poem index

Teach This Poem

Inspired by the success of our popular syndicated series Poem-a-Day, we're pleased to present Teach This Poem. 

Produced for K-12 educators, Teach This Poem features one poem a week from our online poetry collection, accompanied by interdisciplinary resources and activities designed to help teachers quickly and easily bring poetry into the classroom. The series is curated by our Educator in Residence, Dr. Madeleine Fuchs Holzer, and is available for free via email.

Classroom Activities

Resource:
Enough fresh blackberries so that each student in your class can have one or two.

  1. Tell your students that the poet Galway Kinnell liked to use words that he said had “mouth feel.” Give your students one or two blackberries to eat slowly. Have them think of words that describe what it feels like to eat the berries, paying close attention to the words that sound like what it feels like to eat them. Ask them to quickly write down their words.
  2. Project the poem “Blackberry Eating” in front of the class. Ask your students to read it twice silently. As they read it the second time, have them write down the words and phrases in the poem that jump out at them.
  3. Ask one of your students to read the poem aloud to the class. Ask the listening students to write down additional words and phrases that jump out at them. Repeat this process with a second student reading aloud to the class.
  4. Ask your students to gather in small groups and share their lists of words with one another. Which of their words have “mouth feel”? Which of the words they wrote down in Activity 1 have “mouth feel”?
  5. Ask your students to write a paragraph or poem about a favorite food using words that have “mouth feel” to describe the eating experience.
  6. Ask for volunteers to share their work (and maybe their food) with the class.

Rabbit in the Garden

Rabbit in the garden

Classroom Activities

  1. Project the image of the rabbit in the garden. Ask your students to look closely at the image.
  2. Ask them to write down answers to the following questions: What do they notice in the photograph? How does it make them feel? What associations do they have with this image of a rabbit in a garden?
  3. Have your students turn and talk with a partner about their responses to the above questions, using evidence that they have written down. Make sure both students get a chance to talk while they are in pairs.
  4. Hold a whole-class discussion where your students share their reactions to the photo and their evidence.
  5. Project “A Small Needful Fact” by Ross Gay from Poets.org. Ask your students to read it twice silently. The first time, they should read the poem through. The second time, they should write down the words and phrases that jump out at them.
  6. Ask a student to read the poem aloud to the class. Have the listening students write down new things they notice with this reading. Repeat this process while a second student reads aloud.
  7. Hold a whole-class discussion: What words and phrases does Ross Gay repeat to keep the rhythm of the poem moving? Why does he use the image of Garner’s role as a gardener? How do your reactions to the photograph of the rabbit in the garden help you understand the poem? Why does he end with breathing? What do your students think Gay is saying about Eric Garner? What is their evidence from their reading and listening to the poem?

Elizabeth Bradfield Reads "Pursuit"

Classroom Activities

  1. Ask your students to imagine something they did over the summer and have them “paint a picture” in their imaginations of what happened. Have them write a short paragraph describing the event, the people who were there, and the setting, in as much detail as possible, so someone else can see the scene in their “mind’s eye.”
  2. Ask your students to share what they wrote with a partner. If the partner has trouble envisioning the scene, she should ask the writer to add more detail to help her “see” it better. Make sure both partners have time to share their work and provide feedback to each other.
  3. Project the poem “Pursuit” in front of the class. Ask them to read the poem twice silently.  The first time, they should simply read the poem all the way through. The second time, they should write down all the words and phrases that help them envision the scene.
  4. Ask one student to read the poem aloud to the class. Have the listening students write down additional words and phrases that jump out at them to describe the scene.
  5. Play the audio of Elizabeth Bradfield reading her poem. Ask your students to write down additional things they hear from her reading.
  6. Have your students gather in small groups and discuss what they think Bradfield did in her poem to have them envision the scene on the Provincetown pier.
  7. Hold a whole-class discussion:  What happens in the last three lines of the poem? (You can introduce the idea of a turn, if you’d like.)  What do your students think the speaker in the poem is trying to tell us about herself, her relationship to MacMillan, and the teenagers who are jumping from the pier?

 

Skunk

Skunk

Photo credit: Public domain.

Naomi Shihab Nye Reads “Valentine for Ernest Mann”

Classroom Activities

  1. Project the image of the skunk so all your students can see it. Have them look at the image for several minutes, then ask them to write a detailed description of anything they think is beautiful about this animal. The description should make us feel that what they have seen is beautiful.
  2. Divide your students into pairs. Ask your students to read their descriptions to their partners. The listening partner should tell the reader whether or not she felt the beauty of this part of the skunk and offer suggestions to help the writer describe its beauty. Make sure both students have a chance to be both readers and responders.
  3. Project the poem “Valentine for Ernest Mann” so all your students can see it. Ask them to read the poem silently twice. The first time, they should simply read it through. The second time, they should write down the words and phrases that jump out at them.
  4. Ask one of your students to read the poem aloud to the class. Have your students write down anything new that they hear in the poem after having heard it.
  5. Show your students the video of Naomi Shihab Nye reading her poem. Ask them to add items to their list of what they notice about the poem after watching Naomi Shihab Nye’s reading. What words and phrases does she emphasize, if any?
  6. What does Shihab Nye mean when she says, “Maybe if we re-invent whatever our lives give us / we find poems…?”
  7. Ask your students to look for an item that they don’t think is particularly beautiful. Have them bring it to class and look at it for a long while. Ask them to “reinvent” the object with either a detailed description or a poem.

