Teach This Poem

Inspired by the success of our popular syndicated series Poem-a-Day, we're pleased to present Teach This Poem, winner of the 2018 Innovations in Reading Prize given by the National Book Foundation. 

Produced for K-12 educators, Teach This Poem features one poem a week, accompanied by interdisciplinary resources and activities designed to help teachers quickly and easily bring poetry into the classroom. The series is curated by our Educator in Residence, Dr. Madeleine Fuchs Holzer, and is available for free via email.

Read a short essay that more fully describes the framework upon which Teach This Poem is based.

Migrant Mother by Dorothea Lange

Migrant Mother

“Destitute pea pickers in California. Mother of seven children. Age thirty-two. Nipomo, California.” Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.

Classroom Activities

The following activities and questions are designed to help your students use their noticing skills to move through the poem and develop their thinking about its meaning with confidence, using what they’ve noticed as evidence for their interpretations. Read more about the framework upon which these activities are based.
 

  1. Warm-up (pair share): Take turns making a gesture with your upper body that shows a strong feeling. (Remember that it must be appropriate for school.) What emotion does your partner’s gesture suggest to you and why?
  2. Before Reading the Poem (individual writing): What details do you notice in the photograph by Dorothea Lange? How are the people in the photograph positioned? What can you learn from the positions of their bodies and the expression on the woman’s face?
  3. Small-group Discussion: Share what you’ve noticed and learned with the members of your group. Compile a list of what you noticed to share later.
  4. Reading the Poem: Read the poem silently. Write down the words, phrases, and structures that jump out at you.
  5. Listening to the Poem (enlist two volunteers to read the poem aloud): Listen as the poem is read aloud twice. Write down any additional words and phrases that jump out at you.
  6. Small-group Discussion: What words, phrases, and structures did you notice in the poem? How does the poem relate to the warm-up activity and to the photograph? What do you notice about the poem’s structure?
  7. Whole-class Discussion: What do you think the poem is saying about the importance of body language? In what context is the poem’s speaker noticing someone’s body language? Why, or why not, do you think this is important?
  8. Extension for Grades 7-10 (small group activity): Create tableaux staging either a genuine or a pretend apology. (Keep the type of apology you’re working on a secret from the other groups.) Take turns presenting your tableaux to the whole class. As each group presents, share the details you noticed and what type of apology you thought the group was portraying.
  9. Extension for Grades 11-12: Read the joint resolution to “offer an apology to all Native Peoples,” which was introduced in the United States Senate on April 30, 2009. What word do you notice repeated throughout the apology? (Review its definition if you’re not familiar with the different uses of this word.) How does this apology inform your reading of Layli Long Soldier’s poem (which is the beginning of a longer series)?

Read more poems about social justice.

More Context for Teachers: This poem is from Layli Long Soldier’s book WHEREAS (Graywolf Press, 2017). Read a sample of other poems from the book, along with a brief reviewby the poet Jennifer Michael Hecht, who writes, “[Long Soldier’s] vision is intense and incisive. Many of these poems report on rage and the toll of having to carry it around.” Read more.

Edith Piaf Sings "Autumn Leaves"

Listen to this audio recording of “Autumn Leaves,” sung by Edith Piaf. (The English version of the song ends at 1:25, followed by the song in French.)

Classroom Activities

The following activities and questions are designed to help your students use their noticing skills to move through the poem and develop their thinking about its meaning with confidence, using what they’ve noticed as evidence for their interpretations. Read more about the framework upon which these activities are based.

  1. Warm-Up (whip around): Share one or two associations you have with autumn.
  2. Before Reading the Poem: Listen carefully to the audio recording of Edith Piaf singing “Autumn Leaves.” (If you do not know who Edith Piaf was, do some quick research so you have some context for what you hear.) Listen a second time. Write down what you hear about how she sings the poem, as well as the words you notice.
  3. Vocabulary Review (pair share): Look up (or figure out) the definitions of the following words and phrases, if you do not already know them: negative spaceimpatienscongruencerefuse.
  4. Reading the Poem: Read the poem silently. Write down the words, phrases, and structures that jump out at you.
  5. Listening to the Poem (enlist two volunteers to read the poem aloud): Write down anything new that you hear when the poem is read aloud.
  6. Small-group Discussion: What are the words and phrases in the poem that jumped out at you? What is the structure of the poem? (Consider introducing the definition of couplet; see Glossary.)
  7. Whole-class Discussion: What are the details that the speaker in the poem uses to describe this season? Is the poem simply about blowing leaves, or is it also about something else? How is the poem similar to the song about autumn leaves? How is it different? Give evidence to support your interpretations. 
  8. Extension for Grades 7-10: Write a short poem about autumn that is also about the loss of something or someone. What details will you use?
  9. Extension for Grades 11-12: Why do you think the poet chose to write this poem in couplets? Try writing a poem in couplets; think about how the use of couplets might help convey what you’re writing about.

Read more poems about autumn.

More Context for Teachers: In a brief essay called “To Go Its Way in Tears: Poems of Grief,” the poet Edward Hirsch writes, “Implicit in poetry is the notion that we are deepened by heartbreaks, that we are not so much diminished as enlarged by grief, by our refusal to vanish—to let others vanish—without leaving a verbal record.” Read more.

Classroom Activities

The following activities and questions are designed to help your students use their noticing skills to move through the poem and develop their thinking about its meaning with confidence, using what they’ve noticed as evidence for their interpretations. Read more about the framework upon which these activities are based.

Resource: Teachers, read about this classroom experiment to prepare yourself for leading the same activity with your class. 

  1. Warm-Up (pair share): Recount a time when you entered a new place where you did not know any of the people. How did you feel? 
  2. Before Reading the Poem (small-group activity): Take a dropper full of vegetable oil that has been colored with cocoa (so you can see it better). What happens when you put the drops of oil into a container of water?  Try stirring the oil in the water. Record what you see so you can refer to it later.
  3. Reading the Poem: Read the poem silently, then write down the words, phrases, and structures that jump out at you. If you understand Spanish, read the poem in both languages.
  4. Listening to the Poem (enlist two volunteers to read the poem aloud): Write down anything new you hear when the poem is read aloud. If you read Spanish, volunteer to read the poem in Spanish aloud to the class.
  5. Small-group Discussion: What did you notice about the structure of the poem? What are the images in each of the stanzas?
  6. Whole-class Discussion: Why do you think the poet used this structure for the poem? Support your answers with evidence. What are the images your group identified? Why do you think the poet chose those images? Why do you think the speaker says his crime “has been being what I’ve been all my life”?
  7. Extension for Grades 7-10 (small-group activity and individual writing): Referring back to the warm-up, create tableaux that show what it feels like not to fit in somewhere. After sharing your tableau with the whole class, write a short poem or essay that relates to your own experience of not fitting in.
  8. Extension for Grades 11-12: Why do you think the speaker in the poem feels like a criminal? In what ways might people be made to feel like criminals or outsiders in our country today? Write an essay that illustrates your answers to these questions.

Read more poems about being yourself.

More Context for Teachers: In this interview about writing the poem “One Today” for President Barack Obama’s second inauguration, the poet Richard Blanco says, “I—as an immigrant and child of exiles—had to reflect seriously on my relationship with America. I realized that in a way I still felt like the ‘other.’” Read more.

North Country National Scenic Trail

North Country National Scenic Trail

Photo credit: National Parks Service.

Classroom Activities

The following activities and questions are designed to help your students use their noticing skills to move through the poem and develop their thinking about its meaning with confidence, using what they’ve noticed as evidence for their interpretations. Read more about the framework upon which these activities are based.

  1. Warm-Up (pair share): Make a list of different gestures and symbols that make you think of peace. Share your lists with a partner.
  2. Before Reading the Poem (individual writing): What, specifically, do you notice in the photograph from the North Country National Scenic Trail? What is the photograph of? What colors do you see? What perspective is the photograph taken from? Can you imagine a place where the trail might be leading? How might going down this trail make you feel? Why?
  3. Small-group Discussion: Share what you’ve noticed, imagined, and felt with your group members. Do you all agree, or do you have different interpretations?
  4. Reading the Poem: Read the poem silently. Write down the words, phrases, and structures that jump out at you.
  5. Listening to the Poem (enlist two volunteers to read the poem aloud): Listen as the poem is read aloud and write down any additional words and phrases that jump out at you.
  6. Small-group Discussion: Share what you noticed from reading and hearing the poem. How is the poem structured? Why do you think the poet structured it this way? Is any part of the poem repeated, perhaps with slight changes? Why might the poet have repeated these words?
  7. Whole-class Discussion: How does the structure of the poem relate to its content? How does it relate to the photograph of the trees? What is the history recounted in this poem? What in the poem tells you this? How does the image of the tall grass make you feel at the beginning of the poem, and do you feel differently when the image is repeated at the end?
  8. Extension for Grades 7-10 (research activity): What can you learn about the Ojibwe and Dakota tribes and their histories? Write an essay about what you have learned.
  9. Extension for grades 11-12: It is possible to look at the two sides of the poem “Peace Path” as two separate poems or as two halves of the same story. How might these be seen as two separate poems? What are the similarities and differences between the stories they tell? If you look at the two sections as part of one poem, how do they interact with each other in content and structure?

More Context for Teachers: About this poem, Heid E. Erdrich writes, “The North Country Trail leaves Minnesota and heads toward Fort Abercrombie just above my hometown—Wahpeton, North Dakota. This poem envisions the tallgrass prairie as I have seen last remaining swaths of it in areas of the trail. The poem depicts events that took place when the grassland was unbroken and when our great-grandfather, Keesh-ke-mun-ishiw/Joseph Gourneau, serving as an altar boy and standard bearer for a Catholic priest, was photographed at Fort Abercrombie in 1870. The path the North Country Trail traces from the Lake Superior shore through the North Dakota grasslands, maps the migration of my Ojibwe ancestors as they moved, and were removed, from their territories as treaties decreed. For me, and for other Native Americans, a map of the trail tells a specific story, one of tribal history. The Grasslands stand as an emblem of peace for me—the hush of wind in tall grasses, the surprise of wild roses and rare lilies, the open faces of sunflowers in fields, the prairie potholes where water is life and the home of thousands of birds—this peace, like the weathered wooden structures of previous centuries, remains for everyone to walk by along the western section of the North Country Trail.”

Video: Times Square in Midtown Manhattan, New York City

Classroom Activities

The following activities and questions are designed to help your students use their noticing skills to move through the poem and develop their thinking about its meaning with confidence, using what they’ve noticed as evidence for their interpretations. Read more about the framework upon which these activities are based.

  1. Warm-Up (whip around or quick write): What associations do you have with a busy city street?
  2. Before Reading the Poem (individual writing and pair share): What do you see and hear in a clip of a video of a busy street? After watching the clip a second time, write down what you notice. Be specific. For example, if you say “a taxi” that is too general. Write down the colors and shapes, labeling what you see. Share with a partner what you saw and heard in the video.
  3. Reading the Poem: Read the poem silently, then write down the words, phrases, and structures that jump out at you.
  4. Listening to the Poem (enlist two volunteers to read the poem aloud, one after the other): Listen as the poem is read aloud, and write down any additional words and phrases that jump out at you.
  5. Vocabulary Review: What are images, similes, and metaphors?
  6. Small-group Discussion: Share what you noticed in the poem. If you were a passerby, what would you think the old man was doing? What in the poem tells you this? What might the speaker in the poem think the old man is really doing? What in the poem tells you this?
  7. Whole-class Discussion: How do you think the speaker feels about the old man? Why? Why do you think the speaker talks about “a thousand mustard flowers”? 
  8. Extension for Grades 7-10 (research): Read the biography of Ajmer Rode, who wrote this poem and translated it. What did you learn about him?  Where is he from? Learn more about Punjab.  How would you describe it?
  9. Extension for Grades 11-12: Why might the speaker in the poem think, “A river of images, metaphors, and / similes flows through” the old man’s head? What poetic device is the speaker employing in this sentence? Do you think the old man is really the speaker’s father, or might he be someone else? Support your answers with evidence from the poem.

Read more poems about cities.

More Context for Teachers: “Mustard Flowers” was originally published in Words Without Borders, a journal that expands cultural understanding through the publication of contemporary international literature and one of our new content partnersRead more about Ajmer Rode and his poem in the July 2018 issue of Words Without Borders, which features a special section on Punjabi poets.

Excerpt from A Tale of Two Cities

The following paragraph is from A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way,—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

Classroom Activities

The following activities and questions are designed to help your students use their noticing skills to move through the poem and develop their thinking about its meaning with confidence, using what they’ve noticed as evidence for their interpretations. Read more about the framework upon which these activities are based.

  1. Warm-Up: Read the first paragraph of A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens silently.
  2. Small-group Discussion: What would happen if you tried to turn this paragraph into a poem without changing the words? Try different ways and see what happens. How would you break up the lines? What words would you not want to separate? Why? Create one “poem” using line breaks on which everyone in your group can agree.
  3. Whole-class Discussion (each group presents their paragraph with new line breaks): What happens when you change the placement of the words? Do you read them differently on the page? Do they sound differently when read aloud? Is the meaning of the words the same, or do they change in some way?
  4. Reading the Poem: Read the poem silently. Write down the words, phrases, and structures that jump out at you.
  5. Listening to the Poem (enlist two volunteers to read the poem aloud, and make sure they read the line breaks appropriately): Write anything new that you hear when the poem is read aloud.
  6. Pair Share: What did you notice about the line breaks in the poem? How did they influence the way you read and heard the poem?
  7. Whole-class Discussion: How are the last four stanzas different from the rest of the poem? What happened to the line breaks? Why do you think this is the case? What is the connection the poet is making between line breaks and immigration? Cite evidence from the poem.
  8. Extension for Grades 7-10: How does this poem relate to what is happening in our country today concerning immigration? Write a short essay connecting this poem to current events.
  9. Extension for Grades 11-12: Write a poem about a current event that you feel strongly about. Use what you have learned about line breaks to create stops, emphasis, and movement in your poem.

Read more poems about immigration.

More Context for Teachers: In her essay “Where It Breaks: Drama, Silence, Speed, and Accrual,” the poet Dana Levin writes, “I want the line-break to tell me something about how a poem feels: where a speaker butts up against silence.” She explains, “When my students read poems aloud, I insist they ‘read’ the line-breaks (this is not very popular). Feeling speaks where the line is silenced.” Read more essays about the poetic line.

September 10, 2018

In September 2001, Lucille Clifton sent the Academy of American Poets a short manuscript of seven poems, one for each day of the week, entitled “September Suite” in response to the events that transpired on September 11th. “Monday Sundown 9/17/01” is the final poem from that manuscript.

Lucille Clifton

Rosh Hashanah Apples and Honey

 Rosh Hashanah Apples and Honey

This image is in the public domain.

Classroom Activities

The following activities and questions are designed to help your students use their noticing skills to move through the poem and develop their thinking about its meaning with confidence, using what they’ve noticed as evidence for their interpretations. Read more about the framework upon which these activities are based.

  1. Warm-Up (whip around): When you hear the day of 9/11 mentioned, what associations do you have? What feelings are evoked?  Share one association and one feeling.
  2. Before Reading the Poem:
       • (whole class research): What is Rosh Hashanah? When does it occur each year?
       • Write down what you notice in the photograph of some Rosh Hashanah food. What feeling does this photograph evoke? Why?
  3. Reading the PoemRead the poem silently. Record the words, phrases, and structures that jump out at you.
  4. Listening to the Poem (enlist two volunteers to read the poem aloud): Listen to the poem read aloud and write down any additional words and phrases that jump out at you.
  5. Small-group Discussion: What did you notice in the poem? What do you think might have inspired the poet to write the first two lines? The second two lines? What are your associations with apples? With honey? Why do you think the poet mentions these two things? Provide evidence for your interpretations.
  6. Whole-class Discussion: What might the speaker think is lost? What might she think is paradise?
  7. Extension for Grades 7-10: Bring in an artifact from your family that is associated with some sort of joyous gathering. Write a short description of the object and what the joyous gathering was. Be prepared to share this with other members of your class through a “classroom museum.”
  8. Extension for Grades 11-12: Why do you think Lucille Clifton is writing about Rosh Hashanah? Write an essay that explores this.

Read more poems about witness and remembrance.

More Context for Teachers: In a video from the Poetry Breaks series, Lucille Clifton shares her reflections on what poetry is. She says, “While poetry sometimes to teachers is a matter of text and something to be studied, for me poetry is a way of living in the world. I think that I don’t produce texts, and I don’t do it to be studied, though I do recognize the value of those things. But for me poetry is a way of trying to express something that is very difficult to express, and it’s a way of trying to come to peace with the world.”

Jaime Manrique Reads His Poem in English and Spanish

Classroom Activities

The following activities and questions are designed to help your students use their noticing skills to move through the poem and develop their thinking about its meaning with confidence, using what they’ve noticed as evidence for their interpretations. Read more about the framework upon which these activities are based.

  1. Warm Up (pair share): Think of a special memory of an older relative. Is there a particular location that you associate with this relative—a house or a place that you visited together?
  2. Listening to the Poem Read in Spanish (individual writing)Listen to Jaime Manrique read his poem in Spanish twice (starting at 1:28 in the audio recording). Listen to his voice and the rhythm of his words. Write down what you hear.
  3. Small-group Discussion: What can you learn about the speaker’s emotions from the sounds of the poem, even if you do not understand Spanish? What is your evidence?
  4. Individual Reading and Pair Share: Read the poem silently in English, then record the words, phrases, and structures that jump out at you. If you speak Spanish, read the poem silently in this language, and record the words, phrases, and structures that jump out at you.
  5. Listening to the Poem Read in English (enlist two volunteers to read the poem aloud): Write down what you hear when the poem is read aloud in English.
  6. Small-group Discussion: What did you hear when the poem was read in Spanish? What did you see when you read the poem? What did you hear when the poem was read in English?
  7. Whole-class Discussion: How does hearing the poem in both Spanish and English, as well as reading it on the page, help you think about what the poem may mean? What does this poem have to do with what we did in our warm up?
  8. Extension for Grades 7-10:  Create a camera obscura using the directions provided by the J. Paul Getty Museum. How is the image from a camera obscura like a memory? How is it like a translation?
  9. Extension for Grades 11-12: Conduct a staged debate about the virtues and problems of translations. Give examples from “The Sky Over My Mother’s House” to back up your points.

Read more poems in Spanish and English.

Naomi Shihab Nye Reads "The Tent"

Classroom Activities

The following activities and questions are designed to help your students use their noticing skills to move through the poem and develop their thinking about its meaning with confidence, using what they’ve noticed as evidence for their interpretations. Read more about the framework upon which these activities are based.

  1. Warm-Up (individual writing and pair share): How many of you have slept in a tent? Write down five words to describe what it felt like. If you have never slept in a tent, write down five words to describe what you imagine it would feel like.  Share your lists with a partner.
  2. Small-group Discussion: Share an appropriate physical gesture that shows the feeling you might have in a tent. Observing students should describe what they see and what feeling they think it represents.
  3. Reading the PoemRead the poem silently, then record the words, phrases, and structures that jump out at you.
  4. Listening to the Poem: Listen twice to the audio recording of Naomi Shihab Nye reading her poem. Write down any new words and phrases that jump out at you or that are emphasized.
  5. Small-group Discussion: How does the speaker in the poem define freedom? Give evidence to support your answers. Why do you think the speaker includes the phrase, “How we got here”?
  6. Whole-class Discussion: What specifically does the speaker think is “holding us close”? Why do you think the poet uses the image of a tent?
  7. Extension for Grades 7-10: What does patriotism seem to mean to the speaker? What is your idea of patriotism? Write a short essay showing the similarities and differences between the speaker’s idea of patriotism and yours. What might account for the differences?
  8. Extension for Grades 11-12: Describe the structure of this poem. How does the structure relate to the poem’s content? Write a poem in response to the phrase “How we got here,” and consider the structure you use. Be prepared to discuss how the structure conveys the meaning of the poem.

More Context for Teachers: In The Triggering Town: Lectures and Essays on PoetryRichard Hugo writes that good poems tend to expand beyond their original, or “triggering,” subject into new language and new ideas. Naomi Shihab Nye has said that she wrote this poem in response to an invitation by students at the Maine State Prison to write on the subject “what freedom means to me.” Consider how this poem grows, in language and concept, beyond its original prompt.

Read more poems about liberty and freedom.

 

Chartres Cathedral’s North Rose Window

Chartres Cathedral’s North Rose Window

Classroom Activities

The following activities and questions are designed to help your students use their noticing skills to move through the poem and develop their thinking about its meaning with confidence, using what they’ve noticed as evidence for their interpretations. 

