Institute-Based Curriculum at Work in USD 507

Sheila Lisman
Hutchinson High School
1401 N. Severance
Hutchinson, Kansas 67501

At Hutchinson High School, I teach a required English class for juniors, American Literature and Composition. Our English department has been rewriting curriculum for several years, and it is pretty much set for the time being; however, I could work in additional material from last year’s NEH People, Prairies, and Plains Institute. That is precisely what I did.

Utilizing material from a previous NEH institute (1994, Aberdeen, SD) on Native American Culture and Literature, as well as material from last summer’s institute, I started this year with a unit on pre-Colonial Literature. At that time I introduced students to the field of Environmental History using my lecture notes and material from Donald Worster (“Ecological History” pp. 2-9, Merchant ed.), a somewhat famous Hutchinson High grad. We examined the importance of place to the native Americans. I used photos I had taken from our 1994 trip to places such as Bear Butte, Eagle Butte, Pine Ridge, Rosebud, and the Custer Battlefield, among others. Also I defined Llano Estacado and showed photos from Dan Flores’ books.

We examined changes in Native American life styles as the environment changed over time. We read excerpts in our text from N. Scott Momaday’s The Way to Rainy Mountain. As a basis for several lectures, I used material from Cronon’s book, Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and Ecology of New England (1983). We saw the videos More Than Bows and Arrows (1992) and Sacred Ground (1991).

During the unit transcendentalism, I drew heavily on institute ideas and readings. Worster’s Nature’s Economy has two chapters devoted to Thoreau and the transcendentalists. Rediscovering America: John Muir in His Time and Ours by Frederic Turner tells of John Muir’s encounter with Emerson when Emerson and some companions visited the Yosemite area. At that point, I assigned students to report on other Americans who were in the tradition of Thoreau: John Wesley Powell, John Burroughs, Aldo Leopold, and Rachel Carson. With the exception of Rachel Carson, students were generally unfamiliar with these individuals and their contributions. During this unit, I also used chapters from Lyon’s This Incomperable Lande.

Since I tie in the modern-day environmental movement, I found several interesting sources. One good one was Coyote and Town Dogs: Earth First! and the Environmental Movement by Zakin. Two National Geographic articles were useful: April 1994, “John Wesley Powell,” and April 1973, “Muir’s Wild America.” I also used material from Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire (1968) and Down the River (1982). (Students were especially fascinated when we discussed environmental pollution and Melosi’s history of garbage in America!)

During their junior year, our students are required to write research papers. I guided several toward topics related to environmental history. The best paper was on the Dust Bowl.

Toward the end of the school year, my student teacher taught the poetry unit I wrote last summer. It worked well.

All school year I continued to read books related to last summer’s study. Recently I completed Heart of the Land: Essays of the Last Great Places, edited by Barbato and Weinerman, published by the Nature Conservancy.

One of my favorite books, Kathleen Norris; Dakota: A Spirit Geography, clearly relates to environmental history. On April 23, I went to Wichita to hear her speak. My institute colleague, Barb Hipp, was also in the audience. If you get a similar opportunity, don’t miss it.

As a result of my participation in last summer’s seminar I have been able to extend my knowledge in the field and introduce my students to new concepts related to Environmental History. The positive reception my students gave the material and my own growing interest and enthusiasm have encouraged me to include even more next year.

For one thing, I plan to have students do research which will result in scripts for either a one-man (or woman) show or a Meeting of the Minds panel presentation. Next year I will have the opportunity to do some interdisciplinary team teaching. I’ve already convinced my colleague regarding the necessity of including some Environmental History.

I am currently working on background material for a unit on the Hudson River School of artists as well as a more detailed study of John Muir’s life and times.

In short, the things I learned last summer have been incorporated into my teaching--and, I believe, into my life.

Familiar Ground: An Introduction to the Poetry of Steven Hind

Sheila Lisman

Overview: This lesson will serve as an introduction to the poetry of Hutchinson poet Steven Hind. I have chosen some of his poems that relate directly to the prairie. He teaches at Hutchinson Community College so is available to come read for the students.

Connection to the Curriculum: This could be used in any grade level high school English class.

Time Required: Two days in class, one to do the lesson and one to hear the poet read his own work.

Materials and Equipment: Poetry selections hand-out sheet from two books by Steven Hind: Familiar Ground (Lawrence: Cottonwood Press, 1980); That Trick of Silence (Topeka: Washburn University Center for Kansas Studies, 1990), and a short biography of Hind.