Four Trees by John Kovacich

Four Trees by John Kovacich

Photo credit: Public domain.

Trees by David Johnson

Trees by David Johnson

Trees by David Johnson (1827–1908). Date: 1886. Medium: Black ink washes and graphite on off-white wove paper. Dimensions: 18 7/16 x 12 7/8 inches. Credit Line: Purchase, Charles and Anita Blatt Gift, 1968. www.metmuseum.org

Classroom Activities

  1. Project the image of the photograph “Four Trees” by John Kovacich so all your students can see it. Ask them to write down all that they notice in the photograph.
  2. Project the image of the painting “Trees” by David Johnson. On a separate piece of paper, ask your students to write down all that they notice in the painting.
  3. Ask your students to get in groups of four to five and discuss the similarities and differences between the images of the photograph and the painting.
  4. Conduct a whole-class discussion: What do we experience (cognitively and emotionally) from the image of the photograph? What do we experience (cognitively and emotionally) from the image of the painting? To what do your students attribute the differences?
  5. Project the poem “Crows” by Marilyn Nelson in front of the class. Ask your students to read it once, silently. Ask them to read it a second time, writing down the words and phrases that jump out at them.
  6. Ask one of your students to read the poem aloud to the class. Ask the listening students to write down additional words and phrases they notice when they hear the poem read.
  7. Ask another student to read the poem aloud, and have the listening students write down new words and phrases they notice. Have your students turn and talk with a partner about what they have seen and heard in the different readings of the poem.
  8. Conduct a whole-class discussion: As they think about the images of the trees, as well as the words and phrases in the poem that jumped out at them, what do your students think Marilyn Nelson might mean when she talks about “…the hand-created taste of leftover macaroons / The instant sparks in the earth’s awareness”?

South Miami Beach

South Miami Beach

Photo Credit: Public domain.

Classroom Activities

  1. Project the photograph of the beach so all your students can see it.
  2. Ask your students to gaze at the picture and imagine they were standing or sitting just in front of the waves. What would they see? Hear? Smell? Have them write down what they imagine.
  3. What associations do they make with sitting at the beach? Ask your students to write these down, as well.
  4. Project the poem “maggie and milly and molly and may” by E. E. Cummings so all your students can see it. Ask your students to read the poem silently and circle all the words, phrases, and images that jump out at them.
  5. Ask your students to get into groups of no more than four people. Have two students in each group read the poem aloud to the other two students. Ask the listening students to write down anything new that they hear. Reverse the process so that the listening students get a chance to read, and the reading students get a chance to listen and write.
  6. Whole-class discussion: Ask your students if they agree with the last two lines of the poem. Make sure they cite ideas from their own writings, as well as evidence from the poem to back up their ideas.

Lane with Poplars Near Nuenen

Lane with Poplars Near Nuenen

Lane with Poplars Near Nuenen by Vincent van Gogh (Netherlands). Date: 1885. Medium: Oil on canvas. Credit Line: public domain.

Classroom Activities

  1. Project an image of the painting “Lane with Poplars Near Neunen” by Vincent van Gogh so all your students can see it. Ask them to write down what they notice in the painting.
  2. Ask your students to turn and talk with a partner about what they saw. Ask them to think about how van Gogh represents the light in the poplars and the overall role the poplars play in the landscape. Make sure to remind them to use the details they noticed to back up their answers.
  3. Project the poem “Binsey Poplars” by Gerard Manley Hopkins from Poets.org, so all your students can see it. Ask them to read the poem silently to themselves and circle all the words, phrases, and images that jump out to them.
  4. Ask your students to get in pairs and read the poem to each other. Make sure each student reads the poem all the way through.
  5. Whole-class discussion: How does Hopkins use the sound of words to help us understand how he feels about the poplars? Make sure they reference specific sounds in the poem. How does van Gogh use brush strokes? Make sure your students indicate specific brush strokes and colors.
  6. How do your students think van Gogh and Hopkins would feel about today’s environmental movement?

Bear Glacier

Bear Glacier. Photo credit: Jim Pfeiffenberger, National Park Service.

Photo credit: Jim Pfeiffenberger, National Park Service.

Classroom Activities

  1. Project the image of Bear Glacier so all your students can see it. Give them several minutes to look at it, and then ask them to imagine what they might see in this environment. Have them write these down. What other things do they associate or imagine when they look at this photograph? Ask them to let their imaginations roam free. They should not limit themselves to what might really be in this environment. Make sure they write down these associations and imaginings.
  2. Project the poem “Unpacking a Globe” by Arthur Sze from Poets.org. Ask your students to read it silently and write down the words, images, and phrases that jump out at them. Ask ten students to read the poem out loud, each student reading one of the couplets in the poem. Ask the listening students to write down what they hear that is new to them. Repeat this process with ten new students reading the couplets.
  3. Have your students get in small groups and ask them to share the words, images, and phrases that they wrote down. Where do they see Arthur Sze’s imagination working?
  4. Whole-class discussion: What do your students think the poet means by the last two lines in the poem? Based on the discussions your students had in their small groups, how does this poem illustrate what the last lines say?
  5. Ask your students to write a poem (or paragraph) that uses the images they imagined, both free and/or appropriate to the Bear Glacier environment, to make a point that is important to them.