  1. Warm-Up (whip around or quick write): What associations do you have with the word window?
  2. Whole-class Research (before viewing the photograph): Where is Chartres and what is a rose window?
  3. Individual Writing and Pair Share: Write down what you notice in the image of the rose window at Chartres. Note the colors and the light. Where is the light coming from? Where is it going? How does it change along the way? What might the source of the light be? Share your observations with a partner.
  4. Reading the Poem: Read the poem silently, then record the words, phrases, and structures that jump out at you.
  5. Listening to the Poem (enlist two volunteers to read the poem aloud): Listen as the poem is read aloud and write down any additional words and phrases that jump out at you.
  6. Small-group Discussion: How is the fruit in the poem like a rose window? How is it different from a rose window? What is the relationship between the man and the fruit stand? Why do you think the speaker used the image of a rose window?
  7. Whole-class Discussion: How does the speaker describe paradise in this poem? Give evidence from the poem to support your answer. Why do you think the speaker in the poem talks about clear windows at the end of the poem? What might the clear windows be?
  8. Extension for Grades 7-10: Write an essay or poem about what you think paradise might be and why.
  9. Extension for Grades 11-12: Write an essay that answers the following questions: How are the lines organized in this poem? Why do you think the poet used tercets? How do the line breaks and tercets move the ideas in the poem forward? Are there any rhymes or alliteration in this poem?  If so, where and what is the effect?

Read more about the framework upon which these activities are based.

Classroom Activities

Resource: Read the Encyclopaedia Britannica entry for “Phoenix: Mythological Bird.”

  1. Warm-up: Go around the room quickly asking your students any associations they have with the word phoenix. If they do not have any, it’s fine to let them pass and not come back to them.
  2. Ask your students to read the Encyclopaedia Britannica entry for “Phoenix: Mythological Bird” and write down the details they think are important in the story. Ask them to turn and talk with a partner about what they have learned. What do they think might be the message of this myth?
  3. Ask your students to think about if this story has any meaning for them in their own lives, or in the lives of people they know. (They can either share this writing with their partner or keep it private, depending on what you think is more appropriate for your students.)
  4. Project the poem “Instructions on Not Giving Up” in front of the class. Ask your students to read it silently and write down the words and phrases in the poem that jump out at them. Ask one student to read the poem aloud to the class while the listeners write down any new items they hear. Repeat this process with another student reading the poem aloud.
  5. Assemble your students in small groups. Ask them to share what they noticed about the words and phrases in the poem. Why do they think the speaker in the poem is focusing on the leafing out of trees? What in the poem makes them think this is the case?
  6. Whole-class discussion: What do your students think might be the relationship between the Phoenix myth and the poem “Instructions on Not Giving Up”? How are they similar? How are they different? If your students were to write a poem about not giving up, what images might they use?

 

Rain in Ferhadija Street

Rain in Ferhadija Street

By Jason Rogers. This image is in the public domain.

Classroom Activities

  1. Warm-up: Ask your students if they can they think of a time when someone has helped or carried them through something difficult. Can they think of a time when they have carried someone else? Ask them to quickly write down these thoughts.
  2. Show your students the photograph of the man crossing the street in a heavy rain. Ask them to look carefully at this photo and make a list of all the sensory details the man might be experiencing, including sights, smells, and sounds. Ask them to write down how these sensory details might change if the man were carrying a child in the rain.
  3. Ask your students to gather in small groups to create a two- or three-minute silent skit about crossing the street in a heavy rain carrying a small child. They should be sure to represent how the person crossing the street with the child feels. They have five minutes to plan and rehearse.
  4. Ask each group to present their skit to the rest of the class. (They should not be graded for how well it is performed.) Ask the students who are watching to name details they notice in the skits that tell what is happening and how the person feels.
  5. Project the poem “Shoulders” in front of the class. Ask your students to read it silently and write down the words and phrases that jump out at them. Play the audio of Naomi Shihab Nye reading her poem and ask your students to write down anything new that they hear. Play the audio a second time, following the same process.
  6. Ask your students to get back in their small groups and share the details in the poem that tell us the story, or narrative, of the man crossing the street.  Why do they think these details were chosen by the poet?
  7. Whole-class discussion: Why do your students think the poem might be titled “Shoulders?” What do your students think the speaker in the poem is saying we need to do “to live in this world”?

Home Alone (1990)

Classroom Activities

  1. Warm-up: Quickly go around the room and ask each student to share an association they have with the phrase dinner party.
  2. Show your students the trailer from the film Home Alone. Ask your students to write down what they can remember of the plot from the trailer. What actions does the boy take? How do they think the boy feels? How do they react to what he does? (You might need to show the trailer a second time.) Ask them to share their thoughts with a partner.
  3. Project the poem “I Invite My Parents to a Dinner Party” in front of the class. Ask your students to read it silently and write down the words, phrases, and structural elements that jump out at them. Play the audio of Chen Chen reading the poem and ask your students to write down anything new that they hear. Play the audio a second time, following the same process.
  4. Gather your students in small groups. Ask them to share what they noticed while reading and listening to the poem. How does the poem relate to the film Home Alone? How are the feelings of the boy in the film and the speaker in the poem similar or different? Why might the poem be written in couplets? Ask your students to cite evidence for their interpretations.
  5. Whole-class discussion: Ask your students to tell you what happens in the poem (i.e., what is the narrative?). What do they think is the “nonlinear slapstick meets / slasher flick meets psychological / pit” that the poem’s speaker and his boyfriend are “co-starring in”? Again, ask them to cite evidence for their interpretations.

Li-Young Lee Reads "From Blossoms”

Classroom Activities

  1. Warm-up:  Ask your students to work in small groups to list as many words as possible beginning with the letter b. When they have finished with b, ask them to do the same thing for p. (Remind them that their words must be appropriate for school.) Go around the room twice quickly and ask each student to say one of the words their group identified.
  2. Project “From Blossoms” in front of the class. Ask your students to read it silently and write down the words, phrases, and structures that jump out at them. Divide them into small groups to share what they noticed. 
  3. Play the video of Li-Young Lee reading “From Blossoms.” Ask your students to listen carefully. Play the video a second time. Ask your students to write down the sounds, words, and phrases that jump out at them. Ask them to share what they heard with a partner.
  4. Back in their small groups, your students should discuss the following: What are the feelings in this poem? What images and sounds evoke these feelings? Where in the poem does the feeling or tone change? What has the poet done to make this change occur?
  5. Whole class discussion: What might it mean “to take what we love inside, / to carry within us an orchard”? What might that feel like? What is the joy in this poem? What is the sadness? Ask your students to give evidence for their answers from what they have already noticed in the poem.

Untitled by Sperry Andrews

Weir Farm

Credit: National Parks Service.

Classroom Activities

  1. Project the image of Sperry Andrews’s painting of Weir Farm at the front of the room. Ask your students to spend several minutes looking at it and writing down the details they see, e.g. colors, types of brush strokes. Using these details as evidence, what do they think these colors and brush strokes represent? Why? Ask them to turn and talk with a partner about what they noticed and what they think. (To learn more about Weir Farm, which was the homestead of the painter Julian Alden Weir, visit the National Park Service’s page about its history.)
  2. Ask your students to gather in small groups to discuss if this painting looks like something in real life. How is it the same? How is it different? Ask someone in each group to take notes from this discussion, so they can use this information later in this lesson.
  3. Project Marilyn Nelson’s poem in front of the class. Ask your students to read it silently and write down the words, phrases, and structures that jump out at them. Ask one student to read the poem aloud to the rest of the class. Ask the listening students to write down anything new that jumps out at them when they hear the poem read. Repeat this process with a second student reading the poem aloud.
  4. Back in their small groups, your students should share the words, phrases, and structures they noticed in the poem. Based on what they noticed, what do they think the speaker in the poem is saying about the relationship between paintings of Weir Farm and the farm itself?
  5. Whole-class discussion: What do your students think the speaker might mean when she says, “Any place you care for can hold an easel. / Everything around you is beautiful plein air.” What is “plein air”?

Classroom Activities

Resource: Listen to an audio recording of Billy Murray performing the song “Over There,” composed by George M. Cohan, in 1917.

Before playing the audio recording of “Over There,” you may need to review some history about World War I with your students so they have a context for what they are about to hear.

  1. Ask your students to listen to the song “Over There.” What is the tempo of the song? What are the lyrics saying? 
  2. Ask your students to gather in small groups and share what they noticed. How do the tempo and lyrics make them feel? How do they think this song was supposed to make soldiers feel about the war? How do they think this song was supposed to make people other than soldiers feel?
  3. Project “La Chapelle. 92nd Division. Ted.” in the front of the class. Ask your students to read it silently and write down the words, phrases, and structures that jump out at them. Ask one student to read the poem aloud to the rest of the class. Ask the listening students to write down anything new that jumps out at them when they hear the poem read. Repeat this process with a second student reading the poem aloud.
  4. Back in their groups, your students should share what they noticed in the poem. What questions do they have, including words they may not understand? Ask them to work together to consider the answers to their questions. Who is the speaker in the poem? What feelings of his are expressed in the poem? What did your students notice in the poem that supports this interpretation?
  5. Whole-class discussion: How does what your students noticed in the song differ from what they noticed in the poem? What are the feelings about war that are evoked in each? What is the evidence your students give for their interpretations? Why does a war evoke such different feelings?
  6. For a more in-depth discussion of the poem, consider sharing the history of the 92nd Division, an African-American unit of the segregated U.S. Army during World War I and World War II. Does this information affect your students’ reading of the poem? If so, how?

Classroom Activities

  1. For homework, ask each student to find or take a photo of their mother or another person who has played a similar role in their life, keeping in mind that there are many different types of families.
  2. Warm-up: Go around the room and ask each student to shout out the name of the person in their photograph.
  3. Ask your students to look carefully at the photograph they brought for homework. Ask them to write down what they notice in the photo, e.g. What is the person wearing? What is their facial expression? From what they notice in the photo, how do they think this person is feeling? How do they feel about this person? Ask them to share what they have written with a partner.
  4. Project the poem “My Mother’s Name Lucha” in front of the class. Ask your students to read it silently and write down what words, phrases, and structures jump out at them. Ask one student to read the poem aloud to the rest of the class. Ask the listening students to write down anything new that jumps out at them when they hear the poem read. Repeat this process with a second student reading the poem aloud.
  5. Ask your students to gather in small groups to share what they have noticed. What, in particular, did they notice about the structure of the poem and how it influences the way the poem is read?
  6. Whole-class discussion: How does the spacing of words on a page in a poem influence how the poem is read? Why do your students think Juan Felipe Herrera chose to space words this way in the poem about a mother?
  7. Ask your students to use the details they noticed in their photographs to write a poem about the person featured. Ask them to carefully plan how they would space the words on the page to evoke the feeling or tone they want to convey.

Classroom Activities

  1. For homework, ask your students to select a poem (no longer than one page) that is their favorite or one of their favorites. Tell them they will be reading these poems aloud in class.
  2. Schedule several students to read their favorite poems at the beginning of class each day for a week.
  3. Whole-class discussion: At the end of the week, ask your students how they reacted to (a) reading their poems aloud, and (b) listening to a group of poems that their peers had selected. What did they learn from both experiences? What was the feeling or tone in the classroom after the poems were read?
  4. Project “The Republic of Poetry” in front of the class. Ask your students to read it silently and jot down all the words and phrases that jump out at them. Ask one student to read the poem aloud as the listening students add new words and phrases that they hear to their lists. Repeat the process with a second student reading aloud.
  5. Small-group discussion: Ask your students to share the words and phrases that jumped out at them in the poem. How do these words and phrases make them feel about poetry? How do they think the speaker in the poem feels about poetry? What is the evidence in the poem that makes them feel that way?
  6. Ask your students to write a short poem about how they would include poetry in this class in order to make it feel like a “Republic of Poetry.” The following week, ask several students to read these poems at the beginning of class each day for a week.

Classroom Activities

  1. Warm-up: Ask your students to think about the many ways the word breaking, and its homophone braking, can be used. Ask them to turn and talk with a partner about the different uses and to create a list together.
  2. Show your students an excerpt (for no more than five minutes) of a video of breaking waves in the Pacific Ocean. As they watch, they should think about what breaking means in this context. Ask them to add new details, meanings, and synonyms to their lists.
  3. Project the poem “Breaking News” in front of the class. Ask your students to read it silently as they write down the words, phrases, and structural elements that jump out at them. Ask one student to read the poem aloud while the listening students add new words and phrases to their lists. Repeat the process with a second student reading aloud.
  4. Ask your students to gather in small groups to share what they noticed in the poem. Ask each group to create a tableau that illustrates the last stanza in the poem. Ask the groups to share their tableaux with the rest of the class. What emotions do the watching students see in the presentations?
  5. Whole-class discussion: How do your students think this poem, although published in 2009, is relevant today? In light of recent events in the news, what do they think the line “Breaking here means broken elsewhere” could mean in the present context?
  6. Ask your students to write a poem or a paragraph expressing how recent “breaking news” has affected them. Make a collection of these writings to share with other students in your school.

Lilies Opening

lilies opening

Classroom Activities

  1. Warm-up: Quickly go around the room and ask your students to share one or two associations they have with the word gardening. If they have never been in a garden, ask them to imagine what it would be like.
  2. Show your students the photograph of lilies opening. Allow them time to look at it, then ask them to write down what they notice in the photo. What stage of growth do they think the lilies are in and what details in the image make them think this? If they know the technical names of the parts of the flowers, they should use these terms. In small groups, your students should share what they have noticed in the photo and what they think is happening to the lilies.
  3. Project the poem “I Have This Way of Being” in front of the class. Ask your students to read it silently and to write down the words, phrases, and structural aspects of the poem that jump out at them.
  4. Play the audio of Jamaal May reading his poem. Ask your students to listen to it carefully without writing anything down. Play the audio a second time and ask your students to list anything new that jumps out at them as they listen. Ask them to turn and talk with a partner about what they have heard in the poem.
  5. Whole-class discussion: How do your students think the speaker in the poem feels about gardening? What is the evidence from their lists that supports their interpretations? How does the last stanza in the poem relate to the photograph of the lilies? Is the garden functioning as a metaphor in the poem? If so, for what?

Note: Jamaal May’s poem was featured in our Poem-a-Day series, which includes a statement about the poem that can serve as a perspective on the work. Consider sharing May's statement with your students after they have come up with their own interpretations:

“The poem keeps negating its considerations while essentially building on the first idea, which is also one way to think of struggle and growth. I think the closest anyone could get to an honest answer about who they are is a metaphor that shifts and evolves as they try to express it. In that reach towards articulation we might spark, within ourselves, broader ideas and questions about the world we grapple with.” —Jamaal May

Hubble’s Exquisite View of a Stellar Nursery

Hubble’s Exquisite View of a Stellar Nursery

Photo credit: NASA, ESA and A. Nota (STScI/ESA).

Classroom Activities

  1. Project the image from the Hubble Telescope of a stellar nursery, where infant stars are forming within a nebula. Let your students look at it for several moments, then ask them to write down the specific details they notice in the image. (“Stars” is too general.)
  2. Ask your students to turn and talk with a partner about the details they see. How do these details come together as a whole? How does this whole make them feel?
  3. Project the poem by Walt Whitman in front of the class. Ask your students to read it silently and to write down the words and phrases that jump out at them. Ask two students to read the poem aloud—one reading the first stanza followed by the next student reading the second stanza. Ask the listening students to write down anything new they hear. Ask two additional students to read the poem aloud  while the listening students continue to write down what jumps out at them.
  4. Ask your students to gather in small groups to share what they noticed about the poem. What do they think the speaker in the poem is saying about what poems do and how they make him feel?
  5. Whole-class discussion: How does looking at the image of the birth of stars prepare your students to think about how the poem’s speaker feels about poetry? How do your students feel about poetry? What images can they think of to evoke this feeling?
  6. Ask your students to use images that evoke the way they feel about poetry to write about (and perhaps, illustrate) what they think poems accomplish.

Water and Stones in the Black Sea

Water and Stones in the Black Sea

This image is in the public domain.

Classroom Activties

  1. Project the image of stones in the Black Sea in front of the class without mentioning that the stones are underwater. Ask your students to write down what they notice in the photograph. Where do they think these stones might be (for example, on a hillside, in the plains)? Why? Next, ask your students to write down what might happen to a stone in this setting. Finally, ask them to imagine what stones might do in this setting (for example, sing), even if it’s not physically possible. Ask them to share what they have noticed and imagined with a partner.
  2. Project “These Poems” in front of the class. Ask your students to read the poem silently, writing down the words and phrases that jump out at them. Ask one student to read the poem aloud while the listening students list anything new that they hear. Play the audio recording of June Jordan reading her poem and have your students write down the words and phrases that jump out them one more time.
  3. Introduce or review with your students the concept of a metaphor.
  4. Small-group discussions: Ask your students to share their lists with the other members of a small group. Did they notice similar things in the poem? What are some differences among their lists? Ask them to identify any metaphors in the lists they have shared.
  5. Whole-class discussion: What do your students think the speaker in the poem is saying about her poems? What is the evidence in the poem that leads them to think this?
  6. Ask your students to write a poem or paragraph about what poems mean to them. Encourage them to use metaphors, if they can.

Classroom Activities

  1. Ask your students to read an excerpt from the Smithsonian Institution article “‘Hobbits’ on Flores, Indonesia” that is appropriate for their level of comprehension. Ask them to write down any terms and information they do not understand and to share this information with a partner. Together they should research the information they need to answer their questions.
  2. Ask your students to get in small groups to discuss what they learned from the nonfiction account of the remains of the small people found on Flores Island.  What information was new to them?  (For an in-depth study of this article, consider co-teaching this lesson with a science colleague. You may want to discuss the following: On what basis do scientists change their minds?)
  3. Project the poem by Tracy K. Smith in front of the class, noting that she quotes an article mentioned on the Smithsonian website. Ask your students to read the poem silently and write down the words, phrases, and structural aspects that jump out at them. Ask one student to read the poem aloud while the listening students write down new words, phrases, and structural aspects that they notice. Repeat this process with a second student reading aloud.
  4. Ask your students to get in small groups to discuss these questions: Who is the speaker in the poem? What evidence in the poem (as well as what they have previously discussed and written in this lesson) supports this?
  5. Whole-class discussion: Using evidence from what they have discussed and written, what do your students think the speaker in the poem is trying to tell them? How does the information differ from the kind of information they get from the nonfiction article?

Amy Lowell (1874-1925)

Amy Lowell

Amy Lowell (1874-1925) by Sarah Gooll Putnam, (1851–1912). Date: 1892. Medium: Oil on canvas. Dimensions: 40 x 30 in. Credit: Harvard University Portrait Collection, Gift of Mrs. Harold Russell to Harvard University for the use of Lowell House, 1933

Classroom Activities

  1. Warm-up: Ask your students to think about if they ever had a crush that would not go away on someone. If they haven’t, ask them to imagine what this might feel like and to write about these feelings in their journals. They do not have to share this specific writing with anyone else.
  2. Show your students the image of the portrait of Amy Lowell and give them plenty of time to look at it carefully. Ask them to write down what they notice in the portrait—the position of the figure, the light, what the figure is wearing, the colors, etc.—and to focus on the choices the artist made in painting this portrait. Caution them not to jump to an interpretation of what they see, but instead to focus on what they notice. Have them turn and talk with a partner to share their observations.
  3. Show your students the poem “A Fixed Idea” by Amy Lowell. Ask them to read it silently, writing down the words, phrases, and structural elements that jump out at them. Ask one student to read the poem aloud while the other students listen and add new items to their lists from what they have just heard. Repeat this process with another student reading aloud. Ask them to get in small groups to share their lists.
  4. Whole-class discussion: What details did your students notice in the painting that might suggest how the subject in the painting was feeling? (Make sure they refer to their lists of what they noticed.) On what do they base this interpretation? What did they notice in the poem? What evidence in the poem might give them insight into the speaker’s situation and feelings? Ask them to keep both the warm-up activity and the poem in mind during this discussion.
  5. If your students have not noticed that the poem is a sonnet and you have not reviewed this poetic form before, this is an opportunity to discuss Lowell’s use of the form.
  6. Follow-up activity: Ask small groups of students to create tableaux (still pictures using their bodies) illustrating the feelings portrayed in Lowell’s poem. You may also want to invite your students to write their own poems expressing the feelings they wrote about in the warm-up activity. Remind them that a fictional character can be used to express emotions in a poem.

Marine

Marine

Marine by Salomon van Ruysdael (Dutch, Naarden, born ca. 1600–1603, died 1670 Haarlem). Date: 1650. Medium: Oil on wood. Dimensions: 13 5/8 x 17 1/8 in. Credit: Purchase, 1871. www.metmuseum.org.