  1. The student will participate in a discussion of these poems.
  2. The student will be able to answer these questions: What is the poem’s tone? What aspects of life on the prairie does each poem emphasize? What is your favorite poem, and why did you choose it?
  3. The student will prepare one or two questions he would like to ask the poet in person.


  1. The teacher will read the poems while the students follow along.
  2. Each student will be given time to answer the questions relating to the poem.
  3. Students will be divided into groups where they will discuss their choice of a favorite poem.
  4. Teachers will collect the questions for the poet.
  5. The second day the poet will come to read his poetry and answer students’ questions.

Body of Presentation: The teacher should prepare well so he/she can give a good reading. As the students work in groups, the teacher must circulate to hear student responses and ask questions when asked.

Assessment: Students will hand in their questions for the poet as well as their written responses to the questions.

Extending the Lesson: Sometimes teachers talk poetry to death. This introduction is meant to be one where students themselves will be discussing the poems with little teacher involvement. Steven Hind teaches at Hutchinson Community College so can be called upon to do a reading of his poems. Much of his work is related to the prairie, so it fits in with environmental history. Many communities have a local poet whose work might apply and who would come to read. The same procedure could be followed. This lesson could be used without a reading by the poet by having the students choose his poems to read aloud.

Steven Hind

Steven Hind is a fourth generation Kansan who grew up in the Flint Hills and was educated at Emporia State University and the University of Kansas, where he received his M.A. in English in 1970. He currently teaches English at Hutchinson Community College in Hutchinson, Kansas.

His poems have been published in various periodicals, including Kansas Quarterly, River City, Cottonwood Review, Ark River Review, and Kansas English.

He has edited Young Kansas Writers, the Kansas Association of Teachers of English publication for middle school and high school students.

His honors as a poet include a scholarship to the University of Colorado’s Writers’ Conference, award-winner in the Kansas Quarterly poetry contest, and inclusion in Denise Low’s anthology, 30 Kansas Poets.

Steven lives in Hutchinson with his wife, Annabeth Hind, and has two children, Emily and Jordan, Hutchinson High graduates.


I. Coronado

In the King’s armor he troops
over the green fur of the prairie
to the trough of the Arkansas.
A red-tailed hawk cries
over the eye of a dustdevil
and buzzards wheel above skulls
in the yellow evening.
Still he clings to the gold
thighs of his dreams.
Quail’s call sweetens the wind
as the horses drink.
The noisy array strikes
back for a knoll to the south.
Teeth of bluestem grease
taut bellies as the sun fades
to a dark hide full of stars.

II. Wheel

High wheels break the morning
grass on the prairie.
Necks polish yokes
and the whip stings the air.
The hawk cries
into the day and the rabbit
hunches in flowers.
No thing knows what will happen next.

III. Drilling

Grain furls close to the hub
of the rig, grinding its steep trail
through the rock. Pickups gleam
in the sun and the roustabout
hammers on steel.
Dustdevils rattle the grain
and a buzzard’s eye
holds a small steeple,
clear and bright as a shrine.


He was another old man
in Lee overalls, high-topped
Monkeyward shoes, and Penny’s
workhats, bought on sale
two for one. He wore the first
to dirt, then tossed it
on his kitchen table, took up
the next until another sale.
That rubble of hats
began to crowd his plate
perhaps, and he stacked them,
one inside the next like spoons:
a tower of hats by his dingy window.
He died at the forge one still day
in August. Two weeks later
we brushed his hats aside
and carried the table to a household
row, where the auctioneer disposed
of it all in an afternoon.


Surrounded by a new range
of hard snow
in Colby at the Western
Auto lunch counter
holding a hot cup
of coffee, I believe
the old man with a few teeth
who came here in ‘28 and
laughs and says, Nothing
a man ever tries to do
is encouraging.


Evening and we lift
a little from the day.
The trees lean into
our ears, full of the mean
sound of wind. The heart
of the sky shines
like a weasel’s eye
at the edge of the world.
The earth has dried
and opened like the cracked
lips of a dying man.
The long days lay hate
over our summer.
The creek has not spoken
for weeks. We drink
from the last green pool.
We loosen the empty ground
a little with our stones--
all we can do for our plants.
Our children will cry
in the cold for this corn.
We talk at the fire
in the dark. No one
can recall such a time.
We do not speak again.


