Teach This Poem: “Natural Criminal” by Francisco X. Alarcón
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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Small-group Discussion: What did you notice about the structure of the poem? What are the images in each of the stanzas?
- 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”?
- 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.
- 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.
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.