Video: Amaryllis Growing, Flowering and Decaying, Time-Lapse

Classroom Activities

  1. Show your students the video “Amaryllis Growing, Flowering and Decaying, Time-Lapse” twice. The first time, they should watch the entire video. The second time, ask them to write down as many details as they can about the growth of the amaryllis bulb. Ask your students to share their details with a partner.
  2. Project the poem “The Metier of Blossoming” so all your students can see it. Explain that métier is a French word. Ask if any of your students know the meaning. If not, help them look it up. Ask your students to read the poem silently and write down the words and phrases that jump out at them. Ask one student to read the poem aloud. The listening students should add new words and phrases that they notice to their lists. Ask a second student to read the poem aloud, with the others following the same process.
  3. Ask your students: What are the vivid words Denise Levertov uses to describe the growth of the amaryllis? Why does she say growth is its “métier”? In what ways does Denise Levertov compare and contrast human growth to amaryllis growth? What is the evidence for this in the poem?

 

Classroom Activities

Resources
Four to five groups of the following materials:
• three boxes of different shapes and sizes
• cardboard roll from paper towel or gift wrap
• scissors
• one roll of packing tape
• string

  1. The week before you study the poem with your students, ask for volunteers to bring in a total of four to five paper-towel or gift-wrap rolls, and fifteen medium-sized boxes (no more than 12 by 18 inches).
  2. Divide your class into small groups of no more than five students each. Give each group a set of the materials listed above in the Resources section.
  3. Tell the groups they will have twenty minutes to collaborate in building a birdhouse using the materials they have. They must make it as sturdy and long-lasting as they can.
  4. When they’ve finished, ask one person from each group to present the birdhouse to the class, with a description of the collaborative process they used and how the group felt about it.
  5. Project the poem “The Tree Sparrows” by Joseph O. Legaspi from Poets.org so that all your students can see it. Ask your students to read it silently and write down the words and phrases that jump out at them. Ask one student to read the poem aloud. The listening students should add new words and phrases that they notice to their lists. Ask a second student to read aloud, with the others follow the same process.
  6. Whole-class discussion: How did your students feel as they were trying to build sturdy birdhouses? What is Joseph O. Legaspi saying is necessary to make a home sturdy? Remind your students to cite evidence from the poem for their answers.

Carolina Wren, from the American Bird Conservancy

Classroom Activities

  1. Project the image of the Carolina Wren and play its song.  (Do not mention you are playing its song.) Ask your students to write down what they notice in the order that they notice it. Project the image and the song again. Ask your students to follow the same procedure.
  2. Ask your students to turn and talk with a partner about what they noticed first. What was the last thing they noticed? Then hold a whole-class discussion to see what most people noticed first and last. If no one mentions the sound of the wren, play the call of the wren for them.  What do they notice about the call? What associations do they have with the call?
  3. Project “The Carolina Wren” by Laura Donnelly so all your students can read it silently. Ask them to write down words and phrases that jump out at them.
  4. Ask one student to read the poem aloud to the class. Ask the listeners to jot down what jumps out. Ask a second student to read the poem aloud. Have your students write down new things they hear in the poem.
  5. What associations does Laura Donnelly make with the sound of the wren?
  6. Why do your students think she is “Pinned and spinning in the sound of it?”

Classroom Activities

Resources:  Dried lima beans, clear plastic cups, paper towels, water, potting soil.

  1. Start this activity approximately one week before you and your students read the poem together:  Soak enough dried lima beans in warm water for twenty-four hours, so that each student in your class can have three or four. Have your students place their lima beans between a wet paper towel and the inside of a plastic cup. Place the cups on a sunny windowsill. Keep the paper towels moist (not soaking wet) until the beans start to send out small shoots.

    When the beans have medium-sized roots (one inch or so), ask your students to take the lima beans out of the paper towel, remove the paper towels from the cup, and fill the cup with potting soil. They should then plant the lima beans, roots down in the soil, stems and any small leaves above the soil. Place the cups back on the windowsill so your students can watch the beans grow.
     
  2. After your students first place their beans on the windowsill, ask them to check the beans each day and write a description of what they see happening with the beans. They should continue to do this even after the beans are in soil, until they have grown and sprouted leaves.
  3. Project the poem “Putting in the Seed” by Robert Frost so all your students can see it. Ask them to read it silently, writing down all the words and phrases that jump out at them.
  4. Ask one of your students to read the poem aloud to the class. The listening students should write down new words and phrases that they think are important. Follow this process with a second student reading aloud.
  5. Conduct a whole-class discussion: How did Robert Frost feel about planting seeds and watching them grow? From what you recorded in your notes, what, in the poem, lets us know how he felt? Ask your students how they felt watching their lima beans grow. What words did they write down to describe the growth that would let us know how they felt?
  6. Ask your students to write a descriptive paragraph that shows how their beans grew and how they felt about it. (Remind them about “show don’t tell.”)

