Teach This Poem: "Things We Carry on the Sea" by Wang Ping
Resource: “The Five Conflicts Driving the Bulk of the World’s Refugee Crisis” by Megan Specia. This article was published in The New York Times on June 19, 2018.
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 quick write): If you had to leave your home quickly because of a catastrophe, what are the few most important things you would take with you?
- Before Reading the Poem (individual writing and pair share): Silently read the article in The New York Times about the forces driving the world’s refugee crisis. Take notes on the most important points in the article. Share with a partner any patterns you see among the conflicts from which people are fleeing.
- Reading the Poem: Read the poem silently, then record 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: Referring to what you noticed while reading and listening to the poem, discuss who you think is speaking in the poem. What details in the poem tell you this? What are they carrying with them? How do they carry these things?
- Whole-class Discussion: Why do you think the poet has chosen certain things for the people in the poem to carry? What do these things tell you about the people in the poem? What do the last five lines in the poem tell you? What did you learn from the poem that you did not learn from the article?
- Extension for Grades 7-10: How do the things you listed in the warm-up relate to the things carried in this poem? Write an essay comparing how these lists might be similar or different, and why.
- Extension for Grades 11-12: What did you know or think about refugees before you read the article and this poem? What did you learn about the refugee crisis and immigration that you might not have known before? Write an essay that compares and contrasts these moments in your knowledge.
In a lecture called “Tide of Voices: Why Poetry Matters Now,” Mark Doty speaks about the importance of poetry during crisis. He says, “The project of poetry, in a way, is to raise language to such a level that it can convey the precise nature of subjective experience. That the listener would envision not just a mouse but this particular one, in all its exact specificity, its perfect details. Such enchanted language could magically dissolve the barrier of skin and bone and separateness between us.” Read more.