Teach This Poem: "Dead Stars" by Ada Limón
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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.
- Warm-up (whip around or pair share): Share one or two associations that come to your mind when you think of looking at the night sky.
- Before Reading the Poem: Look at the image of the constellation Orion and write down what you notice (including any colors, any patterns of brightness and darkness, the placement of the stars, etc.). What does this image remind you of? How does it make you feel?
- Reading the Poem: Read the poem “Dead Stars” silently, then write down the words, phrases, and structures that jump out at you.
- 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.
- Small-group Discussion: Share the words, phrases, and structures that you noticed with the members of your group. Develop a composite list to share with the class. One person from your group should then write your composite list on the board for the whole class to see.
- Whole-class Discussion: Do you see any repetitions or patterns in what is posted on the board? What might these similarities tell you? At what point in the poem does the speaker start asking questions? What are these questions about? What might the word “this” in the last line of the poem refer to? What is your evidence?
- Extension for Grades 7-8: Write an illustrated essay about doing something that would make you “so big / people could point to [you] with the arrows they make in their minds.”
- Extension for Grades 11-12: Why do you think the title of the poem is “Dead Stars”? What are the dead stars in the poem? What is the speaker comparing herself to when she says, “my mouth is full / of dust and I wish to reclaim the rising”? (Read more about star formation and evolution to help untangle this metaphor.) Write a personal essay or poem that indicates what you would do to help promote “the safety of others” or the rebirth of the earth.
More Context for Teachers
In an interview filmed in 2010, Ada Limón speaks about the relationship between poetry and noticing. She says, “We find it hard to settle our brains down, and poetry offers us that silence, that quiet space, and allows us to reconnect with ourselves, or with an idea, or with an emotion.... It's almost as if the poets are offering a religion of noticing things, or a religion of paying attention, and it's nice that it doesn't have any connotation other than that. Just notice. Just pay attention. Just be here.” Watch the video.