Garden

Garden

Borneo River Toad

Borneo River Toad

Credit: California Academy of Sciences

Classroom Activities

  1. Ask your students to look at the image of the garden for several minutes and to write down all the words that would help someone imagine the garden in their “mind’s eye.”
  2. Similarly, ask your students to look at the image of the Borneo River toad and write down all the details they can about what a toad really looks like.
  3. Using the details you collected in activities 1 and 2, have your students place their toad in the garden and write four lines that would make us imagine that there is a real toad in their imaginary garden.
  4. Project “Poetry” by Marianne Moore so that all your students can see it. Ask them to read it silently and write down the words, phrases, and images that jump out at them. What do they notice about the structure of the poem?
  5. Ask two students to read the poem aloud, one after the other, paying attention to the line breaks as they read. What do the listening students hear that they did not notice before as they were silently reading?
  6. Conduct a whole-class discussion: What does Marianne Moore really think about poetry? What does she mean by “imaginary gardens with real toads in them?” What role does Marianne Moore think poetry plays in life? Make sure your students use evidence from their writing and reading of the poem to support their answers.

Classroom Activities

  1. The day before you teach this lesson, ask your students to find a favorite poem to bring into class. (This can be done either in class or as homework.)
  2. Have your students get into small groups and share their poems with each other. Ask them to discuss what they like about their poems, and what makes their choice a poem and not a paragraph.
  3. Project “Ars Poetica” by Archibald MacLeish so your students can read it. Ask them to read it silently and write down all the words, phrases, and images that jump out at them.
  4. Ask one student to read the first stanza of the poem aloud, a second student the second stanza, and a third student the third stanza. Repeat this process with three different students. Have the listening students write down additional words, phrases, and images that jump out at them as they hear the stanzas read.
  5. Ask your students to share with their group what they have written.
  6. Hold a whole-class discussion: What does Archibald MacLeish mean when he says, “A poem should not mean / But be.”? What evidence do they have for what they noticed in the poem to support their answers?

A Mile of Trash Quickly Disappears

A Mile of Trash Quickly Disappears

From "A Mile of Trash Quickly Disappears." The Elkhart Truth, March 22, 2013.

Classroom Activities

  1. Show your students the photograph of trash near the railroad tracks from The Elkhart Truth. Ask them to look at it twice—the first time to get a feel for what is going on in the photograph. The second time, ask them to write down the details of what they see.
  2. Ask your students to write a paragraph describing what they see in the photograph and their reaction to it.
  3. Project the image of Ruth Stone’s poem “Always on the Train.” Ask your students to read it silently and write down the words, phrases, and images that jump out at them.
  4. Ask two students to read the poem aloud, one after the other. Have the listening students write down new words, phrases, and images that jump out at them that they did not hear before.
  5. Ask your students to get into small groups and to share what they wrote down from the two readings. Tell them this is important to the next discussion.
  6. From what they read and heard, what do they the poet is saying about the trash in the poem?
  7. If it does not come up naturally, ask them why they think Ruth Stone talks about the “black high flung patterns of flocking birds.”

“Birds in Snow” by Chris Burke

Classroom Activities

  1. Show your students the video “Birds in Snow” twice. The first time ask them to watch the video straight through. The second time, ask them to write down what they see in as much detail as possible.
  2. Ask your students to polish their lists into a paragraph that is a vivid description of what they saw in the video.
  3. Project the poem “Because You Asked about the Line Between Prose and Poetry” by Howard Nemerov so all your students can read it. Ask your students to read it silently, writing down all the words and phrases that jump out at them.
  4. Ask one of your students to read the poem aloud to the class. The listening students should write down new words and phrases they hear that they think are important. Follow this process with a second student reading aloud.
  5. Ask one of your students to read the poem aloud to the class. The listening students should write down new words and phrases they hear that they think are important. Follow this process with a second student reading aloud.
  6. Conduct a whole-class discussion based on the notes they have just taken:  What might be the line (or difference) between prose and poetry that Nemerov refers to in his title? Make sure your students cite evidence from the poem to support their interpretations.

Diagram of the Human Skeleton

Diagram of the Human Skeleton

 

 

 

 

 

Jane Hirshfield Reads Her Poem "My Skeleton."

Classroom Activities

  1. Show your students the labeled image of the human skeleton. Ask them to write down what they see in the skeleton.
  2. Project the poem “My Skeleton” by Jane Hirshfield in front of the class. Ask your students to read it through silently and circle all the words and phrases that jump out at them.
  3. Ask one student to read the poem aloud paying attention to the structure of the poem on the page, followed by a second student reading the poem aloud with the same instruction. Have the students who are listening add anything else that jumps out at them to their notes.
  4. Show your students the video of Jane Hirshfield reading her poem and talking about what inspired her to write it.
  5. Ask your students to turn and talk with a partner about what they noticed in Hirshfield’s poem after the first four activities.
  6. Ask your students to look at the image of the human skeleton again. Hold a whole-class discussion: Do they notice anything differently about the way they look at the skeleton after experiencing the poem? If so, what is different.

 

Classroom Activities

  1. Play the audio recording of Lucille Clifton reading “sisters” twice. The first time, ask your students to listen. The second time, ask them to write down the words and phrases that jump out at them. What words and phrases does Clifton emphasize? How does she emphasize them? Why do they think she emphasize these words in that way?
  2. Project the poem “sisters” in the front of the classroom for your students to read. Ask one student to read the poem out loud to the class, followed by a second student. Have the listening students write down additional words and phrases, if any, that jump out at them.
  3. Ask your students to get in small groups and to talk about the following: Why do they think Clifton does not use capital letters? Why does she use the type of language she does? What poetic techniques does she use, e.g. repetition, rhyme, etc.?
  4. In a whole-class discussion, ask your students what they think Clifton is saying on the surface of the poem. What is the message underlying it?

