Undefeated Heavyweight, 20 Years Old

by Joyce Carol Oates

Photo by Dustin Cohen

Writing Workshop

Workshop Title: Tyson

Step 1

Watch the highlight reel of heavyweight boxer, Mike Tyson. When the clip is done, ask your students to simply describe him. What was he like? How did he fight? What was his aura and/or appeal?

Step 2

Read “Undefeated Heavyweight, 20 Years Old” by Joyce Carol Oates, a poem written about a then up-and-coming boxer, Mike Tyson. When you’re done, briefly discuss the speaker’s attitude or feelings toward the young boxer. What part(s) of the poem convey those feelings?

Step 3

Say “Take a few minutes to think about the way you would describe Mike Tyson. What attributes would you focus on? Why? And how do you think you would go about describing those attributes? Take a few minutes to brainstorm.”

Step 4

Ask your students to compose a poem similar in sentiment to “Undefeated Heavyweight, 20 Years Old” by Joyce Carol Oates in which they write about the style, physicality, aura, etc. of Mike Tyson.

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: Various

Step 1

This lesson allows students to analyze various concepts and skills, so it is recommended that you have covered several of the “standalone” lessons before assigning this one.

Step 2

Show your students the following highlight reel to give your students a bit of history behind the boxer, Mike Tyson.

Step 3

Read “Undefeated Heavyweight, Twenty Years Old” by Joyce Carol Oates. As you’re reading, ask your students to pay attention to how the two pieces – the highlight reel and the poem – reflect or reiterate one another. Then briefly discuss.

Step 4

Ask your students to open the following document and go over the instructions with them. In this lesson, your students will try to establish a singular “line of reasoning” to support their analysis of the poet’s depiction of Mike Tyson by focusing on individual words that contribute to the meaning of the work as a whole. Then give your students time to work.

Step 5

When your students are done, have them share their work with the rest of the class.

Step 6

If time permits, share the exemplar essay.

Lesson Details

Lesson Info


  • Various


  • Appreciation
  • History
  • Labor / Work
  • Violence

Literary Tags

  • Diction
  • Figurative Language
  • Imagery
  • Selection of Detail
  • Sound Devices
  • Structure (Syntax)
  • Tone