Foundations in grass
a tracing of bricks squared up
Such empty houses

Lone stumbling uphill
posts ajar on brittle wire
Fences giving out

Owl, slips from his limb
skims the brown windy grass
So full of absence

Having no choices
old cellars hold a darkness
Keeping what’s given


The white pillars
dump trucks full
a load at a time
into sky gray trailers

To the side nearby
a tractor
with one flat tire
sits on the first
of a jack
Old friends laugh by the scale.

Camp Out

On the new grass engendered
By spring burning, we make
Camp in these Flint Hills,
Make fire and circle the flames,
Talk away the urgencies that
Have come uninvited into our
Lives. At last fire and stars
Engender happiness, a condition
Of needing nothing that is not
Here, the quiet filling our
Circle at last. The world
Comes to our fire as a god,
And we exist in this generosity,
In this green spring grass.

Going On

By my campfire under a sky
Spread with what I’ve been
Taught to call Milky Way,
I huddle in my old coat and
Consider: Earth could go on
Another four-and-a-half
Billion years or so, I’ve been
Told, without me and my kind.
In the darkness I consider
Extinction to the singing
Of owl and coyote and whippoorwill,
At home in the dark, none of them
Needing these names I’ve been given
For them. Thus I poke at my fire
Under suns, listening to night singers


Return of the Pale Prairie Poet

A bloodless breed,
Knifed by the wind,
Scalped red by a
merciless sun,
A prairie poet
Whispers, amazed he
Can speak at all,
His lips cracked
to the bone,
His teeth rattling
pale words like
Dice in his mouth,
Haunted by chance
In a land of grass
and stone
That laughs at poets,
Curses the man of words
With its emptiness
beyond art,
Ghosting from day
to day
In the wind-fretted air.

Prairie Spring

Redbird’s red voice
Sings his claim.
Croakers warm the light
with a wet song.
Grass reaches up from
The mold, and hawks
Circle and call for
Mates. Larks fluff
Their delicious yellows
As the whole land
Speaks with one voice.

Uncle Bill Explains How
To Live in Kansas

Great-grandfather was cultivating corn
one July morning and
Up from the crop in front of the mules
jumped the deer.
Now Grandpa’s smokehouse was just empty
and he thought
That deer will git us through to hog
So he wrapped the lines around the handle,
jumped off the seat
And ran after that buck. He chased him
through the corn,
down into the creek,
up the far bank, and
into the brush.
The deer ran like the wind over the hills
through the bluestem,
But Grandpa ran right behind him, being
a mighty determined man
like he was. He kept pace
up the hills and down.
Around and around the valley went the deer
with Grandpa right behind, until
He caught that buck.
Ran him down in a snowdrift.

Directions to a New Friend
on Using the Prairie

I’ll draw a map below
So you can find the pasture.
If you want to go down some
Time in summer and walk in
That magic silence, this
May help. Leave your car
By the gate. If the renter
Happens by, tell him I said
It is all right. Just skirt
His cattle, or if they insist,
Sit down on a rock or by
The pond a while. They get
Bored if you don’t do
Anything interesting (shout
At them or run away, etc.)

And you may sing. Singing
Is all right. If it gets
Too warm, take off some
Clothes, but hang them high
In a hedge tree, and watch out
For cactus along the rims
Of the hills. A bird flying
Up close and low means a
hidden nest. Buzzing means
Hopper, or rattler at worst,
Although there’s nothing much
To fear there. Enjoy yourself.
Don’t forget where you left
Your skirt, Blow the cows
A kiss when you leave. Shut
The gate.

That Trick of Silence

This slab of land, never
So much anything in the public
Mind as a place to get behind you
From Kansas City to Denver,
Was just out there, out where
So little stood upright past
The hundredth meridian
That every tree was remarkable,
Every stream a new chance
You could not have predicted.
You could drink and wash
Your face and look around
Where the vast nothing held open
Its face to teach you that
Trick of silence.

A Hundred Plus in the Shade

at the twang
of the new barbed wire
I plunge
through the horseweeds
down to the river
To strip and step
into the water’s
Cold teeth

Kansas: Boring!

I had driven that road
In dust and in mud a hundred
Times in a thousand days, I
Suppose, hauling chores
On the stretched gravel
Between bluestem pastures.
Nothing much to see, right?
Only the usual meadowlarks
Flirting with the windshield,
Except on that hundred and
First trip on a steamy
Morning in May after a night’s
Rain running the gulley past
The old Hunt Place where I came
Upon the craggy hulk clanking
Across the road, snapper as big
As a scoop shovel, his beak
A machine for cutting off fingers,
His yellow eye so old it said
Nothing, a carapace of mossy
Sawbone, leather legs wearing
Bearclaws, making tracks for
Breeding grounds, I guessed,
Restless with the new beginning
Of grass from pond to pond.
I thought of Granddad’s saying,
“Eighty percent of this prairie
is below the surface.” In spades
I thought: anything can take its
Time and crawl up out of this old
Place. So now, when I’ve had too
Much of t.v. and taxes, I go out
Over this land I live with, on some
Pretense of errand. I pray for rain.

Estate Sale

Beside their pickups
The men complain about
Weather and wheat as
The sun edges up on
Eleven, and the women
Varnish the air with
Their light laughter.
The auctioneer hangs
His cane on the hay
Wagon bolster, clicks on
His portable microphone,
And clears his throat.

In their nodding they
Re-assign value, things
Re-ordered in the bidding
And the taking, benediction,
A thank you to each buyer.

As the tractor passes
The empty house, the grounds
Grow quiet in the late
Yellow light of another sunset.

Carl Sandburg’s City and Yours

Sheila Lisman Overview: This lesson will help students think about their own town or city, its strengths and weaknesses and write a poem about it imitating the style of Carl Sandburg.

Connection to the Curriculum: This lesson could be taught in any high school English class grades 10-12. In most high schools, Sandburg’s poetry is part of American Literature taught in 11th grade.

Time Required: One period in class and time outside class to finish poems.

Materials and Equipment: Copy of Sandburg’s poem “Chicago” and the analysis sheet.


  1. The student will read Sandburg’s poem “Chicago” and answer the analysis questions.
  2. The student will imitate the style of Sandburg and write a poem about his/her own town or city.


  1. Read: Chicago” aloud.
  2. In a group, answer the Questions for Analysis.
  3. Imitating the style of Sandburg, the student will write a poem about his/her town or city.
  4. The poems may be taken home and finished.

Body of Presentation: Students can have fun with this. Their poems might be serious or a parody of Sandburg’s poem.

Assessment: Since I do not like to give letter grades for poems, I just give credit for completing one.

Extending the Lesson: This makes good material for a bulletin board. Get photos, postcards, pictures from magazines etc. of your town or city and arrange the poems and pictures on the bulletin board under the name of your town/city. Students who are less sure of their ability to write poetry could write a group poem, giving suggestions while the teacher writes the best version on the board. Get brochures from the local Chamber of Commerce to see what aspects and sights of your town or city are featured. Students could prepare a photo, slide or video to go with their poem.


Directions: In a group of two or three, discuss these questions and write down your answers.

  1. Sandburg opens his poem with a list of epithets, or descriptive phrases, about Chicago. What does each of these reveal about the city and the activities that go on there?
  2. What do people tell the speaker about Chicago? How does he answer them?
  3. What are the city’s main strengths and weaknesses?



Now that you have read and studied “Chicago,” write a poem about your own town. Imitate the free verse style of Sandburg. It will be helpful to look at the questions above and think of how they apply to your town. Your title should be the name of your town.


Hog Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders:

They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I
have seen your painted women under the gas lamps
luring the farm boys.
And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: Yes, it is
true I have seen the gunman kill and go free to kill
And they tell me you are brutal and my reply is: On the
faces of women and children I have seen the marks
of wanton hunger.
And having answered so I turn once more to those who
sneer at this my city, and I give them back the sneer
and say to them:
Come and show me another city with lifted head singing
so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and
Flinging magnetic curses amid the toil of piling job on job,
here is a tall bold slugger set vivid against the little
soft cities;
Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action, cunning as
a savage pitted against the wilderness,
Building, breaking, rebuilding.
Under the smoke, dust all over his mouth, laughing with
white teeth,
Under the terrible burden of destiny laughing as a young
man laughs,
Laughing even as an ignorant fighter laughs who has never
lost a battle,
Bragging and laughing that under his wrist is the pulse,
and under his ribs the heart of the people,
Laughing the stormy, husky, brawling laughter of Youth,
half-naked, sweating, proud to be Hog Butcher,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with Rail-
roads and Freight Handler to the Nation.

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