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Classroom Activities

  1. Project the poem “The Hand” by Mary Ruefle in front of the classroom. Ask your students to read the poem silently and write down the words, phrases, and images that jump out at them.
  2. Ask two students to read the poem aloud, one after the other. Make sure your students add what they noticed from the oral reading to their notes from their silent reading.
  3. Next, ask your students if anyone in the class knows who Edgar Degas was. If so, ask them to share what they know with the rest of the class. If no one knows, tell your students who he was and emphasize that he was an artist.
  4. Play the audio recording of Philip Levine reading  “M. Degas Teaches Art & Science at Durfee Intermediate School, Detroit 1942” twice. The first time, let your students simply listen. The second time, ask them to write down the words, phrases, and images that jump out at them.
  5. Whole-class discussion: What are the similarities and differences between the speakers in the two poems? Make sure your students cite evidence in the poems to support their answers.

“Relaxing Jellyfish Loop” by Oregon Jones Music

Classroom Activities

  1. Show your students two to three minutes of the “Relaxing Jellyfish Loop” video twice. The first time, have them watch and listen. The second time, ask them to write down what they hear and see.
  2. Ask them to turn and talk with a partner about what they learned about jellyfish from the video.  How do they feel about jellyfish after watching the video?
  3. Project the poem “A Jelly-Fish” by Marianne Moore in the front of the class.
  4. Ask your students to read it silently and write down the words, phrases, and images that jump out at them. How are the words positioned on the page?
  5. Ask two students to read the poem aloud, one after the other. Make sure your students add what they noticed from the oral reading to their notes from their silent reading.
  6. Whole-class discussion: Why does Marianne Moore place her words where she does? Where are the rhymes? What does having one or two words on a line do to their meaning? What is Moore saying about the jellyfish? About what does she make you think?
  7. For some scientific information on jellyfish see KQED Quest “Amazing Jellies.”

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One Woman With Black Lives Matter Sign

Classroom Activities

  1. Show your students the above photograph, and ask them what they know about the Black Lives Matter movement. Have them fill in the gaps in their knowledge by conducting research on the movement by getting into small groups and using Internet and library resources (one place to start is the article “Black Lives Matter: The Growth of a New Social Justice Movement” from Blackpast.org). Ask each group to report back to the class what they have learned.
  2. Project the poem “Black Laws” by Roger Reeves in the front of the classroom, and ask your students to read it silently. Invite two students to read the poem out loud, one after the other. Ask the listeners to write down words and phrases in the poem that rhyme. What jumps out at your students? What do they learn about the meaning of the poem from what they have noticed? What kinds of rhymes have they found? What function do the rhymes serve in the reading of the poem?
  3. Why do your students think the speaker in the poem is putting on his “nice suit?”  What does he expect will happen to him? Ask your students to justify their answers with reference to specific details and images in the poem.
  4. How might the events that led to the Black Lives Matter movement relate to Reeves’s poem?

Studio portrait of a young couple, he seated, she with hand on his shoulder.

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Photographs and Prints Division, The New York Public Library. [Studio portrait of a young couple, he seated, she with hand on his shoulder.] New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Photographs and Prints Division, The New York Public Library. [Studio portrait of a young couple, he seated, she with hand on his shoulder.] New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Classroom Activities

  1. Project “Studio Portrait of a Young Couple” in front of the classroom. Ask your students to write down what they see in the photograph. Have them get in small groups and discuss what they imagine the hopes and dreams are for this young couple. Why do they think these are their hopes and dreams?
  2. Project “The Bean Eaters” in front of the class. Ask your students to write down what jumps out at them in the poem from both the content and the structure. Ask two students to read the poem out loud; what more do the listeners notice in the poem?
  3. What do we know about the couple portrayed in the poem? What do we know about their present lives? What do we know about their past lives? What in the poem tells us this? What are the “beads and receipts and dolls and cloths, tobacco crumbs, vases and fringes”?
  4. Ask your students to get into small groups and think about whether the young couple in the photograph might wind up like the older couple in the poem, or whether they think they might have a different life. Ask them to write a paragraph or a poem about their portrait of the younger couple as they grow old.

George Washington Carver

George Washington Carver

Credit Line: Circa 1910; photographer unknown. This photograph is in the public domain.

Classroom Activities

  1. Show your students the photograph of George Washington Carver, but conceal his name. Ask them to write down all the things they notice about the person in the photograph. Then ask them if they know who the person is. If no one knows, tell them. Then ask your students if they have ever heard of George Washington Carver, and if so, what they know about him.
  2. Project the poem “1905” by Marilyn Nelson in the front of the classroom. Have your students write down what jumps out at them in the poem, including words they might not understand.
  3. Ask one student to read the poem aloud while the listeners write down new things that “jump out.” Repeat this process with another student reading out loud.
  4. Ask your students to get into small groups and help one another figure out the words they might not understand, as well as share what they noticed in the poem.
  5. Hold a whole-class discussion: What did your students learn from the poem about George Washington Carver? What surprised them? How does Marilyn Nelson get us to feel about Carver? What poetic techniques does she use?

