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Living Nations, Living Words: A Guide for Educators

This guide offers teachers and other educators ideas for using U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo's signature project, "Living Nations, Living Words," in the classroom.


Welcome to the educator guide for “Living Nations, Living Words," the signature project of 23rd U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo—the first Native American poet to serve in this position. Harjo’s “Living Nations, Living Words” project gathers and highlights the diverse voices of 47 contemporary Native American poets.

The educator guide presented here is designed to offer you, as teachers, support as you prepare to use “Living Nations, Living Words” with students in grades 7 and above. In the following video, Joy Harjo shares a special message for educators.

The “Living Nations, Living Words” project features two components: a dynamic ArcGIS story map and an online poetry collection. The story map, which includes an introduction and orientation narrative from Joy Harjo, is an interactive online presentation that reflects the poets’ geographical diversity from coast to coast. The online poetry collection presents the poets’ selected works, inviting audiences to read the poems, listen to them as recordings, and hear about them directly from their writers. While the Poet Laureate selected the poets, they decided where to place themselves on the story map, as well as which poems to share and discuss in the collection.

This educator guide has taken shape with thoughtful and generous feedback from our advisory committee of teachers recommended by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) External, the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) External, and the National Indian Education Association (NIEA) External, other educators, and our colleagues.

This guide aims to support teachers across grade levels and subjects—including language arts and social studies, as well as history, geography, law, science, the arts, and more. The guide includes:

  • Selected themes and touchpoints that Joy Harjo identified when developing the project
  • Interdisciplinary activities and points of entry to help you and your students approach the "Living Nations, Living Words" project; and
  • Selected resources to support broader learning

As the Poet Laureate writes in her introduction to the project, “We understand poetry to be a living language—whether it is in our tribal languages, or in English, or another language … [P]oetry is a tool to uncover the miraculous in the ordinary.” This project represents a celebration of the dynamic, impactful, and meaningful medium of Native poetry.

We hope this educator guide is a helpful tool for exploring the “Living Nations, Living Words” project. We also hope that your students are inspired to contemplate the perspectives and experiences shared in the project, reflect on their own experiences, learn more, make connections, and be creative. Moreover, we hope they nurture an appreciation of the significance, lasting presence, and potential of poetry.