Classroom Activities

  1. Project the image of the painting “Marine” in front of the class. Give your students plenty of time to view the image and ask them to write down what details they notice—colors, brushstrokes, etc. Then ask them to imagine what could happen to any of the boats that are heading out to sea, using what they’ve noticed as a foundation. 
  2. Small-group discussions: Ask your students to share what they noticed about the painting and what they imagine could happen next. Ask them to work together to arrive at a shared imagining for the future of the sailboats heading out to see. Based on the imagining, each group should compose a list of what they might say to the people on board the boats that are heading out to sea. Ask each group to share their lists with the whole class.
  3. Project the poem “blessing the boats” in front of the class. Ask your students to read the poem silently and to write down what jumps out at them. Ask one student to read the poem aloud to the class, while the others list anything new they notice during the reading. Ask a second student to read the poem aloud, following the same process.
  4. Back in their small groups, your students should share what they noticed in the poem. How does it relate to what they noticed in the painting?
  5. Whole-class discussion: While Lucille Clifton’s poem can be read and understood as being about a boat, it can also be read as a metaphor for something else. (If you have not discussed metaphors with your class, define the term for them.) Using what they’ve noticed in the poem as evidence, what do your students think the boats might represent?
  6. In recent weeks, students around the country have become activists and are leading campaigns to change minds and laws. Ask your students to write about how this poem might relate to the context of student activism today. Ask for volunteers to read their writing to the class.

Cave of Altamira and Paleolithic Cave Art of Northern Spain

Cave of Altamira and Paleolithic Cave Art of Northern Spain

Copyright © UNESCO.

Classroom Activities

  1. Project the image of the prehistoric cave art from Northern Spain in front of the class. (For more information about this cave art, visit the UNESCO website.) Ask your students to look at the image carefully and write down what they see—colors, images, etc. What questions do they have about the image?
  2. Ask your students to get in small groups to share the details they noticed in the cave art and the questions they have. Which of these questions do they think might be possible to answer through further research? Which of these questions do they think we may never be able to answer, and why? For any questions to which we might never know the real answers, have your students imagine what the answers could be based on what they see in the art.
  3. Project the poem “Painters” in front of the class. Ask your students to read it silently and write down the words and phrases that jump out at them. Ask a student to read the poem aloud, while the listening students write down new words and phrases that they hear. Repeat this process with another student reading aloud.
  4. Whole-class discussion: Keeping in mind what they noticed in the cave art and in their discussions, what visual images do your students notice in the poem? What scene is the poem portraying, and why do they think the poet may have chosen to depict it thisway? How might this imagining relate to current issues in the United States?
  5. Ask your students to get in groups with others who have different or mixed perspectives and create their own “cave art.” What important objects, people, or events in their world would they want to include, and what images would they choose to represent these? How would they decide? When your students have finished, post the art around the room and lead a gallery walk, then ask each group of students to talk about how they made their painting.

Clouds

Clouds

Clouds by Thomas Cole (1801–1848). Date: ca. 1838. Medium: Oil on paper laid down on canvas. Dimensions: 8 3/4 × 10 7/8 in. Credit line: Morris K. Jesup Fund, 2013. www.metmuseum.org.

Classroom Activities

  1. Warm-up: Go around the room and ask your students to share how they feel on a rainy day in winter. Any student who wants to can wait and answer after everyone else is finished.
  2. Project the image of the painting “Clouds” in front of the class. Give your students plenty of time to look at the image carefully and write down what details they see, paying particular attention to colors, brush strokes, and the positioning of objects within the image. In small groups, your students should share what they notice in the image. How does the image make them feel? Do different parts of the image evoke different feelings? What did the painter do to evoke these feelings?
  3. Project the poem “The Silver Thread” in front of the class. Ask your students to read it silently and write down the words, phrases, and images that jump out at them. Play the audio of Afaa Michael Weaver reading his poem twice. After each reading, ask your students to write down anything new they noticed.
  4. Back in their small groups, your students should compile a list of the images they think are important in this poem. How do these images make them feel? How do their feelings change from the beginning of the poem to the end? What moment(s) in the poem caused these changes in feeling? What did the poet do to make the reader’s feelings change?
  5. Whole-class discussion: What do your students think is the “story” of this poem? On what images do they base this interpretation? What might the “silver thread” in the title and the end of the poem be? What evidence do they have from their previous lists and discussions?
  6. Ask your students to come up with their own images for despair, faith, or love. How might they use these images in a poem?

Classroom Activities

Resource: “Loving v. Virginia: United States Law Case” by Brian Duignan in Encyclopaedia Britannica.

  1. Project the encyclopedia entry on Loving v. Virginia in front of the class. Ask your students to read silently and to write down the words and phrases they think are important, any words they don’t understand, and any questions they have about the Supreme Court case.
  2. Ask your students to get into small groups and to share what they think is important about the case, as well as the questions they have.
  3. Whole-group discussion: Why is this case important in American history? Do you think it has changed attitudes toward mixed couples in this country? Why or why not? (Remember to make sure your students feel safe and respected by one another when sharing their interpretations. Consider co-teaching this lesson with a social studies colleague.)
  4. Project the poem “Sherbet” in front of the class and tell your students that it was published in 1991, twenty-four years after Loving v. Virginia was decided. Ask them to read it silently and write down the words, phrases, and structural elements that jump out at them. Ask one student to read the poem aloud while the listening students write down new words and phrases that they hadn’t noticed before. Repeat this process with a second student reading the poem aloud.
  5. Ask your students to get in small groups to discuss the following questions: What is the situation in the poem? How do the people in the poem react to the situation? How does the waitress seem to feel? The manager? The speaker? What did your students notice (the evidence) in the poem that shows how these people feel? 
  6. Whole-class discussion: Why does the speaker describe the situation as being difficult to deal with in word? Does the poem’s structure indicate something about the speaker’s feelings? If so, how? What do you think the following lines mean: “a weight that / Doesn’t fingerprint, / And can’t explode”?

Sweet Potato Planting, Hopkinson’s Plantation

Moore, Henry P, photographer. Sweet potato planting, Hopkinson's Plantation. Edisto Island South Carolina, 1862. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress.

Classroom Activities

  1. Warm-up: Go around the room and ask each student to make a school-appropriate gesture they associate with the word dirt. Any student who wants to pass can wait until the other students have finished.
  2. Project the photograph of slaves planting sweet potatoes without sharing the title or context with your students. Ask them to write down what they see in the photograph. They should be sure to support any interpretations (such as “these people are planting”) with specific details.
  3. Ask your students to turn and talk with a partner about what they noticed and what they think the photograph is showing. What would they title the photograph? What questions do they have about it?
  4. Project the poem by Kwame Dawes in front of the class. Ask your students to read it silently and to write down all the words and phrases that jump out at them. Ask one student to read the poem aloud while the listening students add new words and phrases to their lists. Repeat this process with a second student reading the poem aloud. After the second reading, ask your students to write down any questions they have about the poem.
  5. Ask your students to gather in small groups to share what they noticed in the poem and to discuss the questions they have. How does the poem relate to the photograph? Does looking at the poem and photograph together help them answer some of their questions? What questions remain?
  6. Whole-class discussion: Ask one person from each group to share what they discovered in their discussions and any remaining questions, and discuss these questions as a class. Why is dirt important to the speaker in the poem?

Surface Anatomy of the Heart

 Surface Anatomy of the Heart

This image is in the public domain.

Classroom Activities

  1. Play the audio recording of Sarah Vaughan singing “My Funny Valentine” as your students enter the room (or as you are transitioning between activities). Ask your students to write down what they hear in the song and to think about how the word heart relates to Valentine’s Day. Tell them you will return to this later in the lesson.
  2. Show your students the image of a human heart encased in ribs. Ask them to look at the image carefully and write down the shapes, colors, and other details they notice. (To explore more about the anatomy of the human heart, consider co-teaching this lesson with a science colleague.)
  3. Ask your students to gather in small groups to share what they noticed in the image of the heart. Do they see any relation between this image and the song “My Funny Valentine”? Why or why not?
  4. Project the poem “Heart to Heart” in front of the class. Ask your students to read it silently and to write down the words and phrases that jump out at them. Then ask them to listen twice to the audio recording of Rita Dove reading her poem and to continue adding words and phrases to their lists. What do they learn about the poem by listening to Dove’s voice? Ask your students to turn and talk with a partner about the words and phrases they noticed in the poem.
  5. Whole-class discussion: How does the visual image of the heart relate to the poem “Heart to Heart”? Why is this comparison important to the meaning of the poem? How does hearing a voice enhance your experience of a song or poem?

 

Classroom Activities

Resource: “American Pharoah wins Triple Crown, First in 37 Years” by Elisha Fieldstadt. This article was published in NBC News on June 6, 2015.

  1. Warm-up: Go around the room and ask your students to silently make a gesture representing how they would feel if they were watching a race and saw the underdog pull ahead and win.
    Share the news article about the racehorse American Pharoah with your students and ask them to read it silently. Ask them to write down the words and phrases that jump out at them and then to compile a list of questions they have about the article.
  2. Small-group discussion: Ask your students to gather in small groups to try to answer the questions they have. Why was American Pharoah’s win important? How did it make people feel? Ask them to base their answers on the details they noticed in the article.
  3. Project Ada Limón’s poem “American Pharoah” in front of the class. Ask your students to read the poem silently and write down the words and phrases that jump out at them. Ask one student to read the poem aloud while the listening students add new items they hear to their lists. Repeat this process with another student reading aloud.
  4. Ask your students to return to their small groups to share their lists with one another. Based on what they shared, each group should identify a phrase or small section of the poem that they think is important, then create a tableau—a still, silent picture using their bodies—to represent that phrase or section.
  5. Ask each group to present their tableau to the whole class. After each presentation, discuss with the students who were watching what they noticed about the positions and gestures in each tableau and how it made them feel.
  6. Whole-class discussion: How does the speaker in the poem feel at the beginning of the poem? How does the speaker feel at the end? What happens that changes the speaker’s perspective? What might the poet be trying to express in this poem? Make sure your students use details from their lists, the discussion, and the tableaux to support their answers.

 

Starburst Galaxy Messier 94

Starburst Galaxy Messier 94

Taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. Photo credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA.

Classroom Activities

  1. Warm-up: Ask your students to think about what they imagine life might be like (if there were any) in another galaxy. Ask them to write a brief description of what they imagine and share it with a partner.
  2. Show your students the photograph of Messier 94, a nearby galaxy that was photographed using the Hubble Space Telescope. Ask them to gather in small groups to write down the details they notice in the photo, other than the colors (which are not accurate). Then, ask them to read the image's caption, writing down the information that interests them. (To explore more about this galaxy, consider co-teaching this lesson with a science colleague.)
  3. Project Ruth Stone’s poem “In the Next Galaxy” in front of the class. Ask your students to read the poem silently and write down the words and phrases that jump out at them. Ask one student to read the poem aloud to the class while the listening students add more words and phrases to their lists. Ask another student to read the poem aloud, repeating the process for the listening students. Ask your students to write down any questions they might have. 
  4. Whole-class discussion:

    a) What can we learn about a nearby galaxy from astronomers and the Hubble Space Telescope? Make sure you give examples from what you noticed and read as evidence. Then, compare this to what you imagined life might be like in a nearby galaxy.

    b) What does the speaker in the poem imagine in her galaxy? Give examples from what you have written down. How does the speaker’s vision compare to yours? To the astronomer’s?
  5. Ask your students to describe their imagined galaxy in a paragraph or poem. You can also ask them to illustrate it, if appropriate.
  6. Display their writings and illustrations and do a gallery walk, where students can discuss one another’s work.

Progressive Laugh

Progressive Laugh

The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Print Collection, The New York Public Library. "Progressive Laugh [Christmas card and calendar depicting baby with four expressions]." New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Classroom Activities

  1. Warm-up: Quickly go around the room and ask each of your students to smile as if they are about to laugh, and then as if they are laughing, without making a sound. Any student who wants to wait should say “pass,” and you can return to them when all the other students have had a turn.
  2. Project an image of Progressive Laugh [Christmas card and calendar depicting baby with four expressions] in front of the class.  Give your students a long time to look at it and ask them to write down what they notice, paying particular attention to the specific details they see—eye shapes, mouth shapes, etc. They need to write more than “I see a baby about to laugh.”
  3. Ask your students to turn and share what they noticed in the image with a partner. What details tell them what the baby is doing? Would they think the same thing if there were only one photo in the image? Why? How does the image make them feel?
  4. Project the poem “The Laughing Child” in front of the class and ask your students to read it twice silently. The first time, they should simply read the poem through. The second time, they should write down the words and phrases that jump out at them.
  5. Ask one student to read the poem aloud to the class. Ask the listening students to add any new words and phrases that jump out at them to their lists. Repeat this process a second time, with another student reading the poem aloud.
  6. Ask your students to gather in small groups to share what they noticed from both the silent and aural readings. Using evidence from what they noticed, why do they think the laughing child is important to the she referred to in the poem?
  7. Whole-class discussion: Why is the thought of the laughing child important to the speaker in the poem? Again, ask them to use evidence from what they noticed in the silent and aural readings.

Classroom Activities

Resource: Play the audio recording of Martin Luther King Jr. delivering his “I Have a Dream” speech from the 11:26 mark until the end. (You can find the text of the speech on the National Archives website.)

  1. Warm-up: Go around the room quickly and ask each student to share one wish they have for the future of this country (without being politically partisan).
  2. Hand out copies of the text of the “I Have a Dream” speech, beginning on page 4, to your students. Play the recording of the speech from the 11:26 mark until the end. As they listen to the speech, ask them to circle the words and phrases that jump out at them on their copy of the text.
  3. Ask your students to gather in small groups to share what they noticed in the speech. Why do they think these were the things they noticed?
  4. Whole-class discussion: Based on the words and phrases they noticed in the speech, what do they think was Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream? Make sure they use evidence from what they noticed in the speech. When did he give this speech?
  5. Project the poem “Imagine” in front of the class. Ask your students to silently read it through twice, the first time without writing anything down. The second time your students read the poem, ask them to write down the words, phrases, and images that jump out at them.
  6. Ask one student to read the poem aloud to the class. Ask the listening students to add the new words and phrases that jump out at them to their lists. Repeat this process a second time, with another student reading the poem aloud. Ask your students to turn and talk with a partner about what they noticed from both the silent and aural readings.
  7. Whole-class discussion: What is the speaker in the poem describing? Ask your students to give evidence for their thoughts. In the second and third stanzas, there are two things the speaker asks the reader to imagine. What are they? How do these imaginings relate to the dream that Martin Luther King Jr. describes? How do they relate to your students’ wishes for their country?

 

The Wild Dove

Play your students a five-minute selection of Antonin Dvorak's orchestral poem “The Wild Dove,” conducted by Alexander Rahbare with the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

Classroom Activities

  1. Ask your students to sit with their eyes closed, then play the first five minutes of “The Wild Dove.” Play the music again, and this time, ask your students to write down what they hear in the music that makes them imagine a wild dove. When they listen to the music, what do they imagine the wild dove doing? Ask them to turn and talk with a partner about what they heard and imagined.
  2. Project the poem “Peace” in front of the class. Ask your students to read it twice silently. The first time, they should simply read the poem through. The second time, ask them to write down words, phrases, and structural elements that jump out at them. What questions do they have about the poem (including any words they do not know)?
  3. Ask one student to read the poem aloud to the class. Ask the listening students to add new words and phrases that jump out at them to their lists. Repeat this process a second time, with another student reading the poem aloud.
  4. Ask your students to gather in small groups to share what they noticed in the poem and any questions they have. Ask them to brainstorm answers to one another’s questions and to help one another research any questions they can’t answer themselves.
  5. Whole-class discussion: Ask your students to share what they heard in the music that made them imagine a wild dove’s actions. How does this compare with the wild wooddove in Hopkins’s poem? How does the image of the wild wooddove in the poem help them think about what the speaker in the poem is saying about peace?
  6. Continue the whole-class discussion comparing and contrasting Dvorak’s music to the music of the words in Hopkins’s poem.

Michael Bublé Sings “Winter Wonderland”

Classroom Activities

  1. Warm-up: Quickly go around the room and ask each student for one or two words they associate with winter. If someone wants to pass, return to them after the others have finished.
  2. Play the song “Winter Wonderland” so everyone can hear it. While your students are listening, they should write down the images of winter that the song creates in their mind.
  3. Ask your students to turn and talk with the person next to them. Ask them to share the images the song created for them and how those images made them feel about winter. What is the rhythm of the song?
  4. Project the poem “Below Zero.” Ask your students to read it silently to themselves and write down all the words and phrases that jump out at them. One student should then read the poem aloud to the class while the other students write down any new words and phrases that they think are important. What kind of rhythm do they hear when this poem is read? Repeat this process with another student reading aloud. How do the rhythms in the song and the poem make them feel? What images do the words and phrases create in their minds?
  5. Whole-class discussion: Ask your students to compare and contrast the images that the song and the poem called to mind, paying attention to the specific words used in both. How does the song make the listener feel about winter? How does the speaker in the poem feel about winter? Again, make sure your students give evidence for their interpretations.
  6. How do your students feel about winter? What images and rhythms would they use to describe how they feel? As an extension, ask your students to write a poem or an essay using those images and rhythms.

Wild Turkey Tracks in the Snow

Turkey Tracks

Classroom Activities

  1. Warm-up: Ask your students to each think of a silent pose or a gesture that a bird might make. Ask half the class to make their poses or gestures at the same time, while the other students watch and write down what they notice. Repeat this with the other half of the class posing silently as if they were birds.
  2. Project the image of the photo of bird tracks so all your students can see it. Ask your students to write down what they notice in the photo. If they write something general, like “bird tracks,” ask them to write down what specific details in the image make them think they see bird tracks. What do these bird tracks remind them of, if anything?
  3. Ask your students to get in small groups and share what they noticed in the poses or gestures and in the images. Ask them to keep a list of the descriptive words that they use during this discussion.
  4. Project the poem “The Young Poets of Winnipeg” and ask your students to read it silently and write down all the words and phrases that jump out at them. Ask one student to read the poem aloud to the class while the listening students take note of new words and phrases that they think are important. Repeat this process with another student reading aloud.
  5. Gather your students back into their small groups and ask them to share what jumped out at them in the poem.
  6. Whole-class discussion: To what does the speaker compare the students in her poem? What evidence do your students have for this comparison? Why do they think Naomi Shihab Nye makes this comparison? Why do they think the speaker talks about bird tracks at the end of her poem?

Sunset at Sea

Sunset at Sea

Thomas Moran (American, 1837-1926). Sunset at Sea, 1906. Oil on canvas, 30 3/16 x 40 3/16 in. (76.7 x 102.1 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of the executors of the Estate of Colonel Michael Friedsam.

Classroom Activities

  1. Warm-up: Quickly go around the room and ask your students to make a sound or a gesture that they associate with the ocean.
  2. Show your students the image of the painting “Sunset at Sea.” Ask them to write down what they notice in the painting. When they write “the ocean” or “a sunset,” they should also note which aspects of the painting (lines, color, brush strokes) led them to conclude this.  Ask your students to turn and talk with a partner to share what they noticed. What specific words would they use to describe what they saw and felt?
  3. Project the poem “Carrying Our Words.” Ask your students to read it silently and then write down all the words, phrases, and structural elements that jump out at them. Ask one student to read the poem aloud while the listening students list any new words, phrases, and structural elements that they hear. Repeat this process with a second student reading aloud.
  4. Ask your students to gather in small groups and share what they noticed in the poem. Which words and images do they think are the strongest?
  5. Whole-class discussion: How does the speaker in the poem feel about the ocean? What evidence in the poem tells you this? Why does the speaker call the ocean her relative?

“We Shall Overcome”

This video from folk singer Pete Seeger’s 90th birthday concert at Madison Square Garden features Pete Seeger, Emmylou Harris, Joan Baez, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, & more.

Classroom Activities

  1. Warm-up: Go around the room and ask your students to make a gesture that describes something they hope for in the world—not a material thing, like a car or a toy, but something more abstract that would benefit their family, community, or country, or even the world. 
  2. Play the video of “We Shall Overcome” in front of the class twice. Both times, ask your students to write down what they notice in the video. Ask your students to gather in small groups to discuss what this song might be about. What do they think shall be “overcome”?
  3. Find out if anyone in your class knows the history of this song. If not, you may want to ask them to research how the song was used during the Civil Rights Movement. What did the song mean then? What does this song mean to your students now? Why? How does the song make them feel?
  4. Project “little prayer” in front of the class. Ask your students to read it silently and jot down all the words, phrases, and structural aspects that jump out at them. Ask one student to read the poem aloud to the class while the others write down new details they notice. Repeat this process with a second student reading aloud.
  5. Ask your students to get back in their small groups to share what they noticed in the poem. What questions do they have about this poem? Can they help one another answer some of these questions?
  6. Whole-class discussion: Who might the “him” be in this poem? What might the “it” be in the last line? What evidence do your students have for their interpretations, based on what they noticed in the poem? To what kind of “ruin” do they think the speaker in the poem is referring? Encourage your students to think about their discussion of “We Shall Overcome” when they answer these questions. How is the poem similar to, or different from, “We Shall Overcome”?

