or even a full year!

Nebraska State Standards
  • LA 10.1 Reading: Students will learn and apply reading skills and strategies to comprehend text.
  • LA 10.2 Writing: Students will learn and apply writing skills and strategies to communicate.
  • LA 10.3 Speaking and Listening: Students will develop and apply speaking and listening skills and strategies to communicate for a variety of purposes.
  • LA 10.4 Multiple Literacies: Students will apply information fluency and practice digital citizenship.