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“Dreams” and “A Dream Deferred” by Langston Hughes

Teacher Guide by Kristy Littlehale

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Dreams Lesson Plans

Student Activities for Dreams Include:

Langston Hughes is one of the most renowned writers, poets, and playwrights of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. His writing has a musical quality to it, Hughes being strongly influenced by jazz music. He wrote about the African American experience in many different ways, focusing particularly on the lives of the working-class. He did not try to gloss over the plain, working folks of his community; instead, he painted them vividly in his words, and gave readers an intimate view of their lives, their struggles, their triumphs, and their pain. In the two poems “Dreams” and “A Dream Deferred”, Hughes focuses on the common dreams of African Americans in the early 1900s – the same dream that Martin Luther King, Jr. speaks of in his “I Have A Dream” speech: true equality. In “Dreams”, Hughes examines the theme of the importance of not letting go of dreams, because without dreams, life is empty and broken. In “A Dream Deferred”, Hughes examines the important question of what happens when dreams get put off: do they become more powerful, as the struggle for equality did with each passing year? While Hughes wrote from a uniquely African American perspective, his poems about dreams are relatable to every American who has pursued their own American dreams.

Dreams Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

Comparing “Dreams” and “A Dream Deferred”


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Use the traditional TP-CASTT activity to have students compare two poems with similar themes and topics. In the following example, “Dreams” and “A Dream Deferred” are compared to highlight the common theme of the importance of holding onto dreams and goals.


TP-CASTT Example for “Dreams”

T

TITLE

I think the title is probably about dreams. Maybe the dreams we have when we sleep? Or goals in life?
P

PARAPHRASE

The poem talks about the importance of holding onto dreams, because without them, life is empty, meaningless, broken, and barren.
C

CONNOTATION

The narrator uses words like, “die, broken-winged bird, go, barren field,” and “frozen” to highlight the cold and empty image of a life without dreams and goals.
A

ATTITUDE/TONE

The narrator’s tone is one of urgency and confidence. The narrator is urging the reader to continue to hold onto their dreams, and the narrator seems to know the importance of holding onto dreams.
S

SHIFT

In this particular poem, there is no obvious shift between lines or stanzas. Both stanzas are warnings about what happens when someone gives up hope for their future goals.
T

TITLE

This poem is about the importance of holding onto goals in life. It is not about sleeping dreams, even though sometimes that’s where our goals manifest.
T

THEME

The theme of the poem is to hold onto goals and the hope of one day achieving them, because without goals, life is broken, empty, and without purpose.

TPCASTT Example for “A Dream Deferred”

T

TITLE

The title might be about a dream being put off until later.
P

PARAPHRASE

The narrator wonders what happens to dreams that are deferred, and muses about what they do in a series of similes. The narrator wonders if they dry up, fester, stink badly, become too old and sweet, sag like a heavy load, or eventually explode.
C

CONNOTATION

The narrator uses comparisons to show the different ways in which a dream put off can become something else on its own for the person who puts it off. The narrator uses words and phrases such as “dry up, fester like a sore, stink like rotten meat, crust and sugar over, sags,” and “explode” to access all of the reader’s senses in thinking about an important dream.
A

ATTITUDE/TONE

The narrator’s tone is genuinely curious until the end, when the narrator asks in italics if a dream deferred explodes, which seems to be more forceful – and even hopeful that it will.
S

SHIFT

The shift occurs after the second, long stanza which asks all of the different things that a dream deferred could do. In the third stanza, the narrator seems a bit defeated, like maybe nothing happens – but then, in the final line, the narrator perks up and in italics, suggests almost hopefully that a dream deferred might explode.
T

TITLE

I was correct in my assumption that the poem might be about a dream that gets put off for awhile, but the narrator actually questions what it might do during the time it gets put off.
T

THEME

The theme of the poem is to be careful of what a dream put off for too long will do. It might not immediately take a toll on the dreamer, but eventually, it might become too much and have to be fulfilled.

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)


Student Instructions

Perform a TP-CASTT comparison analysis of “Dreams” and “A Dream Deferred”. Remember that TP-CASTT stands for Title, Paraphrase, Connotation, Attitude/Tone, Shift, Title, Theme.


  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Choose any combination of scenes, characters, items, and text to represent each letter of TP-CASTT.
  3. Write a few sentences describing the importance or meaning of the images.
  4. Finalize images, edit, and proofread your work.
  5. Save and submit storyboard to assignment.



(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)





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Poetic Devices in “A Dream Deferred”


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When teaching poetry, it is often helpful to refresh or introduce students with technical words. “Simile", "alliteration", "consonance", "imagery", and “parallelism” are a few important terms.

After you have read the poem, ask your students to do a scavenger hunt using the Storyboard Creator. Give them the list again and have them create a storyboard that depicts and explains the use of each literary element in the poem. They will have an absolute blast and gain mastery of the words.


Examples of Literary Elements in “A Dream Deferred”


DESCRIPTION EXAMPLE
Alliteration Repetition of consonant sounds at the beginnings of words in a sentence or line “What happens to a dream deferred?”
Imagery The use of descriptive or figurative language to create vivid mental imagery that appeals to the senses “Does it stink like rotten meat?”
Parallelism A form of repetition in a sentence or thought that emphasizes an idea or deepens the reaction to the idea “Does it dry up / Like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore– / And then run?”
Consonance The repetition of similar consonant sounds at the ends of words “Or crust and sugar over–”
Simile A comparison using 'like' or 'as' “Maybe it just sags / Like a heavy load.”


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Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that shows five examples of poetic language in "A Dream Deferred".