Beneath the Soil: Potato Tubers Timelapse

In this timelapse video, a mother tuber begins producing new tubers beneath the soil.

Classroom Activities

  1. Warm-up: Ask your students to jot down two or three things that they are most grateful for about home, however they define the term. Ask them to turn and talk with a partner about what they have written and why.
  2. Project the timelapse video in front of the class and play it twice. The first time, ask your students to simply watch the video. The second time, ask them to write down what they notice, focusing on the specific details of what they see rather than generalizations, such as “roots growing.” Ask your students to gather in small groups to share what they noticed in the video. What do they think the tubers are doing, and what action words would they use to describe this?
  3. Project the poem “Home” in front of the class. Ask your students to read it silently and write down what they notice. What words and phrases jump out at them? What do they notice in the poem’s structure? Ask one of your students to read the poem aloud to the class while the listening students write down details they did not notice before. Repeat this process with another student reading aloud.
  4. Ask your students to get back in their small groups to share what they noticed in the poem. How does the video of tubers growing relate to the poem? Why do they think Weigl chose to use that image?
  5. Whole-class discussion: Where is home for the speaker in the poem? How does he feel about it? What evidence in the poem supports their interpretations? What do they think might be “the exiled and unraveling strangeness,” and how do these lines make them feel?
  6. Possible writing assignment: Ask your students to expand their notes about what they are grateful for at home into a longer piece of poetry or prose.

Thanksgiving Day Dinner, Grand Hotel, Indianapolis, 1898

Thanksgiving Day Dinner
Rare Book Division, The New York Public Library. "THANKSGIVING DAY DINNER [held by] GRAND HOTEL [at] INDIANAPOLIS (HOTEL;)" New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Classroom Activities

  1. Warm up: Quickly go around the room and ask your students to say one to three words they associate with Thanksgiving Day. If a student wishes to pass, come back to them after the other students have said something.
  2. Project the image of the Thanksgiving dinner menu from 1898 in front of the class. Ask your students to look at it carefully, writing down the details of what they see. Ask them to turn and share what they have written with the student next to them. What are their reactions to what they see? 
  3. Whole-class discussion: How does the person who created this menu want us to feel about Thanksgiving Day? What are the details your students have noticed that back up their interpretations?
  4. Project the poem One day is there of the series” by Emily Dickinson in front of the class and ask your students to read it silently. Then ask them to read it a second time and write down all the words, phrases, and structural aspects that jump out at them, as well as any words they don’t understand. What questions do they have about the poem?
  5. Ask your students to gather in small groups to share what they have noticed in the poem. Ask them to work with one another to try to answer any questions they have. 
  6. Whole-class discussion: How do your students think the speaker in the poem feels about Thanksgiving Day? What details in the poem back up their interpretations? What questions do they have that are left unanswered after their small-group discussions?

Bombs Fall on the Truong Quang Tin Railroad Bridge

Bombs Fall on the Truong Quang Tin Railroad Bridge

Photograph 428-K-33354; 9/16/1966; General Color Photographic File of the Department of Navy, 1958–1981; General Records of the Department of the Navy, Record Group 428; National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD.

Vietnamese Children Outside the Viet Huong Refugee Center

Vietnamese Children

Photograph 111-CC-81726; Vietnamese Children Outside the Viet Huong Refugee Center; 4/1972; Color Photographs of Signal Corps Activity, 1944–1981; Records of the Office of the Chief Signal Officer, Record Group 111; National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD.

Classroom Activities

  1. Ask your students to make a circle with their thumb and forefinger. They should look through the opening to focus on something close to them, then on something far away. Ask them to write down the details they notice in both the close-up and far-away views. What is the difference between the two?
  2. Introduce the idea of perspective (that the vantage point from which you look at something influences what you see). Show your class the image from the National Archives of bombs falling and ask them to write down the details they notice (not their interpretations, but what they actually see). Do the same with the image of the Vietnamese children. Ask your students to gather in small groups to share their thoughts and observations about the photographs’ different perspectives.
  3. Whole-class discussion: From what perspective do your students think the photograph of the bombs was taken, and what details in the photograph support this? What about the photograph of the Vietnamese children? What can your students learn from the focus of each of the photographs? How does each perspective make them feel?
  4. Project the poem “Facing It” in front of the class. Ask your students to read it silently and write down the words and phrases that jump out at them. Ask one student to read the poem aloud to the class, while the listening students write down words and phrases they have not noticed before that they think are important. Repeat this process with a second student reading aloud. Ask your students to get back in their small groups to share what they noticed and why they thought it might be important in the poem.
  5. Whole-class discussion: From what perspective is the speaker in the poem experiencing the Vietnam War Memorial, and what details in the poem suggest this? What is the speaker’s perspective on the Vietnam War itself? What details in the poem support this interpretation? (At this point you might want to share more information about the poet, Yusef Komunyakaa.)

Classroom Activities

  1. Play a short excerpt from the pianist George Winston’s composition “Colors/Dance” for your students. While the excerpt is playing, ask them to stand and move to the music. After one minute and ten seconds, stop the video and ask your students to sit back down. Ask them to write a description of their movements and about how the composition made them feel.
  2. Play the excerpt again. This time ask your students to stay seated while they listen and to write down what they hear. When the excerpt has ended, ask them to turn and talk with a partner about what they heard and felt during the two different experiences.
  3. Project William Shakespeare’s sonnet in front of the class. Ask your students to read it silently and write down the words, phrases, and aspects of the poem’s structure that jump out at them. Ask a student to read the poem aloud to the class; the listening students should write down additional words and phrases that seem important. Repeat this process with a second student reading aloud.
  4. Ask your students to share what they noticed in small groups. About what time of year is Shakespeare writing? What evidence do they find for this in the poem? How do they think this time of year makes the speaker in the poem feel? Again, what evidence in the poem supports this?
  5. Whole-class discussion: Why is Shakespeare trying to evoke these emotions about the season in his readers? Aside from a particular season, about what do they think he is writing? What do the last two lines of the poem mean to them?
  6. If your students have also read “October” by Robert Frost, you may want to ask them to compare and contrast these two poems.

Night Series: The Cat

Night Series

Anne Goldthwaite (American, 1869-1944). Night Series: The Cat, 20th century. Lithograph, white line on wove paper, 4 1/2 x 6 in. (11.4 x 15.2 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of the Estate of Anne Goldthwaite, 49.164.13.

Classroom Activities

  1. Warm-up: Go around the room asking each student to quickly make a gesture or sound they associate with a black cat. If a student wishes to pass, allow them to do so and come back to them when the rest of the class is finished.
  2. Project the image of the lithograph by Anne Goldthwaite so all your students can see it. Ask them to look at it silently, then to write down the details they notice. Ask them to turn and talk with a partner to share what they have noticed and how it made them feel about the cat.
  3. Project Rainer Maria Rilke’s poem in front of the class. Ask them to read it silently and to write down the words and phrases that jump out at them. Ask a student to read the poem aloud to the class, while the listening students write down the words and phrases they have not noticed before that they think are important. Repeat this process with a second student reading aloud.
  4. Ask your students to gather in small groups to share what they noticed in the poem. What parts of the cat seem to be most important to the speaker? What is the evidence for their interpretation? To what does the speaker compare the black cat?
  5. Whole-class discussion: After the warm-up, looking at the image of the lithograph, and reading the poem, how do your students feel about seeing a black cat? What, in the lithograph and the poem, leads them to feel this way? How do your students think the speaker in the poem feels about a black cat? What evidence in the poem supports this? What are their thoughts about the saying that a black cat crossing your path brings bad luck?

Happy Halloween!!!

Classroom Activities

  1. Project “After Action Report, ‘The Battle of Hue, 2-26 February 1968’” (pages 11-12). Ask your students to silently read these pages twice and write down the things that jump out at them, including vocabulary they might not know.
  2. Ask your students to gather in small groups (four students) to share what they have noticed and modify their own lists as they learn from one another.
  3. Explore the following questions with the class: What details did you notice in the report? What is the perspective of the writer (close/far/both)? What did you notice about the language that is used? Is it the same throughout the report? Does it change at any point? If so, where? Why do you think the language changes at this point?
  4. Project the poem “Kissing in Vietnamese” by Ocean Vuong. Ask your students to read the poem silently and write down the words and phrases that jump out at them. Ask one student to read the poem aloud to the class, while the listening students write down the words and phrases they did not notice before that they think are important. Repeat this process with a second student reading aloud.
  5. Ask the students to share what they noticed with their small groups. Ask each group to pick a phrase or two that was particularly compelling and to create a tableau with their bodies (a still picture with no voices) that illustrates this phrase or these phrases. Have each group present their tableau to the class. What do the non-presenting students notice? Based on what they noticed, what were the feelings expressed by the tableaux? What specific body positions showed this? What perspective is represented in the poem “Kissing in Vietnamese”?
  6. Whole-class discussion: What do we learn from poems that we do not necessarily learn from official reports from the field? Why do you think this is the case? Why might it be important to experience different kinds of communication when learning about the Vietnam War?
  7. For a more in-depth study of perspectives on the Vietnam War see the lesson plan developed for a workshop conducted by Richard Blanco at the National Archives during July 2017.

Classroom Activities

  1. For homework, ask your students to write down what they remember about a special time with a parent, guardian, or other important older person in their lives.
  2. Ask them to share what they wrote down with a partner. The partners should ask questions to help each other add details to their description of the special time. Make sure both students have time to share.
  3. Project the poem “Afternoons” by Jorge H. Aigla so all your students can see it in both Spanish and English. Ask your students to read the poem silently and write down the words and phrases that jump out at them in the language or languages they understand. When they have finished writing, ask one of your students to read the poem in English aloud to the class while the listening students jot down details that they did not notice before in the poem. Repeat this process with another student reading aloud. (If some of your students are fluent in Spanish, ask one or two of them to read the poem aloud in Spanish, as well. What do they hear in the Spanish that they do not hear in English, and vice versa?)
  4. Ask your students to gather in small groups to share what they noticed in the poem. What kinds of details stand out to them? Why do they think they might be important?
  5. Whole-group discussion: Ask your students what made their times with an older person special to them? Why do they think the speaker in the poem thought his afternoons were special? What do they think “alertness of time” means? Why do they think the speaker says the afternoons “taught me what it is to fill out/the alertness of time?” 
  6. Additional writing: Ask your students to continue refining their descriptions of their special memories with attention to “the alertness of time.” This can be a paragraph, an essay, or a poem.

Still Life with Grapes

Still Life with Grapes

Still Life with Grapes by Carducius Plantagenet Ream (1838–1917). Medium: Oil on canvas. Dimensions: 14 x 10 inches. Credit Line: Gift of Peck Stacpoole Foundation, 1999. www.metmuseum.org.

Classroom Activities

  1. Warm up: Quickly go around the room asking your students for one or two words they associate with autumn. If a student cannot think of something, they can pass, and you can return to them when everyone else if finished.
  2. Project Still Life with Grapes so everyone can see it.  Ask your students to look at it carefully and silently write down the details they notice in the image.  Saying “a bunch of grapes” is not enough. What are the colors? The brushstrokes? The structure? When they have finished writing, ask them to turn and talk with a partner about what they noticed and how it made them feel about the grapes.
  3. Project the poem “October” by Robert Frost so all your students can see it. Again, ask them to silently write down what they notice in the poem. What jumps out at them? Then, ask one of your students to read the poem aloud to the class while the listening students jot down what details they hear that they did not notice before. Repeat this process with another student reading aloud.
  4. Ask your students to gather in small groups and share what jumped out at them in the poem, including the words, phrases, and structure. How does Frost describe October? What words and phrases can they cite, drawing on what they noticed, as evidence for their interpretation?
  5. Whole-class discussion: What role do your students think the grapes play in the poem? Ask them to think back to the image of grapes that they looked at earlier. How does what they noticed about these grapes make them feel about the grapes at the end of the poem? What would they want to say to the month of October after reading this poem?

The Youngbloods, “Get Together”

Classroom Activities

  1. Warm-up:  Go quickly around the room asking your students what associations they have with the word stranger. If a student cannot think of anything, allow them to say “pass” and come back to them when everyone else is finished.
  2. Play the video of the song “Get Together” so all your students can see and hear it. While they are listening, ask them to write down the words and sounds that jump out to them.
  3. Ask them to gather in small groups to share what they heard and to discuss what they think the song is about. Why do they think this song was popular in 1967?
  4. Project “Amendment” by Christina Davis so your students can see it. Ask them to read it silently and to 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 important. Repeat this process with a second student reading aloud.
  5. Ask your students to get back in their small groups and to share what they noticed in the poem. What do they think the speaker in the poem is saying about strangers, how they should be treated, and what we might have to do first? What is the evidence in the poem for their opinions?
  6. Possible whole-class discussion topics:  Why do your students think this poem is called “Amendment?” What would they title this poem? What are the similarities and differences between the song and the poem? What are the similarities and differences between this time in history and the 1960s?

Mahalia Jackson at Newport Jazz Festival

Classroom Activities

  1. Warm-up: Ask your students to get into small groups, with one laptop or iPad in each group. Ask your students if anyone knows who Mahalia Jackson was; those who do should share what they know with the rest of the class. Then, your students should quickly look up as much information as they can about Mahalia Jackson, using the laptops or iPads, and share this among the members of their group.
  2. Play the video of Mahalia Jackson singing “Let There Be Peace on Earth” so all your students can see and hear it. Play the video a second time and ask them to jot down what they see and hear.
  3. Whole-class discussion: How does this video make your students feel about this song? What, in the video, leads them to feel this way?
  4. Project Claudia Rankine’s poem “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely [Mahalia Jackson is a genius]” so all your students can see it.  Ask them to write down what jumps out at them, including words, phrases, and structure. Ask a student to read the poem aloud so all the class can hear it. Ask the listening students to write down anything new that jumps out at them. Repeat this process with another student reading aloud.
  5. Ask your students to return to their small groups and share what they noticed in the poem and what questions they have. Ask them to try to answer their questions in their groups.
  6. Whole-class discussion: What are your students’ questions? Write them on the board and hold a class discussion around as many of these as you wish. (You should be prepared for questions about Paul CelanGeorge Wein, and Hegel, as well as questions about prose poems—students might want to discuss whether this is a poem at all.) What are the questions your students think Claudia Rankine might be raising?

Photograph Taken on 9/13/01 in New York

Photograph Taken on 9/13/01 in New York

By Andrea Booher/ FEMA News Photo. Sep 13, 2001. Location: New York, NY.

Classroom Activities

  1. Warm-up: Go around the room quickly and ask your students what associations they have with the date September 11. If a student can’t think of what to say, they can pass, and you can ask them again when everyone else has finished.
  2. Project the photograph taken by Andrea Booher on September 13, 2001, so all your students can see it.  Ask them to write down the things that jump out at them from the image. Give them plenty of time.
  3. Place your students in small groups. Ask each group to create a tableau (a still picture with no talking) of the details they saw in the photo and how these made them feel. Give them several minutes to work together, and then ask each group to present their tableau to the other students in the class. Ask the watching students to report on the details they see in the tableau and how these details make them feel.
  4. Project Lucille Clifton’s poem “Tuesday 9/11/01” so all your students can view it. Ask them to read it silently and jot down the words, phrases, and structural elements that jump out at them. Ask one student to read the poem aloud while the listeners add new words, phrases, and structural aspects to their notes. Repeat the process with another student reading aloud.
  5. Ask your students to gather back in their small groups and share what they have written down.
  6. Whole-class discussion: What feelings are evoked by the photograph and the poem about September 11? How are these feelings similar to, and different from, each other? What did the photographer and the poet do to evoke these feelings? (Your students can use the details they have written down as  evidence.) What feelings and ideas do your students take away after viewing the photograph and reading the poem? (You may want to ask them to write in some way about the last question.)

Li-Young Lee Reads "I Ask My Mother to Sing"

Classroom Activities

  1. For homework ask your students to bring either a song that their parents taught them from their native culture or a photograph of a place in the country where their ancestors came from originally.
  2. Ask your students to write a short paragraph about their song or photograph and how it makes them (or other members of their family) feel.
  3. Gather your students in small groups and ask them to share their songs and photographs, along with any contextual information or stories they know about them. They can use the paragraphs they wrote as reference, if helpful.
  4. Project “I Ask My Mother to Sing” so 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. Then play the video of Li-Young Lee reading his poem. Ask your students to write down new words, phrases, and structural aspects they might think important after hearing the poem in two different voices.
  5. Whole-class discussion: Why does the speaker in the poem “love to hear [the song] sung,” even though it makes his mother and grandmother cry? How does the speaker feel about the places in China he mentions? Ask your students to give evidence from the poem to support their thoughts.
  6. Introduce the idea of a sonnet. You may also want to ask your students to write sonnets about their memories relating to their native cultures.

Classroom Activities

Resources: photos of special places in your students’ lives.

  1. Homework: Ask your students to take a photo of a favorite place using their cell phones (if they are allowed to bring them to school) or to bring in a printed photo of a place they like. This photo will be used as preparation for reading Richard Blanco’s poem.
  2. In class, ask your students to look carefully at their photographs and write down what they notice. Ask them to describe objects in detail, including colors, shapes, positions, etc. Then ask them to recall and write down what they hear (or imagine they hear) in that space, what they might taste, and how objects feel (or might feel).
  3. Project the poem “El Florida Room” 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 important. Repeat this process with a second student reading aloud.
  4. Place your students in small groups and ask them to share what they noticed in the poem. What sensory details does Richard Blanco use in this poem? What structural details are there?
  5. Whole-class discussion: How does the speaker in the poem feel about the Florida room? How do you know? How does the repetition of the word not help you think about the poem?
  6. As an extension, you can ask your students to write a poem about their favorite place using descriptive sensory language, and, if they’d like, some form of repetition.

Note: This Teach This Poem was adapted from a lesson plan by Richard Blanco.

Alvin Ailey's Revelations

Watch an excerpt from a 2008 performance of Alvin Ailey's Revelations, a suite of dances using African-American traditional spirituals.

Classroom Activities

  1. 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.
  2. 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?
  3. 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?
  4. 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.
  5. 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?
  6. 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.

Sow and Five Piglets

Sow and Five Piglets

This image is in the public domain.

Classroom Activities

  1. Ask your students what they know about Saint Francis. Make sure they have a complete enough understanding to read this poem. Also, ask them if they know the meaning of the word sow. Fill in, again, as necessary.
  2. Project the image “Sow and Five Piglets” so all your students can see it. Ask them to write down what they see and their reaction to it. Go quickly around the room and ask each person to share something they saw and how they reacted.
  3. Project Galway Kinnell’s poem and ask your students to read it twice silently. The first time, they should simply read the poem. The second time, they should write down the words and phrases that jump out at them. (Caveat: Some less mature students might start giggling when they get toward the end of the poem. Ask them to write down the phrases that make them giggle, so they can be discussed.)
  4. Ask one student to read the poem aloud while the listening students add words and phrases to their lists. Repeat the process with a second student reading out loud.
  5. Small-group discussions: Share the words and phrases that jump out at you in the poem. What does Saint Francis do in the poem?
  6. Whole-class discussion: How does the speaker in the poem feel about the sow at the end? What does he do in the poem to help us reach that conclusion? (Make sure your students use what they noticed in the poem as evidence.) What point do your students think the speaker is trying to make? (Again, give evidence.)

World Map

World Map

Classroom Activities

  1. Project the map of the world so everyone in your class can see it. Let your students look at it for several minutes and then ask them to write down what they notice about the map itself—the colors, shapes, etc. Point out that you do not want them to say that they see “countries” or “mountains”; rather, you are asking them to write down what the mapmaker has used to depict these items. After your students have written down everything they notice, ask them to share what they have written with a partner. Ask them to clean up their lists to only include what they see, without any interpretations.
  2. Project the poem “Maps” so all your students can view it. Ask them to read the poem silently twice. The first time, they should simply read the poem all the way through. The second time, they should write down the things that jump out at them in the poem and the words and phrases that strike them in some way. They should also look at how the poem is structured and write down any questions they might have about what they notice.
  3. Ask your students to listen to the audio of Yesenia Montilla reading her poem twice. What new things do they notice after hearing her read her poem?
  4. In small groups, ask your students to share what they noticed from reading and listening to the poem. How does this relate to what they noticed earlier in the map of the world?
  5. Whole-class discussion: How do your students think the speaker in the poem feels about maps? What evidence do they have to support this answer, using the lists of what they have noticed in the poem? What might the structure of the poem have to do with how the speaker feels about maps? What does the speaker in the poem want to do about maps? Do your students agree or disagree with her perspective?

