The Laramie Project Lesson Plan
Introductory Lesson to The Laramie Project Using Poetry and Prediction
This lesson will take 50 minutes.
This lesson will take place in a high school junior level advanced American Literature class of 25
students. There are two students who speak English as a second language and Spanish as their first
language, but they are for the most part proficient in English. Another student has partial hearing loss
and a hearing aid.
Students will be able to write about and verbally analyze a poem, identifying the effects that the
poem’s specific structure and language have on its meaning.
Students will be able to tie the epigram of a text to its themes, developing relevant examples and
expressing the significance of philosophical questions common to the two texts.
Students will be able to articulate a response to a film trailer portrayal of a text, making further
predictions based on a directed reading-thinking activity.
At the end of the lesson, students will write a response to a current event in the news in the real-
world style of a news reporter.
BACKGROUND/THEORY INTO PRACTICE
This lesson will be an introduction to a study of the play, The Laramie Project, by Moises
Kaufman and the members of the Tectonic Theater Project. Before delving into the text, students will
first focus on the epigraph, which includes the first three lines of Walt Whitman’s poem “Song of the
Exposition.” Therefore, in order to lead a discussion, the instructor should have a comprehensive
knowledge of Walt Whitman’s poetry and life. An abundance of resources, including scholarly articles
and websites can be found at http://www.literaryhistory.com/19thC/Whitman.htm.
In dissecting and writing about the poem, students will employ the process skill of analyzing
poetry based on language, structure, and meaning. Students should also be taught to look for supporting
details and evidence in poetry when arguing for a theme or inherent meaning that they pick up on; rather
than simply listing off key elements of a poem, students need to learn to identify specific lines and
passages that prove these elements are present in the poem.
Another process skill that should be conveyed to students is the ability to make predictions based
on evidence. Students should be able to draw from some key aspects of The Laramie Project movie
trailer (which can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=awTx8iBm4u8) in order to make
predictions about the play. Students will also engage in a discussion about homosexuality as a current,
highly debated issue. The instructor should be extremely well-informed regarding the details of The
Laramie Project, including its events, accompanying trials, and aftermath, both local and national.
Some resources that could provide the instructor with this information include:
Time Classroom: The Laramie Project - http://www.time.com/time/classroom/laramie/
Teaching Tolerance: The Laramie Project - http://www.tolerance.org/laramie/index.html
Tectonic Theater Project: The Laramie Project -
The instructor can also find background information on carrying out the Directed Reading-Thinking
Activity on this site:
This lesson will directly connect with lessons that follow in that it will serve as a tool for
students to recognize central themes (i.e. homosexuality, identity, community, competing ideologies) as
they continue to read the play. Their predictions will allow them to become more engaged in the text as
they consequently discover whether these predictions are accurate. Also, students’ written responses to
a current event involving homosexuality will allow them to enter into a dialogue on journalism and
media literacy, which is a topic that will be revisited throughout the play.
Copies of the first section of Walt Whitman’s poem “Song of the Exposition”
Notes on/ biography of Walt Whitman
Video projector that can be connected to computer
Each student should have a copy of the text The Laramie Project
“Reporter’s Guide” Worksheet
Access to blackboard and chalk
DVD player and DVD of The Laramie Project movie (if needed)
The instructor will need to research both Walt Whitman and his poetry for specific life
experiences and themes that relate to those found in The Laramie Project. Also, the teacher should
obtain as much information and factual events surrounding the Laramie incident, The Tectonic Theater
Project, and the aftermath of both the event and the publication of the play. The instructor should also
prepare copies of the poems and worksheets before class. Additionally, the video projector should be
hooked up to a computer with the movie trailer link ready for access.
1. Before class starts, organize materials at the front of the room in order to begin instruction right
2. Distribute copies of the “Song of the Exposition” poem selection. (1 minute)
3. Read the poem aloud to students, asking them to highlight/underline anything that stands out to
them or seems important. Be sure to emphasize key moments and inflect meaning into the
words. Also read slow enough so that students have time to annotate as they follow along. (3
4. After reading the poem, have students write a brief analysis of the poem on the bottom of their
worksheet, commenting on how the structure, language, or poetic devices used in the poem
contribute to its meaning and overall effect. (5 minutes)
5. Discuss as a class students’ responses to the poem. Write important themes on the board in order
to highlight their significance. Ask questions like, “What kind of mood does this poem inspire?