The Blind Boys of Alabama perform “Wade in the Water.”

Classroom Activities

  1. Ask your students to listen to the Blind Boys of Alabama singing “Wade in the Water.” As they listen, they should write down what they hear in the words the Blind Boys sing, and the way they sing the song; for example, their use of harmony. What feelings do they associate with hearing this recording?
  2. Project the poem “Knoxville, Tennessee” by Nikki Giovanni in the front of the classroom. Ask your students to read the poem silently and write down all the words and phrases that jump out at them. How are the words placed on the page? Why do they think certain words and phrases are on their own line?
  3. Ask one student to read the poem aloud, pausing at the end of each line. Ask another student to repeat this process. What do your students hear in the way the poem was read that helps them understand why certain words and phrases might be on only one line?
  4. Ask your students to think about connections between the recording of “Wade in the Water” and the poem “Knoxville, Tennessee.” Have them discuss these in small groups and report them to the whole class.

Classroom Activities

  1. Ask your students to read the biography of Langston Hughes on Poets.org. Ask them to write down the things they think are important about his life.
  2. Have your students get in small groups and share with one another what they learned about Hughes from reading his biography. Have each group come up with a list of aspects of Hughes’s life they think are important.
  3. Ask one representative from each group to share the group’s list with the whole class, writing it on the front board. If they are repeating something that is already on the board, they do not have to rewrite it; rather they should write a check mark after the repeated item.
  4. Have your students silently read “Theme for English B,” writing down the words and phrases that jump out at them.
  5. Ask one student to read the poem out loud. Ask another student to do the same after the first student has finished.
  6. Whole-class discussion:  Compare and contrast what we can learn about Langston Hughes from the short biography and what we can learn from the poem “Theme from English B.”  Why are both important?

Classroom Activities

Show your class the video of Lil Buck dancing to “The Swan,” as played on the cello by Yo-Yo Ma.

  1. Ask your students to write down what jumps out at them in the video. Show it to them a second time. This time ask them to think about what makes this a “layered” performance (for example, classical music and street dancing, or French, Asian and African cultures). Ask your students to turn and talk with a partner about the layers they saw.
  2. Hold a whole-class discussion about what makes something “layered,” making sure your students cite examples from the video to support their answers.
  3. In the front of the classroom project the poem “The Layers” by Stanley Kunitz. First, have your students read the poem silently and circle what jumps out at them in the poem. Then, ask one student to read the poem aloud to the class, while the others write down any questions they have about the poem. Finally, have another student read the poem aloud, while the listeners write down any other things they think are important in the poem.
  4. What do your students think are the layers to which Kunitz refers? What is the litter?  What does he mean by transformations?

 

Aspects of Negro Life: Song of the Towers

Aspect of Negro Life: Song of the Towers by Aaron Douglas (American 1899-1979). Date: 1834. Medium: Oil on canvas.
Credit Line: The New York Public Library, Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture, Art and Artifacts Division. www.nypl.org.

Classroom Activities

  1. Project the image of Aspect of Negro Life: Song of the Towers. Ask your students to write down what they see in the painting. Then, ask them to get into small groups and discuss what they think the painting represents, using what they see as evidence.
  2. Project the poem “Haircut” from Poets.org. Before your students read Elizabeth Alexander’s poem, ask them to look at the way thepoem appears on the page. Does it look like other poems they have read?  In what ways is it similar? In what ways is it different? Have them discuss these impressions in small groups.
  3. Introduce the idea of a prose poem to your students.  What makesthis text a prose poem?
  4. Ask them to read the poem silently. Ask two students to read thepoem aloud to the class. Make sure they circle the words, phrases, and images that jump out at them during the three readings of thepoem.
  5. Although the particular Aaron Douglas painting your students observed is not the one referenced in the poem, it represents Douglas’s style. Does it relate to “Haircut” in any way? If so, how?
  6. Hold a whole-class discussion: What do they think Elizabeth Alexander is saying about her culture and how she fits within it? What, in this prose poem, tells them this?

Seated Arabs

Seated Arabs. Artist: John Singer Sargent (American 1856–1925). Date: 1905–6. Medium: Graphite on off-white wove paper. Dimensions: 8 5/8 x 11 1/2 inches. Credit: Gift of Mrs. Francis Ormond, 1950. www.metmuseum.org.

Classroom Activities

  1. Ask your students to get into pairs and share with one another what it feels like to live in a country or state that is very different from where they have spent another part of their lives. If they have not, personally, had this experience, ask them to imagine what it would be like.
  2. Show your students the drawing Seated Arabs by John Singer Sargent. Ask them: What kinds of clothes are the men wearing? For what weather might it be appropriate? How are they sitting? Make sure they provide evidence from the drawing to support their answers.
  3. Ask your students to read “Arabs in Finland” silently, circling the words, phrases, and images that jump out at them. Ask one of your students to read the poem aloud to the class with the listeners circling additional words, phrases, and images that jump out at them.
  4. Have them listen to the audio recording of Naomi Shihab Nye reading her poem (click on the audio icon above the poem). What more did they learn by listening to this recording?
  5. What questions do they have about the poem? Ask them to discuss these in small groups and to help each other come up with the answers.
  6. What is the poem saying to them?

