When the Rain Sings

Do you teach writing?
Thank you for your interest in the National Museum of the American Indian as a resource for young writers. Several years ago, the museum worked with the Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers to invite Native elementary and high school students from around the country to write in response to historic photographs or pictures of objects from the museum’s collections. Some of their best work—35 poems, by young people ranging in age from nine to seventeen—is published in the anthology When the Rain Sings: Poems by Young Native Americans.

The young poets featured in When the Rain Sings were inspired by the photographs and images of objects they saw. Their poems evoke the emotions, memories, dreams, and wishes that came to their own minds after looking at and thinking about objects that were made by their predecessors and photos of people who came from the same places they do. These were more than just pictures of things they found interesting—the images spoke to them, encouraging them to speak and write.

There are a variety of ways to engage your students with this book. The suggestions below are to be used in conjunction with your school’s language arts curriculum.

  • Ask your students to find common themes running through the poems in the book. Discuss the ways those themes might be relevant to their own lives. Do they have the same kinds of concerns or thoughts as the young Native American poets? After discussion, have the students write their own poems in response to some of the themes they talked about in class.
  • Have students choose objects or photographs with personal meaning to them and write a story or poem inspired by what they choose. Students can bring their object or photo to class to share when they read their work aloud. As an extension, have students create a classroom exhibition with these objects and photos with their stories or poems as the accompanying text.
  • Visit the National Museum of the American Indian’s collections search website. Search for objects that come from tribes that you cover in your classroom curriculum. Select objects for the students or let them choose the objects and ask them to write a poem or story inspired by their chosen object. Have students think about the various aspects of those tribes that they’ve learned about in class to inform their writing.
  • With any of the above suggestions, students could make their own anthology of poems. Have students organize their poems by theme or topic and include images of objects or photographs that can be placed in the book with their poems. Have them think of an appropriate title for their anthology—this might come from one of the poems in the book. Make a copy of the anthology for each student.