Language Arts

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A Handbook of Classroom Practices

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By: Anthony Loffredio
(RIC Secondary Education Practicum Student assisted by Prof. David Cappella)

Poem || Discussion Questions

The overall objective of this lesson, in terms of infusing equity by gender in the classroom, is to break down stereotypes about what is feared in life by gender. The objective is that students clearly understand that there are fears common to both genders, and that one gender is not "stronger" than the other because both have fears and deal with them, albeit differently.

STANDARD: All students will be able to list strategies to overcome gender bias,! stereotyping, and discrimination.

GRADE LEVEL: Seventh and Eighth Grade, English

OBJECTIVE(S): Students will be able to list strategies to overcome gender bias and stereotyping by:

  1. Recognizing the fear that gender bias can induce.
  2. Identifying specific fears that challenge an individual in terms of discrimination and stereotyping.
  3. Recognizing their own biases and their own fears and how they might overcome their own fears of gender bias.
  4. Listing ways in which the tone of Maya Angelou’s poem reveals the fear of the speaker in the poem.

TIME: Forty-five minutes



  1. Begin by asking students to write down some of their own beliefs about what boys and girls are generally afraid of. List five or ten fears, if possible.
  2. Have class silently read Angelou’s poem.
  3. Read the poem aloud to them.
  4. Use the "Questions for discussion" that follow the poem to:
    1. Review comprehension and discuss concepts in the poem.
    2. Explore gender bias and stereotypes about what males and females fear in life.
    3. Have students compare Maya Angelou’s fears to their own (what they listed in step 1, above).
  1. Discuss the question: Are any of these fears gender specific?
  2. Discuss: What do your assumptions mean to you? Does the poem convince you that certain biased, gender-based fears are not what you think they may be?

HINTS: See attached materials for types of questions that explore gender bias and stereotyping in terms of fears.

ASSESSMENTS: Students will demonstrate their understandings of the concepts and assumptions about fears in the following ways:

  1. Listing 5-10 fears that they may have.
  2. Being able to compare or contrast their listed fears to those in the poem.
  3. Being able to determine whether any of these fears are gender specific.
  4. Being able to participate in a discussion about:
    1. the impacts of assumptions about fears being gender specific.
    2. Are there any things in the poem that indicate how girls fear boys? Or, how boys fear girls?
    3. How do boys and girls, respectively, compensate for their fears of each other?
    4. How do these fears impact relationships between the sexes?
    5. How do we cope with our own fears in positive ways?

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By: Maya Angelou

Shadows on the wall
Noises down the hail
Life doesn’t frighten me at all
Bad dogs barking loud
Big ghosts in a cloud
Life doesn’t frighten me at all.

Mean old Mother Goose
Lions on the loose
They don’t frighten me at all
Dragons breathing flame
On my counterpane
That doesn’t frighten me at all.

I go boo
Make them shoo
I make fun
Way they run
I won’t cry
So they fly
I just smile
They go wild
Life doesn’t frighten me at all.

Tough guys in a fight
All alone at night
Life doesn’t frighten me at all.
Panthers in the park
Strangers in the dark
No, they don’t frighten me at all.

That new classroom where
Boys pull all my hair
(Kissy little girls
With their hair in curls)
They don’t frighten me at all.

Don’t show me frogs and snakes
And listen for my scream,
If I’m afraid at all
It’s only in my dreams.

I’ve got a magic charm
That I keep up my sleeve,
I can walk the ocean floor
And never have to breathe.

Life doesn’t frighten me at all
Not at all
Not at all
Life doesn’t frighten me at all.

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  1. What kind of stance does the speaker take against her fears in life?
  2. How does she deal with them?
  3. Do you see her conquering her fears or denying that she is actually afraid of them?
  4. If she is in fact not afraid, why do you think this is so?
  5. Should she be afraid of the things listed in the poem?
  6. Why does she strongly refuse to be afraid of these things in life?
  7. What would it make her if she actually was afraid of any of these things.  Would she be fitting a stereotype or a gender biased opinion?
  8. Do you find it interesting or even surprising that these things do not frighten the speaker? Why or Why not?
  9. What is the speaker saying about boys and girls her age in the fifth stanza? - Should they frighten her? Do you think she fits in with them?
  10. Besides her saying so repeatedly, what else can you point out as evidence of her fearlessness in the poem?
  11. Would anything in this poem frighten you? Be honest.
  12. Did Angelou’s apparent fearlessness towards the things in the poem contradict what you think females are generally frightened of? Look at what you wrote down. Can you say exactly why she refuses to fear these things? Why must she let us know?

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This page was last updated on October 06, 2005.