The Rocky Mountains, Lander's Peak

The Rocky Mountains, Lander's Peak by Albert Bierstadt (American1830–1902). Date: 1863. Medium: Oil on canvas. Dimensions: 73 1/2 x 120 3/4 inches. Credit Line: Rogers Fund, 1907. www.metmuseum.org

Classroom Activities

  1. Ask your students to look carefully at “The Rocky Mountains, Lander’s Peak” by Albert Bierstadt. What do they see in the colors and brushstrokes of the painting? Where do their eyes go first? Second?
  2. How does Bierstadt feel about the Rocky Mountains? How do they know? How does the painting make them feel?
  3. Ask your students to read “Remember” by Joy Harjo silently. Have them circle the images and words that jump out at them. Based on their reading of the poem, ask them how Harjo feels about the connectedness of all things. How is this related to who Harjo is, as a Native American?

Classroom Activities

Ask your students to bring in a photograph of themselves when they were at least several years younger than they are now.

  1. Have your students break into pairs and exchange photographs with their partner. Each student should write down what they notice in the photograph. What can they learn about their partner from what they noticed? What is their evidence?
  2. Ask each student to look carefully at their partner and to write down what they notice about them. How have they changed over time? What makes them the same person? What makes them different?
  3. Ask your students to read Natasha Trethewey’s poem silently to themselves, circling words and phrases that jump out to them. Ask two of your students to read the poem aloud, one after the other. What do they hear differently when the poem is read aloud?
  4. Have your students listen to the audio recording of Natasha Trethewey reading her poem. (Click the audio icon on the poem above to listen to audio.) How does the poet’s reading change their understanding of the poem?
  5. What is Natasha Trethewey saying about time and space? How is it similar to and different from what a scientist might say on the subject?

Mid-Infrared Image of a Star Forming Region in Orion Nebula

Mid-Infrared Image: NASA/DLR/SOFIA/USRA/DSI/FORCAST Team

Classroom Activities

  1. Ask your students to look closely at the composite image from the NASA SOFIA telescope of a star forming. How does reading the poem “Toward the Winter Solstice” enhance their experience of looking at the image? What colors and shapes do they see? Where do they think new stars may be forming? Why? (For more information on star formation in Orion, read the article “SOFIA Opens New Window on Star Formation in Orion” on the NASA website.)
  2. Ask five students to read one stanza each of “Toward the Winter Solstice” out loud. Repeat the process with another five students. The listening students should read along to themselves and circle what jumps out at them, including words they do not understand.
  3. How does seeing an image of actual star formation in Orion add to their experience of the poem? What might poets and scientists learn from each other’s work?

Classroom Activities

You will need construction paper, glue, and markers for this activity.

  1. Place your students in pairs. Ask each student to make a small gift for their partner with the materials at hand. Have them exchange their gifts.
  2. Ask each student to write a short descriptive paragraph (or poem) and to draw an image about how the gift they received makes them feel.
  3. Ask your students to read Alice Fulton's poem "Doha Thing Long Thought and Kind" first to themselves, then aloud to their partner. What words and phrases jump out at them? Ask them to make a list together. Ask your students how their list of items helps them understand the meaning of the poem.
  4. Next, ask them to look at the definition of doha from A Poet's Glossary by Edward Hirsch.
  5. Does Alice Fulton strictly follow this form in her poem? How does she change it?

The Kiso Mountains in Snow

The Kiso Mountain in Snow

The Kiso Mountains in Snow, 1857, Utagawa Hiroshige (Japanese, 1797-1858). Medium: Triptych of woodblock prints; ink and color on paper. Dimensions: Each 14 1/4 inches by 9 3/4 inches. Credit: Rogers Fund, 1914. www.metmuseum.org.

Classroom Activities

  1. Project an image of The Kiso Mountains in Snow in class. Ask your students to jot down what they see and what questions they have about the image in front of them. How do they think the artist feels about winter? Ask them to provide evidence for their answers.
  2. Ask your students to silently read “Winter is good - his Hoar Delights (1316)” to themselves. Have them write down the words they don’t know. What questions do they have about this poem? Ask them to break into small groups and discuss what they have written down. See if they can figure out the meaning of the words that are difficult.
  3. How does Emily Dickinson feel about winter? How do your students know? How do the feelings and thoughts expressed in the Hiroshige image relate to the poem? Make sure your students give evidence for their perspectives. Have a large group discussion and/or ask them to write a persuasive essay on the subject.

Classroom Activities

  1. Have your students listen to Arlo Guthrie singing his father’s song “Deportees (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos).” Next, have them read the lyrics. Ask them to consider all or some of the following questions: Who is Woody Guthrie writing about? How do they know? What jumps out at them when they hear this song? What do they notice about the refrain? Do they think the song has relevance today? Why or why not?
  2. Ask at least two students to read “Everyday We Get More Illegal” aloud, then ask them to consider the following questions: How can someone get “more illegal”? What are the feelings of the people in the poem? How does the poem relate to the song? What relevance does the poem have today? Is it the same or different from the relevance of Guthrie’s song?

Harper's Bazar: Thanksgiving

Harper's Bazar: Thanksgiving

Harper’s Bazar: Thanksgiving, Louis John Rhead (American, born England, 1857–1926). Date: 1894. Medium: Lithograph. Dimensions: Mount: 19 1/4 x 14 1/4 inches. Credit: Leonard A. Lauder Collection of American Posters, Gift of Leonard A. Lauder, 1984. www.metmuseum.org.

Classroom Activities

  1. Show your students the image of the Harper’s Bazar Thanksgiving cover, published in 1894. Ask them to write down what they notice about the cover, such as the colors, lines, shapes, etc. What associations do they have with this cover?
  2. Ask your students to get into small groups to share how they celebrate Thanksgiving in their homes. Have each group choose a reporter to tell the whole class the ways in which the group members celebrate. Write these ways on the board.
  3. Ask two of your students to read the poem “América” aloud, one after the other. While they are reading, the listening students should circle the things that jump out at them.
  4. Ask your students to read the poem silently to themselves. What else jumps out at them? How is this poem related to the Harper’s Bazar cover? What is the poem saying to them? Does this poem connect to the ways they celebrate Thanksgiving? If so, how?

Listen to Alberto Ríos Read His Poem

Classroom Activities

  1. Ask your students to get in pairs and share a time they gave something that they thought was meaningful to someone. Then ask them to share a time when someone gave them something that was meaningful. Ask them to discuss how they knew it was a meaningful gift.
  2. Hold a large group discussion about what makes giving meaningful.
  3. Have your students listen to the audio recording of Alberto Ríos reading his poem “When Giving Is All We Have.” Next, ask one student to read the poem and then another. Ask the students who are listening and reading along to jot down what jumps out at them each time they hear the poem.
  4. What is Alberto Ríos saying about giving? What words and phrases does he use to help us understand what he means?

Industries of California

Industries of California by Ralph Stackpole

Industries of California. Artist: Ralph Stackpole. Location: Coit Tower, San Francisco, California. Commissioned by the WPA, 1934.

Classroom Activities

  1. Ask your students to look closely at the image of Industries of California, a section of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) mural in Coit Tower in San Fancisco, California. (You may need to explain what the WPA was to the students who are unfamiliar with it.) What are the people doing in the image? Ask your students to offer specific evidence for their conclusions. What emotions are these people expressing? Again, what evidence can your students provide to support their perceptions?
  2. Do a choral reading of “I Hear America Singing.” Ask your students to recite the poem as a group a second time, then ask them to write what stood out to them as they read the poem aloud in one voice.
  3. In a large group, discuss what jumped out at them. Why do they think we chose a choral reading in unison for this poem?
  4. What does Walt Whitman mean by “singing”? Why do the people in his poem “sing”?

Immigrant family looking for lost baggage, Ellis Island

Immigrant family looking for lost baggage, Ellis Island

 

"Immigrant family looking for lost baggage, Ellis Island," Lewis Wickes Hine (1874-1940). Date: 1905. Medium: photograph. Dimensions: 9 1/2 X 7 inches. Credit: Romana Javitz Collection; transferred from the Picture Collection, 1991. digitalcollections.nypl.org

Classroom Activities

  1. Show your students the photograph “Immigrant family looking for lost baggage, Ellis Island.” Ask them to write down what they see. If they give you an interpretation—e.g. the people look fearful—ask them to identify what in the photo shows you the people look fearful. They should write down their evidence. Next, have them turn and talk with a partner about what they see.
     
  2. Have your students get into groups of four. Ask them to read “The New Colossus” aloud to each other.  Make sure at least two people read in each group. Ask the listeners to read along with the text of the poem and circle the words that jump out at them, either because they seem important or because they don’t know what they mean.
     
  3. Have a class discussion about what the poem is saying to new immigrants. What important words does it use to say this? How do the photograph and the poem relate to each other? What is the New Colossus?

Ghost Chamber with the Tall Door (New Version)

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Ghost Chamber with the Tall Door (New Version), Paul Klee (German, 1879–1940). Date: 1925. Medium: Sprayed and brushed watercolor, and transferred printing ink on paper. Dimensions: 24×16 5/8 inches. Credit: The Berggruen Klee Collection, 1987. www.metmuseum.org.

Classroom Activities

Whole Class Warm-Up:

  1. Ask your students to write down their associations with the words haunted and ghosts.
  2. Ask them to draw lines that look like the path a ghost might take through the air or to move their hands in that kind of path. What sounds do ghosts make? What words describe their lines, gestures, and sounds? Ask them to add these words to their list of associations.
  3. Call on a few students who want to share their lines by drawing them on the board or share their hand gestures by demonstrating them. Ask others to share their sounds. Ask the class what they see in the lines and gestures. What do they hear in the sounds? Write these descriptions on the board for all to see.
  4. Show your class Paul Klee’s painting. What do they notice about the lines, colors, and shapes? What do they think these represent? Ask them to provide evidence for their interpretations.

Small Group Activity:

  1. Ask each group to pick a facilitator, who will make sure each person in the group has a chance to contribute, and a reporter, who will take notes.
  2. Have the facilitator ask one person to read the poem aloud for the group, then a second person to read the poem aloud. The facilitator should then ask the following questions: 
         What do you think the poem is about? ​
         What questions do you have about the poem? 
         What connections/associations does the poet make?  
         What connections/associations do you make to the poem? 
         What jumps out at you in the poem?  
         What do you see?
         What do you hear? Are there rhymes? Are there repeating sounds? 
  3. The reporter should take notes on the group’s answers, check with the group to make sure her notes represent what was said, then report back to the whole class for discussion.