“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”
Emma Lazarus’s inspiring poem is engraved on a plaque at the Statue of Liberty. Many people only know the famous ending, but reading the whole sonnet gives a much deeper meaning.
“The New Colossus” makes a wonderful memorization challenge. Your students can handle it—my third graders sure did!
The title refers to the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The Colossus of Rhodes was a huge statue of the titan Helios, constructed to celebrate Rhodes’ victory over Cyprus.
America’s Statue of Liberty is “The New Colossus,” symbolizing welcome, freedom and hope.
I hope you and your students will enjoy my teaching notes and vocabulary handout. It gives background information and lays the poem and relevant vocabulary words side-by-side. Having all this information on one sheet will help your students understand and memorize the poem.
- Give a deadline: Students will work harder if they have a deadline. Memorize the poem alongside your students. Offer a reasonable deadline—I chose two weeks—but you can tell students that if they don’t have it learned by then, they’ll get an extension.
- Offer a reward. My class’s reward was an ice cream sundae. I expected about five students to take them time to memorize, but 35 students qualified! (Tip: when you’re making that many sundaes, save yourself the trouble of scooping and buy the little ice cream cups.)
- Study and analyze the poem: Students learn and memorize more effectively if they understand the material. Work as a class to find examples of metaphor and symbolism.
- Memorize in sections. Begin with the most famous lines, “Give me your tired…” Then, go back to the beginning and memorize in sections. Practice each section over and over. Don’t move on until you know that section cold.
- Don’t worry about the lines. Sometimes one thought continues onto another line. Focus on meaning, not form.
- Memorize with your students. When you undertake to memorize this yourself, you’ll come across tips and tricks to help your students.
- Finally, appreciate the poem’s beauty.
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”