Classroom Activities

Resources: Some “knick knacks” or objects that your students can arrange and rearrange. (Enough for several small groups of students.)

  1. Warm up: Go around the room quickly and ask your students to make a gesture with one hand that represents spring to them. If a student can’t think of anything, they can say “pass” to wait until after all the other students have contributed.
  2. Place your students in small groups of no more than four or five. Give each group four or five items, and ask your students to, without talking, arrange these items on a desk. Then ask them to rearrange the items on the desk, again, without talking. All this should be done without knocking anything over or breaking any of the items.
  3. Project the poem “Spring is like a perhaps hand” by E. E. Cummings so all your students can see it. Ask your students to read it silently, and then write down the words and phrases that jump out at them. What structural oddities do they see? Ask a student to read the poem aloud to the class, while the listening students write down new words and phrases they think are important. Repeat this process with a second student reading aloud.
  4. Ask your students to get back in their small groups to discuss how the gestures and the rearrangement of the items might relate to their interpretation of the poem.
  5. Whole-class discussion: How would your students define a “perhaps hand”? What do they think the poem is saying about spring? How do they feel the structural oddities affect the poem? Ask them to provide evidence to back up their assertions.

Garden at Vaucresson

Garden at Vaucresson

Garden at Vaucresson by Édouard Vuillard (1868–1940). Date: 1920; reworked 1926, 1935, 1936. Medium: Distemper on canvas. Dimensions: 59 ½ x 43 ⅝ inches. Credit line: Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Collection, Wolfe Fund, 1952. www.metmuseum.org

Classroom Activities

  1. Whip-around: Go around the room and ask your students to say, in two or three words, what the term country house means to them.
  2. Project the painting Garden at Vaucresson so all your students can see it. Let them look at it for several minutes. Then ask them to write down what they see in the image—colors, brush strokes, objects, etc. Ask your students to turn to a partner and share what they see and how it makes them feel about this country house.
  3. Project the poem “A Place in the Country” by Toi Derricotte for your students to see. Ask them to read it silently, and then write down the words and phrases that jump out at them. Ask a student to read the poem aloud to the class, while the listening students write down new words and phrases they might think important. Repeat this process with a second student reading aloud.
  4. Gather your students in small groups and ask them to share the words and phrases that jumped out at them. Why do they think these words and phrases might be important to the poem?
  5. Whole-class discussion: Drawing on their discussion of the image of the painting and what they noticed in the poem, what do your students think are the initial feelings of the couple in the poem toward buying a house in the country? How do their feelings change over the course of the poem? Why do their feelings change?

Paul McCartney Sings "Blackbird"

Classroom Activities

  1. Warm up: Ask your students to think about a cold day at the beginning of spring and write down a quick sentence about how that day makes them feel.
  2. Play the video of Paul McCartney singing “Blackbird” twice for your students. The first time, ask your students to listen to it quietly. The second time, ask them to write down what jumps out at them from the lyrics. Ask them to turn and talk with a partner about what they have written from the song and how that might relate to a cold day in spring.
  3. Project the poem “In cold spring air” by Reginald Gibbons 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 and phrases they might think important. Repeat this process with a second student reading aloud.
  4. Place your students in small groups. Ask them to share what they noticed that seemed important or unusual in this poem.
  5. In a whole-class discussion, ask your students the following questions: What is the poem saying to them? What evidence do they have to support this? How is the poem structured? What do they think this structure adds to the poem, if anything?

Sunrise on the Matterhorn

Sunrise on the Matterhorn

Sunrise on the Matterhorn by Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902). Date: after 1875. Medium: Oil on canvas. Dimensions: 58 ½ x 42 ⅝ inches. Credit line: Gift of Mrs. Karl W. Koeniger, 1966. www.metmuseum.org.

Classroom Activities

  1. Show your students the image of Sunrise on the Matterhorn so they can look at it closely. Ask them to write down what they see—the colors, the images, the light. Ask them to share what they noticed with a partner and talk about how these aspects of the painting made them feel.
  2. Ask your students to gather in small groups to create a tableau (a silent, physical representation of one point in time) showing how the painting made them feel. Have each group present their tableau to the rest of the class. The other students should then talk about what they noticed in the tableau, how it made them feel, and the gestures the group used to elicit those feelings.
  3. Project the poem “Before a Painting” so all your students can see it. Ask them to write down what words, phrases, and structure jump out at them from the poem. Ask one student to read the poem aloud to the class, while the listening students write down new words and phrases that they hear. Repeat the process with a second student reading aloud.
  4. Ask your students to return to their small groups to share the feelings that were elicited by the painting, the tableaux, and the poem. What did the three have in common? How were they different?
  5. Whole-class discussion: What tools does a painter use to elicit images and emotions? What tools does the poet use to elicit images and emotions? How does creating something, such as a tableau, help you to better understand the painting and the poem?

April 17, 2017

Arthur Sze

Old-Growth Clear-cutting in Klanawa Valley

From "B.C. municipalities support Vancouver Island push to save old-growth forests," Vancouver Sun. Photo credit: TJ Watt/Ancient Forest Alliance. www.AncientForestAlliance.org.

Classroom Activities

  1. When the trees in your area are in full leaf, ask your students to find a tree that “speaks” to them.  Ask them to describe, in writing, the details of that tree and why they are attracted to it. They should pay particular attention to the tree's leaves, and they may even want to draw a picture of a leaf they particularly like.
  2. Show your students the image of old growth clear-cutting, but do not tell them the title. Ask them to write down the details of what they see. How does this image make them feel?
  3. If your students do not know, tell them what clear-cutting is. In small groups, ask them to discuss how they feel about clear-cutting after seeing the image.
  4. Project the poem by Arthur Sze. Ask your students to write down what jumps out at them in the poem. Ask one student to read the poem aloud, while the listening students add details to their writing from what they hear. Repeat this process with another student reading aloud.
  5. Place your students in small groups to research the types of trees mentioned in the poem.
  6. Whole-class discussion: What do they think Arthur Sze might be saying about how different leaves and trees make him feel? What does it mean to “be on the edge of a new leaf”? Have your students ever felt that way?

Other ideas for teaching this poem can be found in a lesson plan specifically designed for the National Poetry Month poster.

"Swing Dance, 1941"

Watch this video of a swing dance from the 1941 short film Skinnay Ennis and His Orchestra.

Classroom Activities

  1. Show your class the video “Swing Dance, 1941” twice. The first time ask them to watch the video straight through and write one or two words they associate with the dance they have just seen. The second time, ask them to write down what they notice about the dance—the steps, moves, tempo, body posture of the dancers, etc.
  2. Ask your students to pair up and share what they wrote with their partners. If one person gives an interpretation, such as “they trusted each other,” their partner should ask for evidence from the video for the interpretation.
  3. Project Juan Felipe Herrera’s poem so all your students can see it. Ask them to read the poem silently and write down words and phrases that jump out at them. Play the audio of Herrera reading the poem twice. Ask your students to write down new words and phrases that jump out at them from the reading.
  4. Ask your students to gather in small groups to share what they noticed in the poem and what they learned about the poet Philip Levine.
  5. Play an excerpt of Philip Levine giving his inaugural address as U.S. Poet Laureate, starting from the beginning of the video. Be sure to listen to him read at least one or two full poems.
  6. Whole-class discussion: How do you think Juan Felipe Herrera feels about Philip Levine? What does the jitterbug have to do with the way Philip Levine lived in the world? What questions do your students still have about Philip Levine, his poems, and his life? (Use his poems and biography on Poets.org as a resource to help answer these questions.)

Other ideas for teaching this poem can be found in a lesson plan specifically designed for the National Poetry Month poster.

Ship at Sea

Ship at Sea

Ship at Sea by Albert Ernest Markes (1865-1901). Date: Late 19th century. Medium: Watercolor. Dimensions: 10 3/8 x 16 5/8 inches. Credit Line: Bequest of Susan Dwight Bliss, 1966. www.metmuseum.org.

Classroom Activities

  1. Whip around: Quickly ask each of your students to give a one or two word association they have with a ship on the sea.  If a student wishes to pass, come back to them after all the other students have said something.
  2. Project the painting Ship at Sea and ask your students to look at it carefully. Ask them to write down what they notice about how the ship was painted—colors, brush strokes, etc. What is the impression they have of this ship on the sea? What is their evidence for this impression? (They should use what they noticed to help them provide this evidence.) Ask your students to turn and talk with a partner about what they saw and their impressions of the painting.
  3. Project the poem “There is no frigate like a book (1263)” by Emily Dickinson. First, ask your students to make a list of the vocabulary words they do not know in the poem. Help them discover the meaning of the words. Next, ask them to read the poem closely, writing down what jumps out at them in the poem. Ask a student to read the poem aloud to the class while the listening students to write down anything new that they hear. Repeat this process with another student reading aloud.
  4. Ask your students to gather in small groups to share what jumped out at them in the poem. They should discuss what they think the poem is saying about books and poetry.
  5. Whole-class discussion: How do your students feel when they are really engrossed in a book, story, or poem? To what is Emily Dickinson comparing this experience? What are the similes and the metaphors in this poem?

Other ideas for teaching this poem can be found in a lesson plan specifically designed for the National Poetry Month Poster.

The History of Old South Meeting House

“When the Old South Meeting House was built in 1729, its Puritan congregation could not foresee the role it would play in American history. In colonial times, statesman Benjamin Franklin was baptized here. Phillis Wheatley, the first published black poet, was a member, as were patriots James Otis, Thomas Cushing, and William Dawes. When rumblings started to shake the colonies and the Revolution grew imminent, patriots flocked to Old South to debate the most pressing issues of the day. They argued about the Boston Massacre, and they protested impressment of American sailors into the British Navy. And then, on the night of December 16, 1773, they acted. Some 5,000 angry colonists gathered at Old South to protest a tax on tea. When the negotiations failed, disguised men took action and destroyed over 1.5 million dollars worth of tea in today's money.”

—“Old South Meeting House,” National Park Service, March, 2017.

Classroom Activities

  1. Whip-around: Go around the room and ask your students what associations they have with the words Boston Tea Party. If someone does not have an answer ready, they can say “pass” to wait until after all the other students have contributed.
  2. Ask your students to read the short excerpt about the Old South Meeting House, and the role it played at the beginning of the American Revolution. Ask them to write down what they think are the important words and phrases in the excerpt. Then, ask your students to gather in pairs to share what they learned about the Old South Meeting House from this excerpt.
  3. Project January Gill O’Neil’s poem so all your students can see it. Ask them to read the poem silently and write down the words and phrases that jump out to them. Ask one student to read the poem aloud to the whole class while the listeners add to their lists of words and phrases. Repeat this process with a second student reading aloud.
  4. In small groups, ask them to share their words and phrases. What do these words and phrases tell us about the poem? What is the structure of the words? What might this have to do with the Old South Meeting House?
  5. Whole-class discussion: What did your students learn from the historical excerpt about the Old South Meeting House? What did they learn from the poem? What do your students think accounts for the difference? Make sure they give detailed evidence from both the historical excerpt and the poem.

Flowers in Front of an Abandoned House in Demerino, Russia

 Flowers in Front of an Abandoned House in Demerino, Russia

This image is in the public domain.

Classroom Activities

  1. Show your students the image of ruins and flowers. Let them look at it for several minutes, and ask them to write down what they notice. Make sure they remember to include details and not just general statements.
  2. Ask your students to turn and talk with a partner about the details that they just wrote down. Ask them to come up with one list of details on which they can agree. Why do they think the photographer chose to include these particular details?
  3. Project “Lines Written in Early Spring” by William Wordsworth so all your students can see it. Ask them to read the poem silently and write down the words and phrases that jump out to them. Ask one student to read the poem aloud to the whole class while the listeners add to their list of words and phrases. Repeat this process with a second student reading aloud.
  4. Ask your students to look at the poem again. What do they see in the structure of the poem that jumps out at them? Ask them to get back with their partners to share the words, phrases, and structure that they noticed.
  5. Ask your students to gather in groups of four to discuss what Wordsworth is comparing. Make sure they cite evidence in the poem to back up their interpretations.
  6. Whole-class discussion: What do your students think Wordsworth is trying to say? What evidence do they have that he is trying to say it? What structure does he use to say it? What is the rhyme scheme? What do they think “man has made of man?”

Syrian Refugee Children Speak Out | UNICEF

In this video from UNICEF, Syrian children discuss escaping the violence in the Syrian Arab Republic and their current situation in Lebanon as refugees.

Classroom Activities

  1. Play four to five minutes of the UNICEF film “Syrian Refugee Children Speak Out” for your students twice. The first time, they should watch carefully. The second time, ask them to write down the details, including sights and sounds, that they notice most.
  2. Ask your students to gather in groups of four to share what they wrote. They should use these observations as a stepping-off point to create a tableau (a still, silent picture with their bodies) that illustrates what they observed. Give the groups time to create and rehearse their tableaux, which they will present to the rest of the class.
  3. Ask the groups to present their tableaux. While each tableau is in place, ask the observers to write down what they notice—posture, position, gesture, etc. Ask them what they think each tableau is about. What do they think each tableau is saying? What is their evidence?
  4. Project Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem “Business” so all your students can see it. Ask them to read the poem silently and write down the words and phrases that jump out at them. Ask one student to read the poem aloud to the whole class while the listeners continue taking notes. Repeat this process with a second student reading aloud.
  5. Ask your students to gather again in their small groups and discuss the details in the poem that help them understand what it feels like to be a refugee.
  6. Whole-class discussion: What does it feel like to be a refugee? Make sure your students cite evidence from the poem that backs up their opinions. If you were a refugee, what would you want for yourself and your family?

Rising Sun

Rising Sun

Rising Sun, by Shibata Zeshin (Japanese, 1807–1891). Medium: ink and color on silk. Dimensions: 80 x 23.5 cm. The Howard Mansfield Collection, Purchase, Rogers Fund, 1936. www.metmuseum.org.

Classroom Activities

  1. Whip-around: Go quickly around the room, asking each of your students to say one word they associate with the word sun and one word they associate with heart. Any student who does not have an answer can say “pass” and wait to go until all the other students have had a turn.
  2. Show your students the image “Rising Sun” by Shibata Zeshin without mentioning the title. Ask them to look at it closely and write down what they see in the picture. Remind them that they should be looking for details. If they write, “I see the sun,” they should explain what in the picture tells them it is the sun. Ask them to turn and talk with a partner to share what they noticed. Ask them to discuss how the image made them feel. What in the image made them feel this way?
  3. Project “This Morning I Pray for My Enemies” so all your students can see it. Ask them to read it silently and write down the words and phrases that jump out at them. Ask one student to read the poem aloud to the whole class while the listeners add to their list of words and phrases. Repeat this process with a second student reading aloud.
  4. Ask your students to get in groups of four and discuss what the statement “The heart is the smaller cousin of the sun” might mean. Why do they think this, based on what they know about the heart and the sun?
  5. Whole-group discussion: What do your students think it takes to turn an enemy into a friend? What do they think Joy Harjo is saying about this in the poem?

“Tree Flowers II (Baumblumen II” by Antonius Höckelmann

Tree Flowers II

Harvard Art Museums/Busch-Reisinger Museum, Friends Anniversary Collection, Gift of Siegfried Gohr. http://www.harvardartmuseums.org.

Classroom Activities

  1. Project the image of the painting “Tree Flowers II (Baumblumen II)” so all your students can look at it carefully. Ask them to write down what they notice—the colors, the brush strokes, the images. If they think they see flowers, ask them to identify the colors, strokes and position of these. Give them plenty of time.
  2. Ask your students to gather in pairs and share what they noticed. If they offer an interpretation, such as “These flowers are happy,” ask them to tell their partner what details in the painting evoke this. What is their evidence? How did this painting make them feel? What, in the painting, made them feel this way?
  3. Project the poem “The Tradition” so all your students can see it. Ask them to read the poem silently and write down all the words and phrases that jump out at them, including references and words they do not know. Ask them to write down the questions they have about the poem. What do they notice about the way the poem is written?
  4. Ask one of your students to read the poem aloud to the class. Ask the listening students to add to their written list of words, phrases, and questions. Ask another student to read aloud, and have the listening students repeat the process.
  5. In groups of four, ask your students to share their words, phrases, questions, and observations about the way the poem is written.
  6. Whole-class discussions: Ask your students what questions they still have. See if the class, as a whole, can help answer them. If not, help them along. Ask your students why they think Jericho Brown writes about flowers. Are the flowers a metaphor for something else in the poem? What clues are there in the way the poem is structured? What (or who) has been cut down? What do your students think is “The Tradition”? How does the painting “Tree Flowers II (Baumblumen II)” relate to this poem? Make sure your students provide evidence for their interpretations.

Rosa Parks on a Bus in Montgomery, Alabama, December 21, 1956

Rosa Parks

New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection, Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, NYWT&S Collection, LC-DIG-ds-07979.

Classroom Activities

  1. Project the photograph of Rosa Parks on the bus without telling your students who she is. Ask them to look at the photograph carefully and write down what they see. It is not enough for them to write “I see a man and a woman.” They have to write as many details as possible about what they see. If they immediately recognize the subject of the photograph, ask them to write down what elements of the photograph tell them who this person is.
  2. Ask your students to get in pairs and to share the details they noticed. What do they think is the situation in the photograph? What details in the photograph support this interpretation?
  3. Whole-class discussion: Ask your students if they know about Rosa Parks. If some students do know, have them tell the rest of the class who she was. Add details, as necessary. If no one knows, tell them the story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, or direct them to the primary resources from the Library of Congress.
  4. Project the poem “Making History” so all of your students can see it. Ask them to read the poem silently and write down all the words and phrases that jump out at them. Ask them to write down the questions they have after reading the poem.
  5. Ask one student to read the poem aloud, while the other students listen and write down any new words, phrases, or questions. Ask another student to read the poem aloud and have the listening students follow the same process.
  6. Ask your students to get into groups of four to share their lists and help one another answer their questions. This may involve some individual/group research to discover all the “firsts” mentioned in the poem.
  7. Whole-class discussion: What is the speaker in the poem telling us is necessary to “make history?” What are the “little white lies” about which she is speaking?

Blooming Red Rose Timelapse

Classroom Activities

  1. To help your students explore the central image of both the resource and the poem, place them in groups of no more than four. Ask them to come up with a group movement that shows something opening slowly and then closing. They should rehearse this movement briefly, then each group should present their movement to the rest of the class. While each group is presenting, the rest of the class should watch and write down what they notice. Repeat this process until every group has presented.
  2. Project the timelapse image of the blooming rose so all your students can see it. As your students look at the image, ask them to write down what they notice about how the rose opens.
  3. Ask your students to gather in pairs and discuss how the opening of the rose is similar to, or different from, the characteristics they noticed from their groups’ opening and closing. What words would they use to describe the opening of the rose?
  4. Project the poem “somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond” so all your students can see it. Ask them to read it silently and write down all the things about the poem that jump out at them. Ask your students to gather in pairs again to discuss how the poem makes them feel. What in the poem fosters this feeling?
  5. Whole-class discussion: Ask your students, How does E. E. Cummings use the image of opening and closing to express love? What did you notice about E. E. Cummings’s use of punctuation? Why do you think he wrote this way? Make sure your students give specific examples from the poem.

Magnetic Fields, “The Book of Love”

This song is recommended for middle school and high school, but teachers should use their own discretion.

Classroom Activities

  1. Whip-around: Go quickly around the room asking your students for one one-word association they have with the word love. If a student does not have an idea, it is fine for them to say “pass,” but remind them you will come back to them when the rest of the class has finished.
  2. Play the audio of “The Book of Love” by Magnetic Fields. Ask your students to write down words and phrases they hear that jump out at them. Play the audio a second time. This time, ask your students to write down how this song makes them feel. What in the song makes them feel this way?
  3. Ask your students to get into pairs to share their answers to question #2.
  4. Project the poem “Love at First Sight” by Wislawa Szymborska so all your students can see it. Ask them to read the poem silently, writing down all the words and phrases they think are important. Ask one student to read the poem out loud to the class, while the listening students continue listing the words and phrases that jump out at them. Ask another student to read the poem to the class, repeating the same process.
  5. Ask your students to gather in groups of four to share what they have noticed.
  6. Whole-class discussion: What does the speaker in Szymborska’s poem say are the “signs and symbols” of love? How do these relate to the characteristics of the song “The Book of Love”? Make sure your students back up their interpretations with evidence from the poem and the song.

X-ray of the Right Hand

X-ray of the Right Hand

This image is in the public domain.

