Teach This Poem: "The Tent" by Naomi Shihab Nye
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 (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.
- 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.
- Reading the Poem: Read the poem silently, then record the words, phrases, and structures that jump out at you.
- 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.
- 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”?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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.
In The Triggering Town: Lectures and Essays on Poetry, Richard 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.