What do you think is the poem’s message?” (7 minutes)
6. Explain to students that we will begin studying a play entitled The Laramie Project, which has
been made into a movie by HBO Films. Tell students that we will watch the movie trailer; they
should be prepared to make predictions on what they think the play will be about based on what
they see. Also, ask them to take notes on the details of the trailer, such as the music, mood,
people, and setting. (5 minutes)
7. Allow time for students to respond to the trailer in their classroom journals. Remind them to
recount how the trailer made them feel and why it made them feel this way. (5 minutes)
8. Reconvene as a class and discuss students’ responses. Ask students to revisit the Walt Whitman
poem and make new connections – Why did Kaufman choose to use these three particular lines
of the poem as the epigraph for this play? Explain details of Whitman’s life as a poet; include
that many scholars tend to debate Whitman’s sexuality as either homosexual or bisexual,
although it is unclear whether he ever had a sexual relationship with another man. How could
this piece of knowledge be applied to the potential meaning of the poem? Continue to highlight
important themes for the students by writing them on the board. (10 minutes)
9. Begin the Directed Reading-Thinking Activity by asking a student volunteer to read the first
paragraph of the introduction aloud. Ask students to make predictions on the play based off of
this paragraph alone. Write these predictions on the board. (5 minutes)
10. Have students finish reading the introduction silently. (3 minutes)
11. Again, ask for more predictions. As a class, return to the old predictions and erase anything that
doesn’t seem valid anymore. (2 minutes)
12. Have students read the author’s note silently. Repeat step 11. (2 minutes)
13. Tell students to keep these predictions in mind as they continue to read the text.
14. Explain and pass out the homework assignment due the next day: Students will find a news
article or description of a current event involving homosexuality. This could, for example, be an
article on the recent ban of gay marriage in California, or could perhaps be an article on the
murder of Matthew Shepard. After choosing an article, students will fill out the “Reporter’s
Guide” worksheet in preparation for writing a news report on the event. The worksheet will be
due the next day. (2 minutes)
Leading questions to be used during the discussion of “Song of the Exposition” include:
Who is the “loving Laborer?” Why might Whitman label him this way, using a capital “L?”
What does it mean to “bring perhaps from afar what is already founded?” What kind of beliefs
are “already founded” in our society?
What is the “it” that Whitman speaks of? How can we “give ‘it’ our own identity?”
What is the “New” versus the “Old” world?
What does the repetitive, organic language of the final three liens suggest?
What messages can you draw from this poem? What is its overall mood?
Leading questions about The Laramie Project movie trailer include:
What makes this trailer suspenseful?
What pictures or images stand out to you? Why?
What kinds of feelings does the music inspire?
What do you think the play will be about based on the trailer?
How is Laramie as a town portrayed and categorized? What impression do you get of Laramie?
Explain anything that may have surprised or bothered you while watching the trailer.
What themes, ideas, or emotions seem common to both the poem and trailer?
BILINGUIAL/ESL AND DIALECT ACCOMMODATIONS
These students could be given the poem ahead of time in order to become familiar with its
language and vocabulary. Definitions of words in the poem that students might not be familiar with (i.e.
torpid, rehabilitate) could be provided as annotations or as a side-note. The teacher will read the poem
aloud, and could do so twice in order for these students to further hear and absorb the language. For the
movie trailer, the teacher could potentially purchase a copy of The Laramie Project DVD and select the
“subtitles” option to depict the Spanish language. Then, the ESL students could read the subtitles while
with watching the trailer to aid comprehension. For the homework assignment, these students will be
allowed to choose a current news article in their native language if they prefer. They will still need to
translate/ fill out the “Reporter Worksheet” in English, but can receive help from the instructor in doing
SPECIAL EDUCATION ACCOMMODATIONS
The student with hearing loss will be seated in a location that allows for maximum viewing of
both the teacher and the movie trailer to ensure better hearing and lip reading, if this is a possibility. The
instructor could show the DVD version of the trailer, selecting the closed captioning option so that the
student can read the text during the video. (This option could potentially be beneficial for all students,
allowing them to can better hear and grasp the dialogue in the video.) Written as well as verbal
instructions should be given during all assignments in the lesson to facilitate better understanding for
this student. Also, key points will be continually written on the board to increase comprehension.
The students will hand in their responses to the poems, which will be informally assessed as part
of a class participation grade. These responses will be graded based on a basic check, check-plus,
check-minus system. If a student exceeds expectations by providing a detailed, textually-supported
analysis of the poem, he or she will receive a check-plus. If a student meets expectations by providing a
basic analysis of the poem, perhaps lacking detailed textual evidence, he or she will receive a check. If a
student does not complete or turn in the assignment, he or she will receive a check-minus. Students will
also be informally assessed during class discussion. The instructor will look for students’ abilities to
make connections between themes in the epigraph and the movie trailer. During the Directed Reading-
Thinking Activity, the instructor will look for students’ abilities to make predictions based upon textual
evidence and specific supporting details. The homework assignment worksheet will be assessed as a
“draft,” or brainstorming activity in working toward the later project of describing an event in the style
of a news reporter. The student must have provided extensive answers for all “5 W’s” on the
“Reporter’s Guide” to receive a check-plus. If only brief, partial or basic answers are provided, the
student will receive a check, and if the assignment is incomplete or not turned in, the student will receive
a check-minus. The instructor will provide comments on the worksheets detailing possible questions
and directions that students might pursue while developing their drafts into the final project. A rubric
for the final news reporter-style report is attached.