Classroom Activities

  1. Whip-around: Go around the room quickly and ask each student to share something they’d love to do when they have to choose their life’s work. If a student does not have an idea, they can say “pass” and you can go back to them when the other students have spoken.
  2. Show your students the x-ray image of the right hand. Ask them to write down what they see—the colors, the light, the dark, the clarity. Where are these aspects located in the X-ray?
  3. Project the poem “The Chance” by Arthur Sze in front of the class, so all your students can see it. Ask them to read it silently and write down all the words and phrases that jump out at them. Ask a student to read the poem aloud, while the listening students continue listing new words and phrases that draw their attention. Repeat this process while another student reads aloud.
  4. Ask for volunteers to write their lists on the front board, not repeating any words or phrases that are already written. Point out the images in the compiled list of words and phrases. Hold a discussion about the use of images and why your students think Arthur Sze uses them.
  5. Referring back to what your students said in the whip-around, ask them to think about their “clear white light [that works] against the fuzzy blurred edges of the darkness.” Have them share what they think this might be with a partner.
  6. Ask them to write a paragraph or poem about what the image of the “clear white light” means in their lives.

On the Trail: Everglades National Park

A video about "The River of Grass," home to an abundance of plants and animals, produced by CBS Sunday Morning.

Classroom Activities

  1. Show the video “On the Trail: Everglades National Park” to your students. After they see it, ask them to write down what they remember. What did they learn from this video? How do they feel about the Everglades after watching this video? Please remind them that there are no right or wrong answers to these questions.
  2. Project the poem “The Everglades” by Campbell McGrath in front of the class, so all your students can see it. Ask them to read it silently and write down what they notice in the poem, including all the words, phrases, and structures that ring out to them. Ask a student to read the poem aloud to the class.  Ask the listening students to continue adding to their lists during this reading. Repeat this process with another student reading out loud.
  3. Ask your students to turn and talk with a partner about what they noticed in the poem. What do they learn from the poem? How do they feel about the Everglades after reading and hearing this poem?  Ask them to provide evidence from the poem to support their answers.
  4. Whole-class discussion: What do they remember from watching the video? What do they remember from the poem? How is the language in the poem different from that in the video? What do they think is the function of these different types of language?

Martin Luther King, Jr., Montgomery, Alabama

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dan Weiner (1919–1959). Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Transfer from the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, Beinecke Fund.

Classroom Activities

  1. Show your class the photograph of Martin Luther King, Jr.  Ask them to write down what they notice about the way he is posed, about the look on his face. If they write down an interpretation (for instance, “He looks like he is thinking”), ask them to provide evidence from the photograph that supports this.
  2. Have a whole-class discussion about who Martin Luther King, Jr., was and what happened to him.  Why do your students think he looks the way he does in this photograph?
  3. Project the poem “won’t you celebrate with me” by Lucille Clifton in front the class, so all your students can see it. Ask your students to write down what they find interesting in the words, phrases, and structure of the poem. Ask a student to read the poem aloud to the class. Ask the listening students to add new words and phrases that they hear to what they have written. Repeat this process with a second student reading the poem aloud.
  4. Ask your students to gather in small groups and share what they noticed about the poem and how it is written. Remind them to use evidence from the poem when making an interpretation.
  5. Hold another whole-class discussion: What do both the photograph and the poem remind us of? Why is this important to remember in today’s world?

“Ottendorfer, Stacks and desk”

 “Ottendorfer, Stacks and desk”

Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library. "Ottendorfer, Stacks and desk" New York Public Library Digital Collections. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org.

Classroom Activities

  1. Project the photograph “Ottendorfer Stacks and Desk” in front of the class so all your students can see it. Ask them to write down what they notice in the image. Have them list as many specific things as possible. Ask them to share what they wrote down with a partner and to add to their lists as they learn more.
  2. Ask your students to gather in small groups and discuss how the photograph makes them feel about the thought of walking to the back of the library stacks. Ask them to talk about specific details that contribute to this feeling.
  3. Project the poem “Chance” by Molly Peacock in front of the class so all your students can see it. Ask them to read it silently to themselves two times. The second time have them write down what jumps out at them in this poem, including words, phrases, and structural details. Also, ask them to write down the words they don’t know and other questions they might have about this poem.
  4. Ask one student to read the poem aloud to the class. Have the other students continue adding to their lists while listening. Repeat this process with a second reader.
  5. Ask your students to gather in small groups and share their lists and questions. Group members should help one another with words they do not know.
  6. Whole-class discussion: Ask your students to think both about the photograph of the library stacks and their lists of words and phrases from the poem. Ask them to use these as resources and think about what it may mean or feel like “to find yourself.” What does Molly Peacock seem to think is important in this journey? What do your students think is important in this journey?

Classroom Activities

Resource: Student lists of things they accomplished in the past year and things they wanted to accomplish, but did not.

  1. Ask your students to make a list of things they accomplished in the past year and things they wanted to accomplish, but did not. (Perhaps this could be a homework assignment.) In class, have them share their lists with a partner.
  2. Project the poem “Burning the Old Year” by Naomi Shihab Nye so all your students can see it. Ask them to read it silently and write down all the words and phrases that jump out at them. Ask a student to read the poem aloud while the listening students list more words and phrases that ring out to them. Ask another student to read the poem aloud and repeat the process.
  3. Ask your students to gather in small groups and share what they noticed in the poem. How does what they noticed tell them something about transitioning from the old to the new year?
  4. Whole-class discussion: Ask your students if they think Naomi Shihab Nye is really burning something. How is she using the idea of burning? Introduce the idea of metaphor here. What does the metaphor tell us?
  5. Ask your students to write an essay about what they did not accomplish last year that they plan to accomplish in 2017. They should include a fairly detailed description of how they plan to do this.

 

Classroom Activities

Resource: Two candles that smell like balsam fir.

  1. Light the two balsam fir candles and pass them around the room so that all your students get a chance to smell the aroma.
  2. Ask your students to write down as many words as they can to describe how balsam fir smells. Ask them to share their descriptive words with a partner.
  3. Project the poem, “Taking Down the Tree,” in front of the classroom. Ask your students to read the poem twice silently. The first time, they should read the poem straight through. The second time, they should circle the words and phrases that jump out at them, including the words/phrases they don’t know.
  4. Ask a student to read the poem aloud to the class, while the listening students add to their list of words/phrases that jump out. Repeat this process with a second student reading the poem aloud.
  5. Ask your students to gather in small groups to share their words and phrases, paying attention to the words some students may not recognize. If the groups cannot figure out the word from context, ask that they write the word on the board for discussion by the class.
  6. If your students have not studied Hamlet, you may need to give them, or have them explore, the context for the first stanza of the poem.
  7. Whole-class discussion: In what ways is the speaker in the poem talking about light? Why do your students think the speaker in the poem is concerned with light? Ask your students to review their descriptions of the aroma of balsam fir. Why might the speaker in the poem refer to “extravagant” darkness?

"Orion on Film"

\"Orion on Film\"

“Orion on Film” by Matthew Spinelli. NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day Collection. 7 February 2003. apod.nasa.gov.

Classroom Activites

  1. Project the image of Orion as large as you possibly can for students to experience. Ask them to gaze at it for a few minutes. Then ask them to write down what they see and how it makes them feel. What is it about the image that makes them feel this way?
  2. Ask your students to turn and talk with a partner about what they wrote down.
  3. Project the poem “Wonder and Joy” by Robinson Jeffers so all your students can see it. Ask them to read it silently to themselves twice. The first time they should just read it through. The second time, ask them to write down the things about the poem that seem special.
  4. Ask one student to read the poem aloud to the class. The listening students should write down new things they notice that seem special in the poem. Ask another student to read the poem aloud, with the listeners once again writing down what they notice.
  5. Whole-class discussion: What kinds of things does Jeffers think “one grows tired of”? What do your students grow tired of in their lives? What does Jeffers think makes a person fortunate? Do your students agree?
  6. If you and your students are interested in rhyme and form, you might want to plot out the rhyme scheme in this poem and have a discussion about the sonnet form.

Family

Family

Copyright © 2010 by Danielle Legros Georges.

Classroom Activities

  1. Warm up: Go quickly around the room and ask your students to use one word that represents what they know about Haiti. It is all right if they say “nothing” or decide to pass on their turn.
  2. Project the image of a Haitian family so the whole class can see it. Ask your students to look at the image closely and write down what they see—not what they think they see, but what they actually see. If they write down, for example, that someone looks confident, they must give evidence from the image of what makes them think the person looks that way. Ask them to share what they noticed with a partner.
  3. Project “Poem for the Poorest Country in the Western Hemisphere” by Danielle Legros Georges so all your students can see the poem. Ask them to read it silently and write down the words and phrases that jump out at them.
  4. Ask one student to read the poem aloud to the class, while the listeners jot down new words and/or phrases that jump out.  Repeat this process with a second student reading aloud.
  5. Ask your students to gather in groups of four and discuss what they noticed in the image and in the poem. How are these things similar and/or different?
  6. Continue the small group discussion on what your students discovered. You may want to prompt them to look for the internal rhymes (rhyming words that may occur within lines instead of only at line ends). Consider pointing out one instance of this to your students, then asking them to identify others.
  7. Whole-class discussion: Ask your students what they have learned from Georges’s poem and the photograph. Does the imagery evoked by the poem say the same things as the imagery in the photograph? If so, what? Does the imagery say something different? If so, what? (Make sure your students use evidence from their experience of the poem and the photograph to support their answers.)

Snow by John Singer Sargent

Snow by John Singer Sargent

Snow, by John Singer Sargent (1856–1925). Date: 1909–1911. Medium: Watercolor and graphite on white wove paper. Dimensions: 11 5/8 x 14 in. Gift of Mrs. Francis Ormond, 1950. www.metmuseum.org.

Classroom Activities

  1. Project the image of John Singer Sargent’s Snow so all your students can see it. What do they notice about how Sargent painted the snow? What are the colors? The strokes? The lines? Have them make a list of what they see.
  2. Ask your students to pair up and discuss how this piece of art makes them feel about snow. Ask them to talk about the techniques they think Sargent used to make them feel this way.
  3. Project “The Snowfall Is So Silent” for everyone to see.  Ask your students to read the poem silently, writing down all the words and phrases that ring out to them. Ask one student to read the poem aloud to the class as the listeners continue to write down additional words and phrases that ring out. Repeat this process with another student reading aloud.
  4. Ask each pair from #2 above to find another pair to form a group of four. Ask each group to discuss words and phrases that rang out to them in the poem. How does the poem make them feel about snow? Do they think that is what Miguel de Unamuno might be saying? What evidence can they cite in the words and phrases they just discussed to support what they think and feel?
  5. Hold a whole-class discussion: After looking at both the drawing and the poem, and discussing what they saw and felt, what do your students think are several ways people can think/feel about snow? How are the drawing and the poem similar and/or different?

Billie Holiday Sings "Willow Weep for Me"

Listen to musical legend Billie Holiday sing the song "Willow Weep for Me," written by Ann Ronell.

Classroom Activities

  1. Ask your students to listen to the recording of Billie Holiday singing “Willow Weep for Me” twice.  The first time, just ask them to listen. After listening, they should write down what they remember about the willow and the image of it they have in their head, and they should also record how they feel after hearing the song. While listening to the song a second time, they should write down the images that jump out at them.
  2. Next, ask your students to gather in groups of four or fewer and to create a tableau, or a still picture, using their bodies.  This tableau should depict the willow tree and be based on their experience with the song. (Remind them there is no right or wrong way to do this.)  Ask them to present their trees to the other class members. The students who are watching should keep track of what they notice in the tableaux.
  3. Project “Willow Poem” from Poets.org so all your students can see it.  Ask them to read it silently and write down all the words and phrases that jump out at them.  Ask one student to read the poem aloud to the class, while the others add new phrases and/or words to their lists.  Ask a second student to read aloud and repeat the process.
  4. Ask your students to gather back in their small groups.  Based on what they read, ask them to create a tableau of the willow tree in William Carlos Williams’s poem.  Ask them to repeat the same process of presenting and noticing that they did with the willow tree in the song.
  5. Whole-class discussion:  Ask your students to cite the notes they’ve taken to discuss the following questions: What image was conveyed by the use of the willow in the song, and how did the song accomplish this image? What image was conveyed by the willow in Williams’s poem, and what words and/or phrases helped create this image?
  6. Discuss the Imagist movement in poetry with your class.

Enamorada (1946)

Filmed in 1946 and set during the Mexican Revolution, Enamorada was directed by Emilio Fernández and stars María Félix and Pedro Amendariz.

View the clip beginning at 32:23 and ending at 33:51.

 

Classroom Activities

  1. Show your students a clip from the film Enamorada (1946) twice, beginning at 32:23 and ending at 33:51. The first time they should simply watch the clip straight through. The second time, ask them to write down what they notice in the video. (It doesn’t make any difference if they can’t understand the Spanish.  There is much to notice without understanding the words.)
  2. Turn and talk:  Ask your students to talk with the person next to them about what they saw in the video and what they think it means.  Ask them to back up their interpretations with what they specifically noticed in the video.
  3. Project the poem “When There Were Ghosts” by Alberto Ríos.  Ask your students to read it silently while writing down words and phrases they think are important.  Ask one student to read the poem aloud to the class while the listening students add new words and phrases that might be important to their lists.  Repeat this process as another student reads aloud.
  4. Turn and talk:  Ask your students to talk with their partners about what jumped out to them in the poem.  How does it relate the video clip they saw earlier?
  5. Whole-class discussion:  What do your students think Ríos means in the last two stanzas of his poem?  What do they think he means by the “dance of the dream?”

Classroom Activities

  1. Ask your students to go to http://www.amphibianark.org/education/what-are-amphibians and read about amphibians and their context in the world. Have them keep a record of the important words and phrases they read. Also have them record words they do not understand.
  2. Ask your students to turn and talk with a partner about what they’ve learned about amphibians and any questions they might have. Ask them to try to figure out the meaning of new words together.
  3. Project Joseph O.Legaspi’s poem “Amphibians” in front of the classroom. Have your students read the poem silently, using the same process they did for Amphibianarc.
  4. Ask a student to read the poem out loud to the class, as the listeners repeat the process they used for the written poem. Repeat this again, with a second student reading.
  5. Ask your students to gather in small groups and discuss what experiences amphibians and immigrants have in common.
  6. Conduct a whole-class discussion: What point is Joseph O. Legaspi trying to make? Is he making a point about immigrants? About amphibians? Or both? Are amphibians a successful metaphor for immigrants? Make sure your students cite evidence from their notes and discussions.

Classroom Activities

  1. Whip-around:  Go around the room and ask your students to describe their reaction (using appropriate language) to the 2016 Presidential election in no more than two or three words.
  2.  Ask your students to read the entry in the online Encyclopedia Britannica for the Presidential Election of 1884. Make sure they write down the most important and interesting things that jump out at them as they read. (Have them keep a running list of vocabulary words they don’t know while they are reading.)
  3. Ask your students to get in small groups and discuss what they learned from their reading. Have them work together to figure out the meaning of the vocabulary words. In addition, have them help one another frame questions about this election.
  4. Project Walt Whitman’s poem “Election Day, November, 1884” in front of the class. Ask one student to read the poem out loud to the class as all the students read along and write down what jumps out at them. Ask another student to read the poem out loud, while the listeners follow the same procedure, adding new words and phrases to their lists.
  5. Hold a whole-class discussion: What jumped out at your students from the poem? Ask your students what they think Whitman was saying about the Presidential election of 1884; remind them to use the words and phrases in their lists as evidence for their statements. How was the election of 1884 similar to, or different from, the election of 2016?
  6. Ask your students to write a paragraph or poem that includes their reaction to, and questions about, the 2016 Presidential election.

 

Classroom Activities

  1. Project the image of Isadora Duncan above for your students to see, alongside the additional three images in the slideshow.
  2. Ask your students to look carefully at each image and to write down what strikes them about the clothing of the person depicted.  Then ask them to think about which type of clothing they might see a ghost wear.
  3. Ask your students to gather in small groups and share their thoughts about ghostly costumes.  Ask them to back up these opinions with what they already know or imagine about ghosts.
  4. Project the poem “Ghosts and Fashion” so your students can read it easily.  Ask your students to read the poem silently twice.  The first time, they should read it straight through.  The second time, ask them to write down the words and phrases that jump out at them.  Make sure they include the words they don’t know so you can go over them later in the lesson.
  5. Ask a student to read the poem aloud to the class.  The listening students should write down new words and phrases that jump out when they hear the poem read. Ask another student to read the poem aloud, and repeat the same process.
  6. Ask your students to discuss the poem in pairs. How do the last three lines differ from the rest of the poem? Remind them to cite the notes they took while reading and listening to the poem. 
  7. Ask your students to use their imaginations to write how they, like visual artists and poets, would clothe the “ghost” of a loved one. How will the clothes the ghost wears tell us something more about the person?

Classroom Activities

  1. Whip-around:  Ask your students to share the country where they were born and one thing they remember about their life in that place.
  2. Play the audio recording of “We All Return to the Place Where We Were Born” in English and Spanish three times (click on the audio icon beside the poem on Poets.org). The first time, ask your students to write down the words and phrases that jump out at them in either language. The second time, ask them to listen to the sounds of the poem in English and write down what they hear. The third time, ask them to listen to the poem in Spanish and write down what they hear, even if they do not understand the words.
  3. Project the poem “We All Return to the Place Where We Were Born” in front of the class and have your students read the English version and write down additional words and phrases that jump out at them. Then ask those students who speak Spanish to write down the words and phrases in Spanish that jump out at them.
  4. Ask your students to get in pairs and discuss the following questions: What did you learn about how Oscar Gonzales feels about the place where he was born and his childhood there?  How about the place where he is now?
  5. Ask your students to gather in groups of four and discuss with one another what they learned from listening and reading the poem first in English and then in Spanish. Ask them about the sounds they heard in the Spanish version of the poem. What sounds are heard most in the first part of the poem? In the second? How do these sounds reinforce the meaning of the poem?

Ellis Island, N.Y. Line Inspection of Arriving Aliens, 1923

From the National Archives. Date: 1923. Medium: Photograph. https://catalog.archives.gov

Classroom Activities

  1. Show your students the photograph and ask them to write down what they notice. Remind them to write what they actually see, not their interpretations of what they see.
  2. Ask them to turn and talk with a partner about what they noticed and any connections they made to themselves, to others, and to other texts.
  3. Ask them for questions they might have about the photograph. Write these questions on the board to revisit after reading “The Buttonhook.”
  4. Watch Mary Jo Salter read her poem twice (click the video icon beside the poem). The first time, have your students experience the reading. The second time, ask them to write down what they noticed, the connections they made, and any questions.
  5. Ask your students to read the poem silently. Have them write down what they notice about the lines and the spacing of the words on the page, as well as the words and phrases that jump out at them.
  6. Hold a whole-class discussion based on what your students noticed in both the video and text versions and the connections they made. Also ask for questions they still have. Some prompts to try: What are the feelings in the poem? How did Mary Jo Salter get us to feel that way? What techniques did she use? How are the video and text versions similar or different?

Classroom Activities

Resource: Have your students bring in a piece of clothing that they love and about which they want to write.

  1. Tell your students that they are going to read a poem by Pablo Neruda in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month. Ask them, as a way of preparing to read this poem, to think of a piece of clothing from home that they love and can easily bring to school. (You might have to remind older students that this piece of clothing needs to be appropriate.) This piece of clothing should also be something they are willing to share with their peers.
  2. When your students have brought in their special piece of clothing, ask them to write a short list (or paragraph) that describes in detail how the clothing looks. Then ask them to add what they love about it and why.
  3. Project the poem “Ode to My Socks” by Pablo Neruda in front of the class. Ask your students to read it closely and to write down all the words and phrases that jump out at them.
  4. Ask one student in the class to read the poem aloud. Ask the listening students to jot down the new words and phrases they notice when they hear the poem read. Repeat this process with another student reading the poem aloud.
  5. After your students have compiled their lists, ask them to turn to a partner and share what they noticed. Ask them to discuss what Neruda does to make us love his socks as much as he does, using their compilations to assist them.
  6. Have a whole-class discussion, based on the concept of an ode. Why do your students think Neruda wrote odes to common things, such as socks?
  7. Ask your students to write an ode (or paragraph) praising the piece of clothing they have brought from home.

Autumn’s Grey and Melancholy by Henry Farrer

Autumn's Grey and Melancholy by Henry Farrer

Autumn's Grey and Melancholy by Henry Farrer (1844–1903). Date: 1884. Medium: Etching. Dimensions: 3 7/8 x 6 inches. Credit Line: Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1917. www.metmuseum.org.

