I love a poetry activity that:
A) works with any poem
B) encourages a variety of interpretations
C) gets students thinking analytically about specific words
D) asks students to consider how overall meaning is created
This activity fulfills all of these!
When Jen did this activity with her class, she chose Hanif Abdurraqib’s “I Tend to Think Forgiveness Looks the Way It Does in the Movies.” (Poem here.) She asked her class a deceptively simple question:
What is the most significant word?
Students then discussed in small groups what they believed to be the most important word in the poem and why. After a few minutes, once it seems like groups have settled on a word, give each group a large piece of butcher paper and some markers, and show these directions on the board.
Have them copy the 3 concentric circles on their butcher paper. Then let your students go to town filling up their circles with all the poetry analysis goodness. It is important to remind students that there are no right or wrong answers. Within reason, of course. I can predict there might be some jokers who would try to say that “the” is the most important word. As long as students can defend their word choice with evidence from the poem, and their interpretations, it’s completely acceptable if groups choose different words for their center circle.
The middle circle gets filled with images from the poem associated with their chosen word, and personal connections they have with it. The last and largest circle is filled with overall meanings (can be written as shorter phrases) they can derive from the word and how it operates in the poem, along with a well-developed “official” thematic statement for the poem (or more if they have time!) Lastly, around the outside area, they should fill up with “sprinkle” quotes – or short little phrases excerpted from the poem that connect to the rest of the ideas in the circles.
Variation: You could give all groups the same poem, or give each group different poems. If you do different poems, they could present them to the class or do a gallery walk afterward.
Note: The person who had the original idea for this activity is unknown, as most teachers like myself and Jen share and receive ideas so widely and often that we sometimes forget who the original creator is! If this is your original idea, please reach out so we can give you proper credit.
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