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June 27

Poet Paul Laurence Dunbar was born today in 1872.

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Poet Paul Laurence Dunbar was born today in 1872.

Grades 8 – 12
Calendar Activity Type Author & Text





Best known for his poems “We Wear the Mask” and “Sympathy” (the poem from which Maya Angelou took the title of her memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings), Paul Laurence Dunbar wrote dialect poems, other poems, novels, short stories, and essays. Dunbar had served as class poet at his high school in Dayton, Ohio; he later worked as an elevator operator while he wrote in his spare time.





Project or share copies of Dunbar’s poem Sympathy. Read it aloud and ask students to discuss words, lines, and images that stand out to them as particularly meaningful.

Then share with students the critical excerpts on the poem from Modern American Poetry (including earlier and later versions of part of the poem). Ask small groups to read the excerpts and then discuss how the ideas from the three critics change or deepen their understanding of the poem.




  • Paul Laurence Dunbar

    Dunbar's entry on the Academy of American Poets website contains biographical information, a collection of poems, and personal correspondence between him and his wife, Alice Nelson-Dunbar.


  • Paul Laurence Dunbar | Poetry Foundation

    The Poetry Foundation's collection of resources on Paul Laurence Dunbar includes a biography and several poems.


  • Paul Laurence Dunbar

    The Modern American Poetry page for Dunbar includes curated criticism and online examples of Dunbar's illustrated poems.



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Grades   9 – 12  |  Lesson Plan  |  Unit

Behind the Masks: Exploring Culture Through Art and Poetry

Students research mask-making from various cultures, highlight the masks' connections to cultural practices, compose poetry to reveal their understanding, analyze their own culture, and create personal masks and poetry.


Grades   8 – 12  |  Lesson Plan  |  Standard Lesson

Responding to Tragedy: Then and Now

After reading several poets' personal responses to the September 11th terrorist attacks, students write a "then and now" poem that puts their early memories of the event in conversation with their current understanding of and response to the tragedy.


Grades   9 – 12  |  Lesson Plan  |  Standard Lesson

Dialect Detectives: Exploring Dialect in Great Expectations

Great Expectations is rich in dialogue and in the dialect of the working class and the poor of Victorian England. What does Dickens reveal about his characters using dialect?