Classroom Activities

  1. Project the image of Autumn’s Grey and Melancholy for your whole class to see. Leave the image up for several minutes and ask your students to write down what they see.
  2. Zoom in on a part of the image so your students can see more of the details. Again ask them to write down what they see.
  3. Pair share: What does zooming in tell your students about how the artist created the etching—not only in terms of the content, but also the feeling/tone?
  4. Project the poem “The Plain Sense of Things” by Wallace Stevens  in front of the class. Ask your students to read it twice silently. The first time, they should just read it through. The second time, they should jot down the words and phrases that jump out at them, including things they do not, initially, understand.
  5. Ask two students, one after the other, to read the poem out loud to the class. Have the listeners add to their list of words and phrases that jump out at them.
  6. Ask your students to gather in small groups to discuss what they think the poem is about. Ask them to provide evidence from the things they’ve written down that supports their interpretation.
  7. Whole-class discussion: Is autumn the end of the imagination, or the beginning of it?

Classroom Activities

Resource:
Enough fresh blackberries so that each student in your class can have one or two.

  1. Tell your students that the poet Galway Kinnell liked to use words that he said had “mouth feel.” Give your students one or two blackberries to eat slowly. Have them think of words that describe what it feels like to eat the berries, paying close attention to the words that sound like what it feels like to eat them. Ask them to quickly write down their words.
  2. Project the poem “Blackberry Eating” in front of the class. Ask your students to read it twice silently. As they read it the second time, have them write down the words and phrases in the poem that jump out at them.
  3. Ask one of your students to read the poem aloud to the class. Ask the listening students to write down additional words and phrases that jump out at them. Repeat this process with a second student reading aloud to the class.
  4. Ask your students to gather in small groups and share their lists of words with one another. Which of their words have “mouth feel”? Which of the words they wrote down in Activity 1 have “mouth feel”?
  5. Ask your students to write a paragraph or poem about a favorite food using words that have “mouth feel” to describe the eating experience.
  6. Ask for volunteers to share their work (and maybe their food) with the class.

Rabbit in the Garden

Rabbit in the garden

Classroom Activities

  1. Project the image of the rabbit in the garden. Ask your students to look closely at the image.
  2. Ask them to write down answers to the following questions: What do they notice in the photograph? How does it make them feel? What associations do they have with this image of a rabbit in a garden?
  3. Have your students turn and talk with a partner about their responses to the above questions, using evidence that they have written down. Make sure both students get a chance to talk while they are in pairs.
  4. Hold a whole-class discussion where your students share their reactions to the photo and their evidence.
  5. Project “A Small Needful Fact” by Ross Gay from Poets.org. Ask your students to read it twice silently. The first time, they should read the poem through. The second time, they should write down the words and phrases that jump out at them.
  6. Ask a student to read the poem aloud to the class. Have the listening students write down new things they notice with this reading. Repeat this process while a second student reads aloud.
  7. Hold a whole-class discussion: What words and phrases does Ross Gay repeat to keep the rhythm of the poem moving? Why does he use the image of Garner’s role as a gardener? How do your reactions to the photograph of the rabbit in the garden help you understand the poem? Why does he end with breathing? What do your students think Gay is saying about Eric Garner? What is their evidence from their reading and listening to the poem?

Elizabeth Bradfield Reads "Pursuit"

Classroom Activities

  1. Ask your students to imagine something they did over the summer and have them “paint a picture” in their imaginations of what happened. Have them write a short paragraph describing the event, the people who were there, and the setting, in as much detail as possible, so someone else can see the scene in their “mind’s eye.”
  2. Ask your students to share what they wrote with a partner. If the partner has trouble envisioning the scene, she should ask the writer to add more detail to help her “see” it better. Make sure both partners have time to share their work and provide feedback to each other.
  3. Project the poem “Pursuit” in front of the class. Ask them to read the poem twice silently.  The first time, they should simply read the poem all the way through. The second time, they should write down all the words and phrases that help them envision the scene.
  4. Ask one student to read the poem aloud to the class. Have the listening students write down additional words and phrases that jump out at them to describe the scene.
  5. Play the audio of Elizabeth Bradfield reading her poem. Ask your students to write down additional things they hear from her reading.
  6. Have your students gather in small groups and discuss what they think Bradfield did in her poem to have them envision the scene on the Provincetown pier.
  7. Hold a whole-class discussion:  What happens in the last three lines of the poem? (You can introduce the idea of a turn, if you’d like.)  What do your students think the speaker in the poem is trying to tell us about herself, her relationship to MacMillan, and the teenagers who are jumping from the pier?

 

Skunk

Skunk

Photo credit: Public domain.

Naomi Shihab Nye Reads “Valentine for Ernest Mann”

Classroom Activities

  1. Project the image of the skunk so all your students can see it. Have them look at the image for several minutes, then ask them to write a detailed description of anything they think is beautiful about this animal. The description should make us feel that what they have seen is beautiful.
  2. Divide your students into pairs. Ask your students to read their descriptions to their partners. The listening partner should tell the reader whether or not she felt the beauty of this part of the skunk and offer suggestions to help the writer describe its beauty. Make sure both students have a chance to be both readers and responders.
  3. Project the poem “Valentine for Ernest Mann” so all your students can see it. Ask them to read the poem silently twice. The first time, they should simply read it through. The second time, they should write down the words and phrases that jump out at them.
  4. Ask one of your students to read the poem aloud to the class. Have your students write down anything new that they hear in the poem after having heard it.
  5. Show your students the video of Naomi Shihab Nye reading her poem. Ask them to add items to their list of what they notice about the poem after watching Naomi Shihab Nye’s reading. What words and phrases does she emphasize, if any?
  6. What does Shihab Nye mean when she says, “Maybe if we re-invent whatever our lives give us / we find poems…?”
  7. Ask your students to look for an item that they don’t think is particularly beautiful. Have them bring it to class and look at it for a long while. Ask them to “reinvent” the object with either a detailed description or a poem.

Four Trees by John Kovacich

Four Trees by John Kovacich

Photo credit: Public domain.

Trees by David Johnson

Trees by David Johnson

Trees by David Johnson (1827–1908). Date: 1886. Medium: Black ink washes and graphite on off-white wove paper. Dimensions: 18 7/16 x 12 7/8 inches. Credit Line: Purchase, Charles and Anita Blatt Gift, 1968. www.metmuseum.org

Classroom Activities

  1. Project the image of the photograph “Four Trees” by John Kovacich so all your students can see it. Ask them to write down all that they notice in the photograph.
  2. Project the image of the painting “Trees” by David Johnson. On a separate piece of paper, ask your students to write down all that they notice in the painting.
  3. Ask your students to get in groups of four to five and discuss the similarities and differences between the images of the photograph and the painting.
  4. Conduct a whole-class discussion: What do we experience (cognitively and emotionally) from the image of the photograph? What do we experience (cognitively and emotionally) from the image of the painting? To what do your students attribute the differences?
  5. Project the poem “Crows” by Marilyn Nelson in front of the class. Ask your students to read it once, silently. Ask them to read it a second time, writing down the words and phrases that jump out at them.
  6. Ask one of your students to read the poem aloud to the class. Ask the listening students to write down additional words and phrases they notice when they hear the poem read.
  7. Ask another student to read the poem aloud, and have the listening students write down new words and phrases they notice. Have your students turn and talk with a partner about what they have seen and heard in the different readings of the poem.
  8. Conduct a whole-class discussion: As they think about the images of the trees, as well as the words and phrases in the poem that jumped out at them, what do your students think Marilyn Nelson might mean when she talks about “…the hand-created taste of leftover macaroons / The instant sparks in the earth’s awareness”?

South Miami Beach

South Miami Beach

Photo Credit: Public domain.

Classroom Activities

  1. Project the photograph of the beach so all your students can see it.
  2. Ask your students to gaze at the picture and imagine they were standing or sitting just in front of the waves. What would they see? Hear? Smell? Have them write down what they imagine.
  3. What associations do they make with sitting at the beach? Ask your students to write these down, as well.
  4. Project the poem “maggie and milly and molly and may” by E. E. Cummings so all your students can see it. Ask your students to read the poem silently and circle all the words, phrases, and images that jump out at them.
  5. Ask your students to get into groups of no more than four people. Have two students in each group read the poem aloud to the other two students. Ask the listening students to write down anything new that they hear. Reverse the process so that the listening students get a chance to read, and the reading students get a chance to listen and write.
  6. Whole-class discussion: Ask your students if they agree with the last two lines of the poem. Make sure they cite ideas from their own writings, as well as evidence from the poem to back up their ideas.

Lane with Poplars Near Nuenen

Lane with Poplars Near Nuenen

Lane with Poplars Near Nuenen by Vincent van Gogh (Netherlands). Date: 1885. Medium: Oil on canvas. Credit Line: public domain.

Classroom Activities

  1. Project an image of the painting “Lane with Poplars Near Neunen” by Vincent van Gogh so all your students can see it. Ask them to write down what they notice in the painting.
  2. Ask your students to turn and talk with a partner about what they saw. Ask them to think about how van Gogh represents the light in the poplars and the overall role the poplars play in the landscape. Make sure to remind them to use the details they noticed to back up their answers.
  3. Project the poem “Binsey Poplars” by Gerard Manley Hopkins from Poets.org, so all your students can see it. Ask them to read the poem silently to themselves and circle all the words, phrases, and images that jump out to them.
  4. Ask your students to get in pairs and read the poem to each other. Make sure each student reads the poem all the way through.
  5. Whole-class discussion: How does Hopkins use the sound of words to help us understand how he feels about the poplars? Make sure they reference specific sounds in the poem. How does van Gogh use brush strokes? Make sure your students indicate specific brush strokes and colors.
  6. How do your students think van Gogh and Hopkins would feel about today’s environmental movement?

Bear Glacier

Bear Glacier. Photo credit: Jim Pfeiffenberger, National Park Service.

Photo credit: Jim Pfeiffenberger, National Park Service.

Classroom Activities

  1. Project the image of Bear Glacier so all your students can see it. Give them several minutes to look at it, and then ask them to imagine what they might see in this environment. Have them write these down. What other things do they associate or imagine when they look at this photograph? Ask them to let their imaginations roam free. They should not limit themselves to what might really be in this environment. Make sure they write down these associations and imaginings.
  2. Project the poem “Unpacking a Globe” by Arthur Sze from Poets.org. Ask your students to read it silently and write down the words, images, and phrases that jump out at them. Ask ten students to read the poem out loud, each student reading one of the couplets in the poem. Ask the listening students to write down what they hear that is new to them. Repeat this process with ten new students reading the couplets.
  3. Have your students get in small groups and ask them to share the words, images, and phrases that they wrote down. Where do they see Arthur Sze’s imagination working?
  4. Whole-class discussion: What do your students think the poet means by the last two lines in the poem? Based on the discussions your students had in their small groups, how does this poem illustrate what the last lines say?
  5. Ask your students to write a poem (or paragraph) that uses the images they imagined, both free and/or appropriate to the Bear Glacier environment, to make a point that is important to them.

Video: Amaryllis Growing, Flowering and Decaying, Time-Lapse

Classroom Activities

  1. Show your students the video “Amaryllis Growing, Flowering and Decaying, Time-Lapse” twice. The first time, they should watch the entire video. The second time, ask them to write down as many details as they can about the growth of the amaryllis bulb. Ask your students to share their details with a partner.
  2. Project the poem “The Metier of Blossoming” so all your students can see it. Explain that métier is a French word. Ask if any of your students know the meaning. If not, help them look it up. Ask your students to read the poem silently and write down the words and phrases that jump out at them. Ask one student to read the poem aloud. The listening students should add new words and phrases that they notice to their lists. Ask a second student to read the poem aloud, with the others following the same process.
  3. Ask your students: What are the vivid words Denise Levertov uses to describe the growth of the amaryllis? Why does she say growth is its “métier”? In what ways does Denise Levertov compare and contrast human growth to amaryllis growth? What is the evidence for this in the poem?

 

Classroom Activities

Resources
Four to five groups of the following materials:
• three boxes of different shapes and sizes
• cardboard roll from paper towel or gift wrap
• scissors
• one roll of packing tape
• string

  1. The week before you study the poem with your students, ask for volunteers to bring in a total of four to five paper-towel or gift-wrap rolls, and fifteen medium-sized boxes (no more than 12 by 18 inches).
  2. Divide your class into small groups of no more than five students each. Give each group a set of the materials listed above in the Resources section.
  3. Tell the groups they will have twenty minutes to collaborate in building a birdhouse using the materials they have. They must make it as sturdy and long-lasting as they can.
  4. When they’ve finished, ask one person from each group to present the birdhouse to the class, with a description of the collaborative process they used and how the group felt about it.
  5. Project the poem “The Tree Sparrows” by Joseph O. Legaspi from Poets.org so that all your students can see it. Ask your students to read it silently and write down the words and phrases that jump out at them. Ask one student to read the poem aloud. The listening students should add new words and phrases that they notice to their lists. Ask a second student to read aloud, with the others follow the same process.
  6. Whole-class discussion: How did your students feel as they were trying to build sturdy birdhouses? What is Joseph O. Legaspi saying is necessary to make a home sturdy? Remind your students to cite evidence from the poem for their answers.

Carolina Wren, from the American Bird Conservancy

Classroom Activities

  1. Project the image of the Carolina Wren and play its song.  (Do not mention you are playing its song.) Ask your students to write down what they notice in the order that they notice it. Project the image and the song again. Ask your students to follow the same procedure.
  2. Ask your students to turn and talk with a partner about what they noticed first. What was the last thing they noticed? Then hold a whole-class discussion to see what most people noticed first and last. If no one mentions the sound of the wren, play the call of the wren for them.  What do they notice about the call? What associations do they have with the call?
  3. Project “The Carolina Wren” by Laura Donnelly so all your students can read it silently. Ask them to write down words and phrases that jump out at them.
  4. Ask one student to read the poem aloud to the class. Ask the listeners to jot down what jumps out. Ask a second student to read the poem aloud. Have your students write down new things they hear in the poem.
  5. What associations does Laura Donnelly make with the sound of the wren?
  6. Why do your students think she is “Pinned and spinning in the sound of it?”

Classroom Activities

Resources:  Dried lima beans, clear plastic cups, paper towels, water, potting soil.

  1. Start this activity approximately one week before you and your students read the poem together:  Soak enough dried lima beans in warm water for twenty-four hours, so that each student in your class can have three or four. Have your students place their lima beans between a wet paper towel and the inside of a plastic cup. Place the cups on a sunny windowsill. Keep the paper towels moist (not soaking wet) until the beans start to send out small shoots.

    When the beans have medium-sized roots (one inch or so), ask your students to take the lima beans out of the paper towel, remove the paper towels from the cup, and fill the cup with potting soil. They should then plant the lima beans, roots down in the soil, stems and any small leaves above the soil. Place the cups back on the windowsill so your students can watch the beans grow.
     
  2. After your students first place their beans on the windowsill, ask them to check the beans each day and write a description of what they see happening with the beans. They should continue to do this even after the beans are in soil, until they have grown and sprouted leaves.
  3. Project the poem “Putting in the Seed” by Robert Frost so all your students can see it. Ask them to read it silently, writing down all the words and phrases that jump out at them.
  4. Ask one of your students to read the poem aloud to the class. The listening students should write down new words and phrases that they think are important. Follow this process with a second student reading aloud.
  5. Conduct a whole-class discussion: How did Robert Frost feel about planting seeds and watching them grow? From what you recorded in your notes, what, in the poem, lets us know how he felt? Ask your students how they felt watching their lima beans grow. What words did they write down to describe the growth that would let us know how they felt?
  6. Ask your students to write a descriptive paragraph that shows how their beans grew and how they felt about it. (Remind them about “show don’t tell.”)

Garden

Garden

Borneo River Toad

Borneo River Toad

Credit: California Academy of Sciences

Classroom Activities

  1. Ask your students to look at the image of the garden for several minutes and to write down all the words that would help someone imagine the garden in their “mind’s eye.”
  2. Similarly, ask your students to look at the image of the Borneo River toad and write down all the details they can about what a toad really looks like.
  3. Using the details you collected in activities 1 and 2, have your students place their toad in the garden and write four lines that would make us imagine that there is a real toad in their imaginary garden.
  4. Project “Poetry” by Marianne Moore so that all your students can see it. Ask them to read it silently and write down the words, phrases, and images that jump out at them. What do they notice about the structure of the poem?
  5. Ask two students to read the poem aloud, one after the other, paying attention to the line breaks as they read. What do the listening students hear that they did not notice before as they were silently reading?
  6. Conduct a whole-class discussion: What does Marianne Moore really think about poetry? What does she mean by “imaginary gardens with real toads in them?” What role does Marianne Moore think poetry plays in life? Make sure your students use evidence from their writing and reading of the poem to support their answers.

Classroom Activities

  1. The day before you teach this lesson, ask your students to find a favorite poem to bring into class. (This can be done either in class or as homework.)
  2. Have your students get into small groups and share their poems with each other. Ask them to discuss what they like about their poems, and what makes their choice a poem and not a paragraph.
  3. Project “Ars Poetica” by Archibald MacLeish so your students can read it. Ask them to read it silently and write down all the words, phrases, and images that jump out at them.
  4. Ask one student to read the first stanza of the poem aloud, a second student the second stanza, and a third student the third stanza. Repeat this process with three different students. Have the listening students write down additional words, phrases, and images that jump out at them as they hear the stanzas read.
  5. Ask your students to share with their group what they have written.
  6. Hold a whole-class discussion: What does Archibald MacLeish mean when he says, “A poem should not mean / But be.”? What evidence do they have for what they noticed in the poem to support their answers?

A Mile of Trash Quickly Disappears

A Mile of Trash Quickly Disappears

From "A Mile of Trash Quickly Disappears." The Elkhart Truth, March 22, 2013.

Classroom Activities

  1. Show your students the photograph of trash near the railroad tracks from The Elkhart Truth. Ask them to look at it twice—the first time to get a feel for what is going on in the photograph. The second time, ask them to write down the details of what they see.
  2. Ask your students to write a paragraph describing what they see in the photograph and their reaction to it.
  3. Project the image of Ruth Stone’s poem “Always on the Train.” Ask your students to read it silently and write down the words, phrases, and images that jump out at them.
  4. Ask two students to read the poem aloud, one after the other. Have the listening students write down new words, phrases, and images that jump out at them that they did not hear before.
  5. Ask your students to get into small groups and to share what they wrote down from the two readings. Tell them this is important to the next discussion.
  6. From what they read and heard, what do they the poet is saying about the trash in the poem?
  7. If it does not come up naturally, ask them why they think Ruth Stone talks about the “black high flung patterns of flocking birds.”

“Birds in Snow” by Chris Burke

Classroom Activities

  1. Show your students the video “Birds in Snow” twice. The first time ask them to watch the video straight through. The second time, ask them to write down what they see in as much detail as possible.
  2. Ask your students to polish their lists into a paragraph that is a vivid description of what they saw in the video.
  3. Project the poem “Because You Asked about the Line Between Prose and Poetry” by Howard Nemerov so all your students can read it. Ask your students to read it silently, writing down all the words and phrases that jump out at them.
  4. Ask one of your students to read the poem aloud to the class. The listening students should write down new words and phrases they hear that they think are important. Follow this process with a second student reading aloud.
  5. Ask one of your students to read the poem aloud to the class. The listening students should write down new words and phrases they hear that they think are important. Follow this process with a second student reading aloud.
  6. Conduct a whole-class discussion based on the notes they have just taken:  What might be the line (or difference) between prose and poetry that Nemerov refers to in his title? Make sure your students cite evidence from the poem to support their interpretations.

Diagram of the Human Skeleton

Diagram of the Human Skeleton

 

 

 

 

 

Jane Hirshfield Reads Her Poem "My Skeleton."

Classroom Activities

  1. Show your students the labeled image of the human skeleton. Ask them to write down what they see in the skeleton.
  2. Project the poem “My Skeleton” by Jane Hirshfield in front of the class. Ask your students to read it through silently and circle all the words and phrases that jump out at them.
  3. Ask one student to read the poem aloud paying attention to the structure of the poem on the page, followed by a second student reading the poem aloud with the same instruction. Have the students who are listening add anything else that jumps out at them to their notes.
  4. Show your students the video of Jane Hirshfield reading her poem and talking about what inspired her to write it.
  5. Ask your students to turn and talk with a partner about what they noticed in Hirshfield’s poem after the first four activities.
  6. Ask your students to look at the image of the human skeleton again. Hold a whole-class discussion: Do they notice anything differently about the way they look at the skeleton after experiencing the poem? If so, what is different.

 

Classroom Activities

  1. Play the audio recording of Lucille Clifton reading “sisters” twice. The first time, ask your students to listen. The second time, ask them to write down the words and phrases that jump out at them. What words and phrases does Clifton emphasize? How does she emphasize them? Why do they think she emphasize these words in that way?
  2. Project the poem “sisters” in the front of the classroom for your students to read. Ask one student to read the poem out loud to the class, followed by a second student. Have the listening students write down additional words and phrases, if any, that jump out at them.
  3. Ask your students to get in small groups and to talk about the following: Why do they think Clifton does not use capital letters? Why does she use the type of language she does? What poetic techniques does she use, e.g. repetition, rhyme, etc.?
  4. In a whole-class discussion, ask your students what they think Clifton is saying on the surface of the poem. What is the message underlying it?

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Classroom Activities

  1. Project the poem “The Hand” by Mary Ruefle in front of the classroom. Ask your students to read the poem silently and write down the words, phrases, and images that jump out at them.
  2. Ask two students to read the poem aloud, one after the other. Make sure your students add what they noticed from the oral reading to their notes from their silent reading.
  3. Next, ask your students if anyone in the class knows who Edgar Degas was. If so, ask them to share what they know with the rest of the class. If no one knows, tell your students who he was and emphasize that he was an artist.
  4. Play the audio recording of Philip Levine reading  “M. Degas Teaches Art & Science at Durfee Intermediate School, Detroit 1942” twice. The first time, let your students simply listen. The second time, ask them to write down the words, phrases, and images that jump out at them.
  5. Whole-class discussion: What are the similarities and differences between the speakers in the two poems? Make sure your students cite evidence in the poems to support their answers.

“Relaxing Jellyfish Loop” by Oregon Jones Music

Classroom Activities

  1. Show your students two to three minutes of the “Relaxing Jellyfish Loop” video twice. The first time, have them watch and listen. The second time, ask them to write down what they hear and see.
  2. Ask them to turn and talk with a partner about what they learned about jellyfish from the video.  How do they feel about jellyfish after watching the video?
  3. Project the poem “A Jelly-Fish” by Marianne Moore in the front of the class.
  4. Ask your students to read it silently and write down the words, phrases, and images that jump out at them. How are the words positioned on the page?
  5. Ask two students to read the poem aloud, one after the other. Make sure your students add what they noticed from the oral reading to their notes from their silent reading.
  6. Whole-class discussion: Why does Marianne Moore place her words where she does? Where are the rhymes? What does having one or two words on a line do to their meaning? What is Moore saying about the jellyfish? About what does she make you think?
  7. For some scientific information on jellyfish see KQED Quest “Amazing Jellies.”

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One Woman With Black Lives Matter Sign

Classroom Activities

  1. Show your students the above photograph, and ask them what they know about the Black Lives Matter movement. Have them fill in the gaps in their knowledge by conducting research on the movement by getting into small groups and using Internet and library resources (one place to start is the article “Black Lives Matter: The Growth of a New Social Justice Movement” from Blackpast.org). Ask each group to report back to the class what they have learned.
  2. Project the poem “Black Laws” by Roger Reeves in the front of the classroom, and ask your students to read it silently. Invite two students to read the poem out loud, one after the other. Ask the listeners to write down words and phrases in the poem that rhyme. What jumps out at your students? What do they learn about the meaning of the poem from what they have noticed? What kinds of rhymes have they found? What function do the rhymes serve in the reading of the poem?
  3. Why do your students think the speaker in the poem is putting on his “nice suit?”  What does he expect will happen to him? Ask your students to justify their answers with reference to specific details and images in the poem.
  4. How might the events that led to the Black Lives Matter movement relate to Reeves’s poem?

Studio portrait of a young couple, he seated, she with hand on his shoulder.

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Photographs and Prints Division, The New York Public Library. [Studio portrait of a young couple, he seated, she with hand on his shoulder.] New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Photographs and Prints Division, The New York Public Library. [Studio portrait of a young couple, he seated, she with hand on his shoulder.] New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Classroom Activities

  1. Project “Studio Portrait of a Young Couple” in front of the classroom. Ask your students to write down what they see in the photograph. Have them get in small groups and discuss what they imagine the hopes and dreams are for this young couple. Why do they think these are their hopes and dreams?
  2. Project “The Bean Eaters” in front of the class. Ask your students to write down what jumps out at them in the poem from both the content and the structure. Ask two students to read the poem out loud; what more do the listeners notice in the poem?
  3. What do we know about the couple portrayed in the poem? What do we know about their present lives? What do we know about their past lives? What in the poem tells us this? What are the “beads and receipts and dolls and cloths, tobacco crumbs, vases and fringes”?
  4. Ask your students to get into small groups and think about whether the young couple in the photograph might wind up like the older couple in the poem, or whether they think they might have a different life. Ask them to write a paragraph or a poem about their portrait of the younger couple as they grow old.

George Washington Carver

George Washington Carver

Credit Line: Circa 1910; photographer unknown. This photograph is in the public domain.

Classroom Activities

  1. Show your students the photograph of George Washington Carver, but conceal his name. Ask them to write down all the things they notice about the person in the photograph. Then ask them if they know who the person is. If no one knows, tell them. Then ask your students if they have ever heard of George Washington Carver, and if so, what they know about him.
  2. Project the poem “1905” by Marilyn Nelson in the front of the classroom. Have your students write down what jumps out at them in the poem, including words they might not understand.
  3. Ask one student to read the poem aloud while the listeners write down new things that “jump out.” Repeat this process with another student reading out loud.
  4. Ask your students to get into small groups and help one another figure out the words they might not understand, as well as share what they noticed in the poem.
  5. Hold a whole-class discussion: What did your students learn from the poem about George Washington Carver? What surprised them? How does Marilyn Nelson get us to feel about Carver? What poetic techniques does she use?

The Blind Boys of Alabama perform “Wade in the Water.”

Classroom Activities

  1. Ask your students to listen to the Blind Boys of Alabama singing “Wade in the Water.” As they listen, they should write down what they hear in the words the Blind Boys sing, and the way they sing the song; for example, their use of harmony. What feelings do they associate with hearing this recording?
  2. Project the poem “Knoxville, Tennessee” by Nikki Giovanni in the front of the classroom. Ask your students to read the poem silently and write down all the words and phrases that jump out at them. How are the words placed on the page? Why do they think certain words and phrases are on their own line?
  3. Ask one student to read the poem aloud, pausing at the end of each line. Ask another student to repeat this process. What do your students hear in the way the poem was read that helps them understand why certain words and phrases might be on only one line?
  4. Ask your students to think about connections between the recording of “Wade in the Water” and the poem “Knoxville, Tennessee.” Have them discuss these in small groups and report them to the whole class.

Classroom Activities

  1. Ask your students to read the biography of Langston Hughes on Poets.org. Ask them to write down the things they think are important about his life.
  2. Have your students get in small groups and share with one another what they learned about Hughes from reading his biography. Have each group come up with a list of aspects of Hughes’s life they think are important.
  3. Ask one representative from each group to share the group’s list with the whole class, writing it on the front board. If they are repeating something that is already on the board, they do not have to rewrite it; rather they should write a check mark after the repeated item.
  4. Have your students silently read “Theme for English B,” writing down the words and phrases that jump out at them.
  5. Ask one student to read the poem out loud. Ask another student to do the same after the first student has finished.
  6. Whole-class discussion:  Compare and contrast what we can learn about Langston Hughes from the short biography and what we can learn from the poem “Theme from English B.”  Why are both important?

Classroom Activities

Show your class the video of Lil Buck dancing to “The Swan,” as played on the cello by Yo-Yo Ma.

  1. Ask your students to write down what jumps out at them in the video. Show it to them a second time. This time ask them to think about what makes this a “layered” performance (for example, classical music and street dancing, or French, Asian and African cultures). Ask your students to turn and talk with a partner about the layers they saw.
  2. Hold a whole-class discussion about what makes something “layered,” making sure your students cite examples from the video to support their answers.
  3. In the front of the classroom project the poem “The Layers” by Stanley Kunitz. First, have your students read the poem silently and circle what jumps out at them in the poem. Then, ask one student to read the poem aloud to the class, while the others write down any questions they have about the poem. Finally, have another student read the poem aloud, while the listeners write down any other things they think are important in the poem.
  4. What do your students think are the layers to which Kunitz refers? What is the litter?  What does he mean by transformations?

 

Aspects of Negro Life: Song of the Towers

Aspect of Negro Life: Song of the Towers by Aaron Douglas (American 1899-1979). Date: 1834. Medium: Oil on canvas.
Credit Line: The New York Public Library, Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture, Art and Artifacts Division. www.nypl.org.

Classroom Activities

  1. Project the image of Aspect of Negro Life: Song of the Towers. Ask your students to write down what they see in the painting. Then, ask them to get into small groups and discuss what they think the painting represents, using what they see as evidence.
  2. Project the poem “Haircut” from Poets.org. Before your students read Elizabeth Alexander’s poem, ask them to look at the way thepoem appears on the page. Does it look like other poems they have read?  In what ways is it similar? In what ways is it different? Have them discuss these impressions in small groups.
  3. Introduce the idea of a prose poem to your students.  What makesthis text a prose poem?
  4. Ask them to read the poem silently. Ask two students to read thepoem aloud to the class. Make sure they circle the words, phrases, and images that jump out at them during the three readings of thepoem.
  5. Although the particular Aaron Douglas painting your students observed is not the one referenced in the poem, it represents Douglas’s style. Does it relate to “Haircut” in any way? If so, how?
  6. Hold a whole-class discussion: What do they think Elizabeth Alexander is saying about her culture and how she fits within it? What, in this prose poem, tells them this?

Seated Arabs

Seated Arabs. Artist: John Singer Sargent (American 1856–1925). Date: 1905–6. Medium: Graphite on off-white wove paper. Dimensions: 8 5/8 x 11 1/2 inches. Credit: Gift of Mrs. Francis Ormond, 1950. www.metmuseum.org.

Classroom Activities

  1. Ask your students to get into pairs and share with one another what it feels like to live in a country or state that is very different from where they have spent another part of their lives. If they have not, personally, had this experience, ask them to imagine what it would be like.
  2. Show your students the drawing Seated Arabs by John Singer Sargent. Ask them: What kinds of clothes are the men wearing? For what weather might it be appropriate? How are they sitting? Make sure they provide evidence from the drawing to support their answers.
  3. Ask your students to read “Arabs in Finland” silently, circling the words, phrases, and images that jump out at them. Ask one of your students to read the poem aloud to the class with the listeners circling additional words, phrases, and images that jump out at them.
  4. Have them listen to the audio recording of Naomi Shihab Nye reading her poem (click on the audio icon above the poem). What more did they learn by listening to this recording?
  5. What questions do they have about the poem? Ask them to discuss these in small groups and to help each other come up with the answers.
  6. What is the poem saying to them?

The Rocky Mountains, Lander's Peak

The Rocky Mountains, Lander's Peak by Albert Bierstadt (American1830–1902). Date: 1863. Medium: Oil on canvas. Dimensions: 73 1/2 x 120 3/4 inches. Credit Line: Rogers Fund, 1907. www.metmuseum.org

Classroom Activities

  1. Ask your students to look carefully at “The Rocky Mountains, Lander’s Peak” by Albert Bierstadt. What do they see in the colors and brushstrokes of the painting? Where do their eyes go first? Second?
  2. How does Bierstadt feel about the Rocky Mountains? How do they know? How does the painting make them feel?
  3. Ask your students to read “Remember” by Joy Harjo silently. Have them circle the images and words that jump out at them. Based on their reading of the poem, ask them how Harjo feels about the connectedness of all things. How is this related to who Harjo is, as a Native American?

Classroom Activities

Ask your students to bring in a photograph of themselves when they were at least several years younger than they are now.

  1. Have your students break into pairs and exchange photographs with their partner. Each student should write down what they notice in the photograph. What can they learn about their partner from what they noticed? What is their evidence?
  2. Ask each student to look carefully at their partner and to write down what they notice about them. How have they changed over time? What makes them the same person? What makes them different?
  3. Ask your students to read Natasha Trethewey’s poem silently to themselves, circling words and phrases that jump out to them. Ask two of your students to read the poem aloud, one after the other. What do they hear differently when the poem is read aloud?
  4. Have your students listen to the audio recording of Natasha Trethewey reading her poem. (Click the audio icon on the poem above to listen to audio.) How does the poet’s reading change their understanding of the poem?
  5. What is Natasha Trethewey saying about time and space? How is it similar to and different from what a scientist might say on the subject?

Mid-Infrared Image of a Star Forming Region in Orion Nebula

Mid-Infrared Image: NASA/DLR/SOFIA/USRA/DSI/FORCAST Team

Classroom Activities

  1. Ask your students to look closely at the composite image from the NASA SOFIA telescope of a star forming. How does reading the poem “Toward the Winter Solstice” enhance their experience of looking at the image? What colors and shapes do they see? Where do they think new stars may be forming? Why? (For more information on star formation in Orion, read the article “SOFIA Opens New Window on Star Formation in Orion” on the NASA website.)
  2. Ask five students to read one stanza each of “Toward the Winter Solstice” out loud. Repeat the process with another five students. The listening students should read along to themselves and circle what jumps out at them, including words they do not understand.
  3. How does seeing an image of actual star formation in Orion add to their experience of the poem? What might poets and scientists learn from each other’s work?

Classroom Activities

You will need construction paper, glue, and markers for this activity.

  1. Place your students in pairs. Ask each student to make a small gift for their partner with the materials at hand. Have them exchange their gifts.
  2. Ask each student to write a short descriptive paragraph (or poem) and to draw an image about how the gift they received makes them feel.
  3. Ask your students to read Alice Fulton's poem "Doha Thing Long Thought and Kind" first to themselves, then aloud to their partner. What words and phrases jump out at them? Ask them to make a list together. Ask your students how their list of items helps them understand the meaning of the poem.
  4. Next, ask them to look at the definition of doha from A Poet's Glossary by Edward Hirsch.
  5. Does Alice Fulton strictly follow this form in her poem? How does she change it?

The Kiso Mountains in Snow

The Kiso Mountain in Snow

The Kiso Mountains in Snow, 1857, Utagawa Hiroshige (Japanese, 1797-1858). Medium: Triptych of woodblock prints; ink and color on paper. Dimensions: Each 14 1/4 inches by 9 3/4 inches. Credit: Rogers Fund, 1914. www.metmuseum.org.

Classroom Activities

  1. Project an image of The Kiso Mountains in Snow in class. Ask your students to jot down what they see and what questions they have about the image in front of them. How do they think the artist feels about winter? Ask them to provide evidence for their answers.
  2. Ask your students to silently read “Winter is good - his Hoar Delights (1316)” to themselves. Have them write down the words they don’t know. What questions do they have about this poem? Ask them to break into small groups and discuss what they have written down. See if they can figure out the meaning of the words that are difficult.
  3. How does Emily Dickinson feel about winter? How do your students know? How do the feelings and thoughts expressed in the Hiroshige image relate to the poem? Make sure your students give evidence for their perspectives. Have a large group discussion and/or ask them to write a persuasive essay on the subject.

Classroom Activities

  1. Have your students listen to Arlo Guthrie singing his father’s song “Deportees (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos).” Next, have them read the lyrics. Ask them to consider all or some of the following questions: Who is Woody Guthrie writing about? How do they know? What jumps out at them when they hear this song? What do they notice about the refrain? Do they think the song has relevance today? Why or why not?
  2. Ask at least two students to read “Everyday We Get More Illegal” aloud, then ask them to consider the following questions: How can someone get “more illegal”? What are the feelings of the people in the poem? How does the poem relate to the song? What relevance does the poem have today? Is it the same or different from the relevance of Guthrie’s song?

Harper's Bazar: Thanksgiving

Harper's Bazar: Thanksgiving

Harper’s Bazar: Thanksgiving, Louis John Rhead (American, born England, 1857–1926). Date: 1894. Medium: Lithograph. Dimensions: Mount: 19 1/4 x 14 1/4 inches. Credit: Leonard A. Lauder Collection of American Posters, Gift of Leonard A. Lauder, 1984. www.metmuseum.org.

Classroom Activities

  1. Show your students the image of the Harper’s Bazar Thanksgiving cover, published in 1894. Ask them to write down what they notice about the cover, such as the colors, lines, shapes, etc. What associations do they have with this cover?
  2. Ask your students to get into small groups to share how they celebrate Thanksgiving in their homes. Have each group choose a reporter to tell the whole class the ways in which the group members celebrate. Write these ways on the board.
  3. Ask two of your students to read the poem “América” aloud, one after the other. While they are reading, the listening students should circle the things that jump out at them.
  4. Ask your students to read the poem silently to themselves. What else jumps out at them? How is this poem related to the Harper’s Bazar cover? What is the poem saying to them? Does this poem connect to the ways they celebrate Thanksgiving? If so, how?

Listen to Alberto Ríos Read His Poem

Classroom Activities

  1. Ask your students to get in pairs and share a time they gave something that they thought was meaningful to someone. Then ask them to share a time when someone gave them something that was meaningful. Ask them to discuss how they knew it was a meaningful gift.
  2. Hold a large group discussion about what makes giving meaningful.
  3. Have your students listen to the audio recording of Alberto Ríos reading his poem “When Giving Is All We Have.” Next, ask one student to read the poem and then another. Ask the students who are listening and reading along to jot down what jumps out at them each time they hear the poem.
  4. What is Alberto Ríos saying about giving? What words and phrases does he use to help us understand what he means?

Industries of California

Industries of California by Ralph Stackpole

Industries of California. Artist: Ralph Stackpole. Location: Coit Tower, San Francisco, California. Commissioned by the WPA, 1934.

Classroom Activities

  1. Ask your students to look closely at the image of Industries of California, a section of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) mural in Coit Tower in San Fancisco, California. (You may need to explain what the WPA was to the students who are unfamiliar with it.) What are the people doing in the image? Ask your students to offer specific evidence for their conclusions. What emotions are these people expressing? Again, what evidence can your students provide to support their perceptions?
  2. Do a choral reading of “I Hear America Singing.” Ask your students to recite the poem as a group a second time, then ask them to write what stood out to them as they read the poem aloud in one voice.
  3. In a large group, discuss what jumped out at them. Why do they think we chose a choral reading in unison for this poem?
  4. What does Walt Whitman mean by “singing”? Why do the people in his poem “sing”?

Immigrant family looking for lost baggage, Ellis Island

Immigrant family looking for lost baggage, Ellis Island

 

"Immigrant family looking for lost baggage, Ellis Island," Lewis Wickes Hine (1874-1940). Date: 1905. Medium: photograph. Dimensions: 9 1/2 X 7 inches. Credit: Romana Javitz Collection; transferred from the Picture Collection, 1991. digitalcollections.nypl.org

Classroom Activities

  1. Show your students the photograph “Immigrant family looking for lost baggage, Ellis Island.” Ask them to write down what they see. If they give you an interpretation—e.g. the people look fearful—ask them to identify what in the photo shows you the people look fearful. They should write down their evidence. Next, have them turn and talk with a partner about what they see.
     
  2. Have your students get into groups of four. Ask them to read “The New Colossus” aloud to each other.  Make sure at least two people read in each group. Ask the listeners to read along with the text of the poem and circle the words that jump out at them, either because they seem important or because they don’t know what they mean.
     
  3. Have a class discussion about what the poem is saying to new immigrants. What important words does it use to say this? How do the photograph and the poem relate to each other? What is the New Colossus?

Ghost Chamber with the Tall Door (New Version)

Ghost Chamber with the Tall Door (New Version) by Paul Klee

Ghost Chamber with the Tall Door (New Version), Paul Klee (German, 1879–1940). Date: 1925. Medium: Sprayed and brushed watercolor, and transferred printing ink on paper. Dimensions: 24×16 5/8 inches. Credit: The Berggruen Klee Collection, 1987. www.metmuseum.org.

Classroom Activities

Whole Class Warm-Up:

  1. Ask your students to write down their associations with the words haunted and ghosts.
  2. Ask them to draw lines that look like the path a ghost might take through the air or to move their hands in that kind of path. What sounds do ghosts make? What words describe their lines, gestures, and sounds? Ask them to add these words to their list of associations.
  3. Call on a few students who want to share their lines by drawing them on the board or share their hand gestures by demonstrating them. Ask others to share their sounds. Ask the class what they see in the lines and gestures. What do they hear in the sounds? Write these descriptions on the board for all to see.
  4. Show your class Paul Klee’s painting. What do they notice about the lines, colors, and shapes? What do they think these represent? Ask them to provide evidence for their interpretations.

Small Group Activity:

  1. Ask each group to pick a facilitator, who will make sure each person in the group has a chance to contribute, and a reporter, who will take notes.
  2. Have the facilitator ask one person to read the poem aloud for the group, then a second person to read the poem aloud. The facilitator should then ask the following questions: 
         What do you think the poem is about? ​
         What questions do you have about the poem? 
         What connections/associations does the poet make?  
         What connections/associations do you make to the poem? 
         What jumps out at you in the poem?  
         What do you see?
         What do you hear? Are there rhymes? Are there repeating sounds? 
  3. The reporter should take notes on the group’s answers, check with the group to make sure her notes represent what was said, then report back to the whole class for discussion.