On Being Brought from Africa to America

by Phillis Wheatley

Writing Workshop

Workshop Title: Subversion

Step 1

Start by reading “On Being Brought from Africa to America” by Phillis Wheatley. Then have them discuss her point and why she felt that way.

Step 2

After their discussion, if your students haven’t already picked up on the possible second meaning, tell them that Wheatley, according to some scholars, wrote this poem to condemn the supposed benevolence of her “saviors,” not to thank or praise them.

Step 3

Then have your students go through the poem and discuss the parts of the poem where she may be mocking the people who took her from Africa.
Give your students some time to think of different instances of when people believe that they are doing something charitable, but are actually causing harm.

Step 4

Have your students write a poem, like Wheatley’s, that seems praiseworthy at first glance, but actually works to condemn the people who think they’re working in benevolent ways.

Step 5

When the students are done, have them share their responses with one another.

The full presentation may be found HERE.

Analytical Lesson

Area of Focus: Tone

Step 1

If your students are not familiar with the concept of tone or tonal shifts, go through the introductory lesson.

Step 2

Read “On Being Brought from Africa to America” by Phillis Wheatley aloud.

Step 3

Show them the following interpretation/analysis of the poem. Then ask your students if they disagree with the interpretation. Briefly discuss if anybody offers a response.

Step 4

Open the following document. Then go over the introduction, instructions, and sample with them. In this lesson, your students will have the opportunity to examine the poem from a “different” perspective, one that looks at the poem’s subversive tone and intent.

Step 5

When your students are done, have them share their responses. Then share the exemplar essay, if time permits.

Lesson Details

Lesson Info


  • Tone


  • Appreciation
  • Class
  • Community / Culture
  • Family
  • History
  • Home / Homelessness
  • Immigration
  • International
  • Race / Ethnicity / Racism

Literary Tags

  • Diction
  • Figurative Language
  • Imagery
  • Structure
  • Tone