They Never Had It Made

I came up with this lesson in anticipation of poet Nikky Finney’s visit to the CAPE school. I felt like the themes would be resonant to students there and also wanted to have them try out using her work as a prompt and jumping off point. 

Introduce Lesson (5 mins)

Talk about the phrase “He Never Had It Made.” Brainstorm on board. What does that imply? What do we think the poet will be trying to discuss in the poem based on that title?

Introduce Literary Tools: Discuss Repetition & Sensory Description (5 mins)

Talk about the way repetition helps to reinforce and expand. Talk about the ways in which sensory description allows the reader to more clearly see and be invited into the world of the poem.

Engage with the Text (15 mins)

Watch video of Nikky Finney reading the poem in its original context, when her father was being inducted as the first African-American Supreme Court Justice in South Carolina. Talk about the poem and context. Discuss the use of repetition.

Read the poem again. Stop at certain stanzas to point out the use of sensory detail. Ask and discuss why sensory description is helpful in these moments.

Talk about the poem, its message and meaning.

Individual Writing (20 mins)

Prompt: Think of a person in your life who “never had it made” but who managed somehow to overcome some of the obstacles presented to him, her, them. This person can also be yourself.

Begin your poem with “He/She/They/I never had it made.” Then use specific details to explain how that relates to this particular person’s experience. Use sensory detail to help the reader understand the person’s experience.

Sharing (5 mins)

Time for students who wish to share their writing to share with class.  



Using repetition, description, and narrative arc to create meaning in poetry

Education Level: 

Junior High
High School



Time Frame: 

50 minutes

Literary model: 

"He Never Had It Made" by Nikki Finney

Lesson Plan: