lesson plan

Poet-to-Poet: "The Owl" by Arthur Sze

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Welcome to the classroom component of the 2014 National Poetry Month’s education project, Poet-to-Poet. The following series of activities are aligned with the Common Core State Standards, and encourage you and your students to engage in a multimedia experience with the Academy of American Poets Board of Chancellors, a group that represents poetry in America at its best. You can use the series of activities one right after the other, or separate them, as you integrate poetry with other areas of study throughout National Poetry Month.  The activities are designed to reach diverse learners through multiple entry points and can be easily adapted further for your particular students.

Aligned with the Common Core Standards/College and Career Anchor Standards, the activities below address the three literacy areas of Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening. The activities also indicate how English lessons can intersect with Science curriculum in inspiring ways.


Poet-to-Poet Poems
next >
Five Directions to My House
1. Go back to the grain yellow hills where the broken speak of elegance
2. Walk up to the canvas door, the short bed stretched against the clouds
3. Beneath the earth, an ant writes with the grace of a governor
4. Blow, blow Red Tail Hawk, your hidden sleeve—your desert secrets
5. You are there, almost, without a name, without a body, go now
6. I said five, said five like a guitar says six. 
Poet-to-Poet Poems
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Nothing in That Drawer
Nothing in that drawer.
Nothing in that drawer.
Nothing in that drawer.
Nothing in that drawer.
Nothing in that drawer.
Nothing in that drawer.
Nothing in that drawer.
Nothing in that drawer.
Nothing in that drawer.
Nothing in that drawer.
Nothing in that drawer.
Nothing in that drawer.
Nothing in that drawer.
Nothing in that drawer.
Poet-to-Poet Poems
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Fast Break
In Memory of Dennis Turner, 1946-1984

A hook shot kisses the rim and
hangs there, helplessly, but doesn’t drop,

and for once our gangly starting center
boxes out his man and times his jump

perfectly, gathering the orange leather
from the air like a cherished possession 

and spinning around to throw a strike
to the outlet who is already shoveling

an underhand pass toward the other guard
scissoring past a flat-footed defender 

who looks stunned and nailed to the floor
in the wrong direction, trying to catch sight

of a high, gliding dribble and a man 
letting the play develop in front of him

in slow motion, almost exactly
like a coach’s drawing on the blackboard,

both forwards racing down the court
the way that forwards should, fanning out

and filling the lanes in tandem, moving
together as brothers passing the ball

between them without a dribble, without 
a single bounce hitting the hardwood

until the guard finally lunges out
and commits to the wrong man

while the power-forward explodes past them
in a fury, taking the ball into the air

by himself now and laying it gently
against the glass for a lay-up,

but losing his balance in the process,
inexplicably falling, hitting the floor

with a wild, headlong motion
for the game he loved like a country

and swiveling back to see an orange blur
floating perfectly through the net. 

Poet-to-Poet Poems
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My Skeleton

My skeleton,
you who once ached
with your own growing larger

are now,
each year
imperceptibly smaller,
absorbed by your own

When I danced,
you danced.
When you broke,

And so it was lying down,
climbing the tiring stairs.
Your jaws. My bread.

Someday you,
what is left of you,
will be flensed of this marriage.

Angular wristbone's arthritis,
cracked harp of ribcage,
blunt of heel,
opened bowl of the skull,
twin platters of pelvis—
each of you will leave me behind,
at last serene.

What did I know of your days,
your nights,
I who held you all my life
inside my hands
and thought they were empty?

You who held me all my life
inside your hands
as a new mother holds
her own unblanketed child,
not thinking at all.

Poet-to-Poet Poems
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The Owl
The path was purple in the dusk.
I saw an owl, perched,
on a branch.
And when the owl stirred, a fine dust
fell from its wings. I was
silent then. And felt
the owl quaver. And at dawn, waking,
the path was green in the 
May light. 
Poet-to-Poet Poems
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Valentine for Ernest Mann
You can’t order a poem like you order a taco.
Walk up to the counter, say, “I’ll take two”
and expect it to be handed back to you
on a shiny plate.
Still, I like your spirit.
Anyone who says, “Here’s my address,
write me a poem,” deserves something in reply.
So I’ll tell a secret instead:
poems hide. In the bottoms of our shoes,
they are sleeping. They are the shadows
drifting across our ceilings the moment 
before we wake up. What we have to do
is live in a way that lets us find them.
Once I knew a man who gave his wife
two skunks for a valentine.
He couldn’t understand why she was crying.
“I thought they had such beautiful eyes.”
And he was serious. He was a serious man
who lived in a serious way. Nothing was ugly
just because the world said so. He really
liked those skunks. So, he re-invented them
as valentines and they became beautiful.
At least, to him. And the poems that had been hiding
in the eyes of skunks for centuries 
crawled out and curled up at his feet.
Maybe if we re-invent whatever our lives give us
we find poems. Check your garage, the odd sock
in your drawer, the person you almost like, but not quite.
And let me know.
Poet-to-Poet Poems
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There is nothing concrete to grasp in 
looking into the morning sky

The evidence of red-eye 
flights east a plane drawn line presents

is not a wheelbarrow solid enough 
dependency as day and night

carry   in coming and going
You don't see the poem

saying anything you can't see in it
White dashes of contrails' 

seemingly unmoving streak towards sunrise
disquiet the pale otherwise 

unpunctuated blue of dawn    
breaks it off                Here is that silence
Poet-to-Poet Poems
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from Manatee/Humanity [1]
sing manatee, manatee (you’d better praise all you can he said) all the trembling day

& passing before her captivity
		reiterating a chant of manatee
I began

the manatee is found in shallow slow-moving rivers

the manatee moves in estuaries moves in saltwater bays

the manatee in moving moves gently

the manatee is to be found in canals & coastal areas

the manatee is a migratory animal

the manatee is gentle & slow moving

the manatee in slow-moving rivers slowly

the manatee is completely herbivorous

the West Indian manatee has no natural enemies

the manatee has no natural enemies but unnatural man

the manatee is constantly threatened by man unnaturally

man with his boats & plastic & attitude

the manatee often drowns in canal locks of man

man who makes no concession to manatee

the manatee dies in flood control structures

man who makes no concession to manatee nor cares of manatee
Common Core State Standards/College and Career Anchor Standards

Reading: Key Ideas and Details, 2; Craft and Structure, 4; Integration of Knowledge and Ideas, 7, 9 
Writing: Text Types and Purposes, 3; Production and Distribution of Writing, 5, 6 
Speaking and Listening: Comprehension and Collaboration, 1, 2
Language: Vocabulary Acquisition and Use, 4, 5
Interdisciplinary Connections: Science (animals, environmental issues)


I. Before Viewing the Video and Reading the Poem

Poem Specific Activity: Introducing "The Owl"

Students will:

  • Develop skills of noticing (seeing, hearing, and feeling) to learn about one type of owl from a series of photographs
  • Make connections between what they notice and prior knowledge
  • Ask their own questions

Warm up:  Whip around—Go around the room, asking your students what associations they have to the word owl.

Tell your students they will be studying an excerpt of the poem “The Owl” by Arthur Sze in both performance and written form as a prelude to writing and performing their own poems.

Note: Depending on the technology capabilities in your classroom, students can work individually, in pairs, or in small groups (on a laptop or iPad), or as a large group with an image projected at the front of the room.

You will see a series of small photographs of the owls at the top of the page. Please ask your students only to look at the first three, so they can hone their skills of perception and learn deeply from the photos.

  • Ask your students to look at each photograph carefully (give them several minutes with each one) and to write down what they notice about the Ural owl. What do they see? If they say something like, “There is a mother owl with a baby,” ask them to point to the evidence in the photograph for their conclusion and describe what the evidence is.
  • Can they make any connections between what they see in these photos to other things they have seen or about which they have read? Ask them to write these connections down.
  • What questions do they have about Ural owls now that they have engaged with the photos? Again, they should write down their questions.
  • Ask your students to turn and talk with a partner about what they have written down. They should add to their writing what they have learned from their partners.
  • Conduct a large group discussion: What are their responses to what they have noticed in the photos? What do they think/feel about the Ural owl now that they know these details?


II. Viewing the Video and Reading the Poem

Using Skills of Perception

Students will:

  • Continue to develop skills from Section I above
  • Explore the similarities/differences between what they they might learn from two different types of media
  • Find meaning in a poem and provide evidence for their interpretations
  • Figure out the meaning of vocabulary words using contextual clues and prior connections

First activity

  • Ask your students to watch the video of Arthur Sze reading his poem at least two times. (They should not, at this time, watch him answer the question, “What inspired you to write this poem?” They will do this later.)
  • In the second viewing, students should write down what they notice about the reading. This should include what they hear, see, and feel.
  • Have your students share what they wrote with a partner.

Second Activity 
With the same partners, ask your students to read the poem out loud to each other, at least two times.

  • After the first reading, they should write down what jumps out at them in the poem (what they notice).
  • After the second reading, they should write down any connections they see between what they are reading and prior knowledge.
  • Ask two pairs to form groups of four to share what they wrote about, what they noticed, and the connections they made.

Third Activity

  • After this viewing/reading process, the students should write down any questions they have about the poem, including how the poem was written, read, or what the poem might mean.
  • Back in their groups of four, students should discuss how what they learned from the poem was similar to, or different from, what they learned from their engagement with the photographs.

Fourth Activity

  • Large group synthesis: Conduct a large group discussion, listing noticings, connections, and questions on the board. Have this lead to a discussion of what students think the poem means based on evidence they provide from the first three activities. The point is not to reach consensus, but rather to invite each student to engage with the poem from his/her vantage point.

Ask your students to keep a running list on the front board in your room of the words they have read and heard that they do not understand. You can either conduct a separate vocabulary lesson on these words where students try to figure out their meaning from context and connections, or go over vocabulary as you progress through the other activities.


III. Imagining Poems

Fusing Inspiration and Experience

Students will:

  • Develop an understanding of some ways poets find inspiration
  • Identify people, places, or objects that inspire them
  • Use detailed language to describe something they imagine

First Activity

  • Ask your students to go back to the online video of Arthur Sze reading “The Owl” to see what Sze says is his inspiration for the poem.
  • Have the students write new things they learned in their notebooks.
  • In small groups (perhaps four people) ask them to discuss why they think he wrote the poem.

Second Activity

  • Ask your students to view the video of Naomi Shihab Nye reading “A Valentine for Ernest Mann.” They should also, at this time, watch her answer to the question, “What inspired you to write this poem?”
  • Ask your students to view the video of Naomi Shihab Nye a second time and write down why she wrote this poem and what inspired her.
  • In small groups of no more than four, ask them to talk about the similarities and differences between what inspired Arthur Sze to write his poem, and what inspired Naomi Shihab Nye.
  • Large group report in: Conduct a large group discussion on what inspired the two poets and the similarities and differences. You might need to give them examples of other possible sources of inspiration.

Third Activity
Ask your students to think about where their poems “hide.” What “speaks to them,” the way the subjects of the poems they just saw/read spoke to their authors, inspiring them to write about those subjects?  If they have difficulty, you can ask your students to answer the following questions:

  • What do they love—people, places, and things? 
  • What do they think is beautiful?
  • What do they hate? 
  • What makes them scared?
  • What makes them angry?

Ask them to write a list of these things and pick the one that seems the most important to them.  In their imaginations:

  • What do they notice (using all their senses) about this person, place, or object?  Write down these details.
  • What connections can they make to this person, place, or object?  Write these down.
  • What questions do they have about this person, place, or object?  Write these down.
  • How do they feel about this person, place, or thing?  Write down this emotion.


IV. Creating Our Own Poems and Performances

Poem Specific Activity: Developing Poetic Techniques and Presentation Skills

Students will:

  • Identify examples of alliteration and the use of color as a symbol
  • Write a first draft of a poem about a person, place, or object that inspires them
  • Revise their poem after peer consultation
  • Rehearse some performance techniques they observed in the online video
  • Read and perform their poem

Explain to your class that before they write their own poems, they will:

  • Explore some of the poetic techniques Arthur Sze uses in "The Owl"
  • Practice presentation techniques

Poetic Technique
First Activity
Warm up: Ask your students to stand in a circle. Tell them you are going to say a color and then say something you think about when you say that color, and how it makes you feel. Then go around the circle and ask each of them to pick a color, make an association to that color, and say how it makes them feel.

Second Activity
Now your students will experience Arthur Sze's online performance once more, this time by listening at least twice to the words. Have them close their eyes as they listen.

  • At the end of each listening, ask them to write down the words they remember the most. What sounds did they hear repeated?
  • With partners, ask them to share the sounds and words they remembered the most.
  • In a large group discussion, ask your students what they heard and keep a running record of the sounds and the words on the board at the front of the room.
  • You can use this list of words and sounds as an introduction to the use of alliteration and color as a symbol. (You can choose to introduce one or both of these ideas.) The purpose of this discussion is to give your students some tools they can use in their writing.

Third Activity
Ask your students to find a quiet space in which to write about the person, place, or object that has their “hidden poem.” They can think about a “mystery or dream” the way Arthur Sze did, and they can use some of the techniques he used in “The Owl” as well as other poetic elements with which they might be familiar, such as rhyme.

The critical point is that your students write about something that inspires them. They may need to stare out the window, go to the library, or write at home. Inspiration comes in its own way at its own time, so we ask you to give your students opportunity for the poetic space they need.

Fourth Activity
After your students have written their poems, place them in small groups no larger than four people. (If they have regular writing groups, it’s fine to use them.) In these groups:

  • Each student reads her/his poem aloud.
  • After each student reads, the others give supportive criticism by starting with a strength of the poem, and then asking questions or stating things that were not clear to them.
  • Students revise their poems after this group work.

Practicing Performance
First Activity
Return again to the online video of Arthur Sze.

  • Ask your students to watch how his body moves when he speaks and how he uses his voice. 
  • Have them jot down what they notice as they watch the video.

Second Activity
In pairs, ask your students to practice performing their poems for each other.  One person should perform; the other should watch and give criticism. Then they should switch roles.

Third Activity
As a culminating activity, you can ask your class for volunteers willing to present their poetry performances to the whole class. You might want to invite other students to see the performance as well, or to hold a Poetry Café after school for the school community. 



Studying Other Poet Videos

You can adapt the above activities to viewing/reading any of the other poems in the Poet-to-Poet collection. Of course, you will have to change the poem-specific activities, such as the preparation photo, and the poetic elements studied, but the viewing and reading and imagining activities (Sections II and III) can be easily adapted.

Poets and Their Poems:
Juan Felipe Herrera, “Five Directions to My House”
Edward Hirsch, “Fast Break”
Jane Hirshfield, “My Skeleton”
Naomi Shihab Nye, “A Valentine for Ernest Mann”
Ron Padgett, “Nothing in that Drawer”
Arthur Sze, “The Owl”
Arthur Sze, “Here”
Anne Waldman, from “Manatee/Humanity”


Submitting Poems to the Academy of American Poets

The Academy of American Poets encourages you to submit your students' response poems for possible publication on Poets.org in May 2014. Send all poems via email at [email protected] by April 30, 2014. Please include each student's name, the poet that inspired his or her poem, and the name of your school.