One interesting extension idea could be for the students to construct and write a play about their
town (i.e. The Champaign Project). Students could pick an event that specifically impacted their
town, interview members of the community, and write a play about it. This play could
potentially be developed into a performance or film shown to the larger community.
Students could write and mail letters to Moises Kaufman and the members of the Tectonic
Theater Project responding to the play.
This play could be one text in a larger study of homosexuality as an issue currently portrayed in
The HBO film could be shown in class and compared/contrasted with the play.
Students could act out the “moments” in the play in an interpretive video shown to the class.
Students could publish a class newspaper that includes their reports on current events in the
SOURCE OF ACTIVITY
The progression of activities for this lesson was developed from my own ideas. However, the Directed
Reading-Thinking Activity is adapted from Professor Mark Dressman’s CI 402 course. Also, the
“Reporter’s Guide” worksheet is adapted and reproduced from www.readwritethink.org. I would like to
thank anyone and everyone who may have contributed to the spirit and content of this lesson.
RESOURCES AND REFERENCES
Poem and worksheet materials are attached.
ILLINOIS STATE ENGLISH LANGUAGE ARTS GOAL(S) AND LEARNING STANDARD(S)
1.C.5a Use questions and predictions to guide reading across complex materials.
After viewing the movie trailer and during the Directed Reading-Thinking Activity, students will make
predictions about the play in order to further guide their reading of the text.
1.C.5e Evaluate how authors and illustrators use text and art across materials to express their ideas
(e.g., complex dialogue, persuasive techniques).
As students discuss themes that overlap between the epigraph and The Laramie Project play, they will
be making an evaluation of text across materials. A connection will be formed between the medium of a
Walt Whitman poem and that of a play, in that common themes will become apparent to students.
Students will thus work to analyze why Moises Kaufman chose this particular epigraph to introduce his
2.B.5a Analyze and express an interpretation of a literary work.
Students will analyze the Walt Whitman poem based on structure, language and meaning. They will
then interpret this poem in the context of The Laramie Project. Also, as they make predictions about the
text, they will be providing potential interpretations for they play.
2.B.5b Apply knowledge gained from literature as a means of understanding contemporary and
historical economic, social and political issues and perspectives.
The knowledge gained from studying this play, as well as the current events homework assignment, will
provide a means of understanding contemporary social and political issues involving homosexuality.
Students will also encounter differing perspectives on the issue of homosexuality as they read the play
and discuss relevant current events.
3.C.5b Write for real or potentially real situations in academic, professional and civic contexts (e.g.,
applications, job applications, business letters, resume, petitions).
For the current events homework assignment, students will be writing for the potentially real situation of
reporting on a news story. While in the “Reporter’s Guide” worksheet they will be gathering facts based
on a historical or current event in the news involving homosexuality, they will later revise this
information into the written style of a news reporter.
For this lesson, I wanted to craft an activity that could serve as an intriguing introduction to The
Laramie Project. This is a text that should not and cannot be treated lightly in the classroom, as it
revolves around the heated issue of homosexuality. Therefore, I thought an eye-opening, dramatic
introduction to the play, by showing the movie trailer, could really capture students’ attention and allow
them to delve right into discussing these issues. Before teaching the play, I might send out a letter of
consent to the students’ parents, warning them of the explicit issues covered in the text. This way, I
could keep parents informed while seeking their approval in documented form. If any of the students’
parents did not approve, I could provide them with an alternate text to study. I think the exploration of
the epigraph is a nice transition into the actual play because it provides for a complex analysis of
significant themes that will continue to reappear in the text, such as identity formation and conflicting
world views. The prediction aspect of the lesson will allow students to not only draw their own
interpretations, but also to remain engaged in the text on a personal level. Students will also be able to
discuss the text in light of real-world events from the news, which will make the text seem more
practical and meaningful to them. The project of writing in the style of a news reporter will allow them
to work on presenting a controversial story from an objective, unbiased point of view, while also helping
them to become more informed about issues and perspectives involving homosexuality in our society.
Ultimately, I would hope that this lesson would spark students’ interest in the play and allow them to
become more informed by reading the text in a contemporary social context.