My students are reading Safia Elhillo’s poetry collection The January Children. We’ve had insightful class discussions, students are reading and annotating five poems every night, and today I wanted to do something more hands-on in small groups. Before we started reading the poems, we read Kwame Dawes’s foreword–a must-read, if you ask me. It prefaces her work with information about the allusions she frequently uses, where she draws inspiration, and even some of the main themes and motifs threaded throughout the collection. After establishing a foundation for understanding her poems, we’ve decided to take a closer look into the following while annotating:
These themes and motifs are where I drew from to make my items for The Envelope Game. I’m not going to pretend like this is some kind of innovative activity; it’s really super simple. But it initiated robust discussion from my students and made them make connections that they hadn’t noticed before. In each envelope, I placed three cards. Each card had a theme, motif, symbol, or image important to the book. I mixed them up the cards to make it random, and handed an envelope to each small group.
The instructions are simple: Draw connections between the three items in your envelope and describe how they work together throughout the collection to tell a story. Discuss and write a group explanation using support from the text. I kept it pretty basic, but I can also image variations like Venn diagrams, sketch notes, or using Flipgrid instead of writing. And the cool thing is that this activity could be done with any text, with any mix of items for the envelopes.
Fun fact: We listened to music by Abdelhalim Hafez, a meaningful figure in the collection, while we worked.
I love lessons where students are the ones creating the learning. Walking around the room, I found their discussions to be insightful, engaging, and analytical.
Aren’t their annotations beautiful? I would wallpaper my classroom in annotated poems if I was allowed to. Darn fire codes…
Thank you for reading! Please share all the cool things – and even super simple things – you do in your classroom while teaching living poets on Twitter with the #TeachLivingPoets hashtag! We are a community of educators dedicated to complicating the canon and empowering students through poetry.
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