Teach This Poem: "The Waking" by Theodore Roethke
Produced for K-12 educators, Teach This Poem features one poem a week from our online poetry collection, accompanied by interdisciplinary resources and activities designed to help teachers quickly and easily bring poetry into the classroom. The series is written by our Educator in Residence, Dr. Madeleine Fuchs Holzer, and is available for free via email.
Watch an excerpt from a 2008 performance of Alvin Ailey's Revelations, a suite of dances using African-American traditional spirituals.
- Warm up: Place your students in small groups. Ask them to brainstorm with one another about what it means to “hear [your] being dance from ear to ear.” Ask one person from each group to report back to the whole class.
- Project the video excerpt from Revelations so all your students can see it. Show the video twice. The first time ask them to watch the excerpt all the way through. The second time, ask them to write down what they notice about the way the dancers move. Do they move quickly, slowly, up, down? Do they move their feet, arms, hands, whole bodies? Are their movements choppy, fluid, or both?
- Whole-class discussion: After watching the video, do your students think the Ailey dancers “hear [their] being[s] dance from ear to ear?” What evidence do they have from the video for their opinions?
- Project “The Waking” so all your students can see it. Ask them to read it silently and write down the words, phrases, and structural aspects of the poem that jump out at them. Ask a student to read the poem aloud to the class, while the listening students write down new words, phrases, and structural aspects they might think are important. Repeat this process with a second student reading aloud.
- Place your students back in their small groups and ask them to share what they noticed in the poem. What do they think Roethke is saying about a “being dancing from ear to ear?” Is it similar to, or different from, the Ailey dancers? About what do your students think Roethke is learning? How do they think he learns? What did they notice about the poem’s structure?
- Whole-class discussion: Based on their small-group discussions, what do your students think Roethke is saying about how to live? Based on what they have noticed about the poem’s structure, introduce the concept of a villanelle.