  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Identify use of literary elements in the poem.
  3. Put the type of literary element in the title box.
  4. Give an example from the text in the description box.
  5. Illustrate the example using using a combination of scenes, characters, and items.



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Connecting with the themes of “Dreams” and “A Dream Deferred”


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As students compare and contrast these two poems, they will likely be thinking about their own hopes, wishes, and goals in life, and what would happen if they are unable to achieve them. Ask students to consider their most important dream or goal in their lives, and use the Storyboard Creator to make a five-cell depiction of their future dream. Have them explain what motivated them or prompted them to decide on these dreams, and have them include some fears of obstacles that might get in the way. Have the students present their storyboards and then engage in a class discussion of why dreams are important to have, and to follow.

Connecting to Your Dreams Student Example

Background

My name is David, and my parents are immigrants from Russia. My father is a cook at a restaurant, and my mother works in a clothing store in our neighborhood. They arrived in New York 20 years ago, and moved to be near my uncle, who lives in Boston.


Dream

One day, I would like to own my own restaurant. I love to watch my dad cook, and he has taught me a lot of things about authentic Russian cooking. I wish my dad owned the restaurant, because then he could make more of his own hours. His boss is also pretty terrible sometimes.


Why this Dream?

My friend Kevin’s dad owns a restaurant, and makes enough money to support his family well. Kevin’s father is well-respected in the area, and the food his restaurant makes is delicious. His father takes a lot of pride in his food. I would like to make enough money to take care of my mom and dad one day, because they’ve sacrificed so much to take care of me.


Obstacles to My Dream

Some obstacles that might get in the way are not having enough money to open my own restaurant, or trouble getting a loan. I also need to make sure I get good grades so that I can go to a good culinary school when I graduate.


How will I Achieve this Dream?

I will get good grades so that I can attend a very prestigious culinary institute. Then, I will work very hard and make a name for myself in the industry. When I get enough money, I will open a restaurant that has a great atmosphere, good food, and great staff. I will make sure I am a fair boss who treats my employees respectfully.


(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)


Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that shows a dream that you have. Use the template storyboard to guide you.

  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Write a short explanation under each cell, using the template to help you.
  3. Depict each cell using any combination of scenes, characters, items, and textables.



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The Harlem Renaissance

The Harlem Renaissance was a flowering of the arts in Harlem, New York during the 1910s-1930s, with the height of the movement in the 1920s. In the years following freed slave migration to the North, and during the Jim Crow era in the South, Harlem became a haven for African Americans seeking a better, equal life. As the community grew, so too did the identity of the African Americans living there. The Harlem Renaissance became what Alain Locke called the age of the “New Negro,” in which African Americans defined themselves through their peers, and not through a system dominated by white men. Some of the more popular artists, musicians, and writers to emerge from this important cultural movement include:



Have students learn more about the Harlem Renaissance at History.com.


A Brief Synopsis of “Dreams” and “A Dream Deferred”

“Dreams” is a short, traditional two-stanza poem. Each stanza consists of 4 lines and follows a strict abcb defe rhyme scheme. The first stanza urges the reader to hold fast to dreams, because if they die, life is like a “broken-winged bird that cannot fly.” The second stanza again urges the reader to hold fast to dreams, because when they go, life is a “barren field frozen with snow.” Both images are images of despair and emptiness, highlighting a world where people have given up.

“A Dream Deferred” is a short, nontraditional poem made up of four stanzas of varying lengths. The narrator begins by asking the reader to consider what happens to a dream that is deferred, and proceeds to speculate in the subsequent lines. The narrator wonders if the dream dries up, or festers, begins to “stink like rotten meat”, or becomes sweeter with age. The narrator then supposes that maybe it just begins to sag, like a heavy load held for too long. The narrator surprises the reader at the end of the poem with an italicized final line that leaves the reader wondering if a dream deferred becomes more powerful, as the narrator wonders: “Or does it explode?”


Essential Questions for Teaching Poems “Dreams” and “A Dream Deferred”

  1. Why are dreams important?
  2. How can our dreams motivate us?
  3. What are some obstacles that can arise when one waits to pursue their dreams?


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•   (English) Dreams and A Dream Deferred   •   (Español) Sueños y un Sueño Postergado   •   (Français) Les Rêves et le Rêve Sont Reportés   •   (Deutsch) Träume und ein Traum Aufgeschoben   •   (Italiana) Sogni e A Dream Deferred   •   (Nederlands) Dromen en A Dream Deferred   •   (Português) Sonhos e um Sonho Adiado   •   (עברית) חלומות חלום נדחה   •   (العَرَبِيَّة) الأحلام والحلم المؤجل   •   (हिन्दी) ड्रीम्स और ए ड्रीम डिफर्ड   •   (ру́сский язы́к) Мечты и сон   •   (Dansk) Drømme og A Dream Udskudt   •   (Svenska) Drömmar och A Dream Uppskjuten   •   (Suomi) Unet ja Unelma Laskennalliset   •   (Norsk) Drømmer og A Dream Utsatt   •   (Türkçe) Düşler ve Bir Rüyanın Ertelendi   •   (Polski) Dreams and A Dream Odroczył   •   (Româna) Visele și un vis Amânat   •   (Ceština) Sny a sen Odložený   •   (Slovenský) Sny a sen Odložené   •   (Magyar) Álmok és egy Álom Halasztott   •   (Hrvatski) Snovi i san Odgođeni   •   (български) Сънища и Мечта се Отлагат   •   (Lietuvos) Sapnai ir Svajonėmis Atidėtojo   •   (Slovenščina) Sanje in Sanje Odloženo   •   (Latvijas) Sapņi un Sapnis Atliktais   •   (eesti) Dreams ja Unistus Edasi