On Being Brought from Africa to America by Phillis Wheatley

Teacher Guide by Rebecca Ray

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On Being Brought from Africa to America Lesson Plans

Student Activities for On Being Brought from Africa to America Include:

In a few short lines, the poem "On Being Brought from Africa to America" juxtaposes religious language with the institution of slavery, to touch on the ideas of equality, salvation, and liberty. Phillis Wheatley uses several literary elements to convey her complex but succinct message to the reader, and understanding those methods is vital to grappling with the poem. This interactive teaching plan will help students further grasp the concepts involved in Wheatley's poetry, examining the themes, symbols, and vocabulary she used.

On Being Brought from Africa to America Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

"On Being Brought from Africa to America" TP-CASTT

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Poetry is one of the most expressive forms of literature. It can evoke emotions, set a mood, tell a story, or create a deeply and universally understood feeling in its readers. This makes expounding its elements, and understanding its rich meaning, comparisons, and symbols, even more important.

The TPCASTT method of poetry analysis is a great way to teach students to dissect a poem and understand its parts. It helps students to uncover the deeper meanings within poems while giving them the confidence to be self-educators. TPCASTT Poetry Analysis is an order of operations similar to PEMDAS for math. It asks students to list items in sequential order and answer questions based on their reading of the poem.

TPCASTT Example for "On Being Brought from Africa to America" Analysis



“On Being Brought from Africa to America” implies that the speaker will discuss a journey from Africa, presumably their home, to America, possibly as a slave.


The first half of the poem explains that the speaker’s trip from Africa to America coincided with her becoming a Christian. In the last four lines she cautions others Christians to remember that even Africans can, like the speaker, find salvation in Christ.


Wheatley implies a strong and complex relationship between her religion and her slavery. She reminds Americans that black people are not evil and that before God, all Christians are equal, no matter their race.


Words like “mercy”, “Pagan”, “Savior”, “redemption”, “diabolical”, and “angelic” reinforce the religious nature of the poem and create a contrast in the speaker’s life before and after her enslavement. Her tone is straightforward, compassionate, and deeply personal, but also gently admonishing.


A shift occurs at the middle of the poem. The speaker switches from describing her own life to pointing out the implications of her story. Within the second half of the poem there is a shift between the two couplets; the speaker ends by directly addressing Christian readers.


After reading the poem, my interpretation of the title was partially correct. The narrator, who was once a slave, was brought to America, where she became a Christian. Her journey from Africa to America was one of enslavement, but coincided with her salvation.


The theme of Christianity echoes through each line of this poem. Salvation overshadows enslavement in the transformative journey, and she urges readers to remember that all Christians are equal before God.

This is a great activity to have students do in a small group. Once students are finished, ask them to create a storyboard with the TPCASTT steps.

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

Student Instructions

Perform a TPCASTT analysis of "On Being Brought from Africa to America". Remember that TPCASTT 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 TPCASTT.
  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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"On Being Brought from Africa to America" Literary Elements

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When teaching poetry, it is often helpful to refresh or introduce students with technical words. Terms like “metaphor", "stanza", "alliteration", "personification", "imagery", "rhyme scheme", "apostrophe", and "assonance" 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

Heroic Couplet A set of two rhyming lines typically found at the end of the poem "Remember, Christians, Negros, black as Cain/ May be refin'd, and join th' angelic train."
End Rhyme Words at the end of a line that rhyme with words at the end of other lines. "land” & “understand”; “too” & “knew”; and “eye” & “die"
Personification Giving human-like characteristics to non-human objects or abstract ideas In the poem Wheatley personifies “mercy” by saying it brought her to America. Mercy did not physically carry her across an ocean, but it was metaphorically responsible for her journey.

(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 four examples of literary elements in "On Being Brought from Africa to America".

  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Identify use of literary elements in the text.
  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.

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

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"On Being Brought from Africa to America" Symbols

Themes, symbols, and motifs come alive when you use a storyboard. In this activity, students will identify themes and symbols from the poem, and support their choices with details from the text. With a storyboard, students can quickly and easily track the evocative Wheatley uses throughout the poem.

Themes, Symbols, and Motifs to Look For and Discuss


Each line of the poem contains religious words to subtly convey the speaker’s tone, attitudes, or beliefs. The repetition clearly fixes religion as a central theme of the poem's major themes. Wheatley explicitly informs the reader how she was saved and what she sees as the implications.


A recurring structure in the poem is Wheatley’s use of capitalized italics to emphasize words. She uses them for “Pagan”, “Savior”, “Christians”, “Negros”, and “Cain”. These words contribute to the poem’s strong contrasting imagery between light and darkness.

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Phillis Wheatley Biography

Phillis Wheatley was an African slave and one of the best-known poets in colonial America. Her fate and fame came with the help of John Wheatley, the man who saved her from a life of hard slavery. Phillis became not only a household name, but also a living testament to the intelligence of Africans, debunking contemporary stereotypes with her articulate creativity. Wheatley became a face for the abolitionist movement long before it began in earnest. Her works, centering on race, religion, politics, and social commentary, enlightened many people and affected a change in attitudes.

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•   (English) On Being Brought from Africa to America   •   (Español) Sobre ser traído de África a América   •   (Français) En étant amené d'Afrique en Amérique   •   (Deutsch) Auf, von Afrika nach Amerika geholt zu werden   •   (Italiana) Su portati dall'Africa all'America   •   (Nederlands) Op gebracht uit Afrika naar Amerika   •   (Português) Em ser trazido da África para a América   •   (עברית) על הבאתו מאפריקה לאמריקה   •   (العَرَبِيَّة) على إحضارهم من إفريقيا إلى أمريكا   •   (हिन्दी) अफ्रीका से अमेरिका के लिए लाया जा रहा है पर   •   (ру́сский язы́к) Будучи Привезено из Африки в Америку   •   (Dansk) Ved at blive bragt fra Afrika til Amerika   •   (Svenska) På förs från Afrika till Amerika   •   (Suomi) Saatettaessa Afrikasta Amerikkaan   •   (Norsk) På blir brakt fra Afrika til Amerika   •   (Türkçe) Afrika'dan Amerika'ya Getirilen Üzerine   •   (Polski) O pochodzeniu z Afryki do Ameryki   •   (Româna) Fiind adus din Africa în America   •   (Ceština) Na přinesen z Afriky do Ameriky   •   (Slovenský) Na to, aby sme boli priniesli z Afriky do Ameriky   •   (Magyar) A forgalomba hozott Afrikából Amerikába   •   (Hrvatski) Biti odveden iz Afrike u Ameriku   •   (български) Когато се изнася от Африка в Америка   •   (Lietuvos) Apie įnešant iš Afrikos į Ameriką   •   (Slovenščina) Na privedeni iz Afrike v Ameriko   •   (Latvijas) Uz Tiek Ievesta no Āfrikas uz Ameriku   •   (eesti) Viimisel Aafrikast Ameerikas