National Endowment for the Humanities logo

This lesson plan is part of the series "Incredible Bridges: Poets Creating Community," a project developed by the Academy of American Poets in partnership with EDSITEment, the educational website of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), during the NEH’s 50th anniversary year-long celebration. 

Funded by the NEH, “Incredible Bridges” responds to the NEH's initiative The Common Good: The Humanities in the Public Square, which seeks to demonstrate and enhance the role of the humanities in public life.


Traveling by air these days can be an anxiety-provoking experience for many. Imagine an airport gate where an older person who speaks Arabic has been told over the loudspeaker, in English, a language she does not fully understand, that her plane is delayed. She has a medical situation she must attend to the next day at her destination and fears she won’t arrive in time.  She collapses to the floor and starts crying and wailing. From this kind of tense situation, Naomi Shihab Nye creates the idea of a community where compassion, food, tradition, and commonality are shared.

This lesson plan provides a sequence of activities that you can use with your students before, during, and after reading "Gate A-4." Use the whole sequence, or any of the activities, to help your diverse students enter and experience the poem. Feel free to adjust each activity to meet the needs of your particular students.

Common Core State Standards

Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.

Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

Students will create tableaux as a means to understand complex emotions expressed in the narrative of a poem.

Students will explore poetry as a way to develop empathy.

Curriculum Connections

English, Social Studies

Naomi Shihab Nye Reads "Gate A-4"
Before Viewing the Video and Reading the Poem

Activity 1: Setting the Stage Through Tableaux

Objective: Students will understand some of the complex emotions expressed in the narrative of the poem as a way of developing empathy.

  • Please tell your students the following activity will help them prepare to experience "Gate A-4" by Naomi Shihab Nye.
  • Ask your students to think of a time when they did not understand why something unusual and somewhat frightening was happening near them. If they cannot think of a personal experience, they can imagine one. (You might suggest something like a person nearby talking to themselves, or a large icicle falling from a roof very close to where they were standing.) What did they do? What did those around them do?
  • Ask your students to get in groups of no more than five students each and to share these situations with one another.
  • Tell them each group is going to pick one of these situations to create a tableau—a freeze frame that depicts the situation. They are to create an image with their bodies that shows what is happening, how they felt, and how others around them felt. Once the image is created, they cannot move and they cannot talk. It is like a photograph.
  • Give them ten minutes to create and rehearse their tableaux. After this period of time, each group will present their work to the rest of the class.
  • While watching the tableaux of others in the class, ask your students to write down what they notice in the snapshot created by each of the other groups. 
  • After each group presents, conduct a quick discussion of what the observers see. Make sure your students stick to the details they notice before they jump to conclusions about how people felt. For instance, if a student says, “The people were angry,” ask her to describe what she saw that gave her that specific impression.

Viewing the Video and Reading the Poem

Activity 1:  Reading the Poem

Objective: Students will identify words, images, and phrases that seem to be important in the poem.

  • Project the poem "Gate A-4" in the front of the classroom. Ask your students to read the poem silently. As they read, they should write down the words, images, and phrases that jump out at them. This includes words and phrases whose meanings they do not know.
  • Ask one student to read the poem aloud to the class. If one student does not volunteer, you can ask a number of students to read aloud, one stanza each. As they read, the other students should write down new words, images, and phrases that seem important.

Activity 2:  Vocabulary

  • Ask your students to keep a running list on the front board of the words they have read and heard that they do not understand. You can either conduct a separate vocabulary lesson about these words in which students try to figure out their meaning from context and connections or review the vocabulary as you progress through the other activities.

Activity 3:  Watching Naomi Shihab Nye Read "Gate A-4"

Objective:  Students will identify the difference between the experience of reading a poem on the page and seeing a poet read a poem.

  • Tell your students that they will be watching a video of Naomi Shihab Nye reading her poem. Ask them to record on paper what they notice in the poem that seems new and different while watching the video. What do they notice about the way Naomi Shihab Nye reads the poem?
  • Show the video of Naomi Shihab Nye reading her poem.

Activity 4:  Whole-Class Discussion

Objective:  Students will develop interpretations of the poem based on evidence in the poem.

  • What do they notice in the poem that seems important? (If necessary, remind them of the noticing activity they did in preparation for reading the poem and that they have had experience with this kind of work.) All interpretations should be linked back to the description they think justifies their conclusions.
  • Keep a record of what they notice on the board in the front of the room. As an exit ticket, ask them to write two or three things they think are particularly important.

After Viewing and Reading

Activity 1:  What the Poem Says About Community

Objectives: Students will use information from the poem to create a definition of community.

  • Ask your students to turn and talk with a partner:  Why do they think Shihab Nye wrote this poem? What is the poem saying to them that is larger than simply telling a story? What do they think makes a community?

Activity 2: Creating a New Tableau

Objectives: Students will resolve the situation in their original tableau.

  • Ask your students to remember the tableau they created before they experienced "Gate A-4." Ask them to get back in their small groups and to create another tableau, one that shows what happened after their frightening incident. They will present this new tableau to their classmates.
  • After each presentation, ask the observing students what they think the new tableau is saying. Was a community created? Why or why not? Make sure they give evidence from what they see in the tableau presentation.


Ask your students to write a poem about the incident they initially brought to their small group before they read "Gate A-4." It may, or may not, have been used for the group’s tableau. Remind them to provide enough details in the poem, so people can visualize the incident in their imaginations. How will they end their poem? What is their resolution?

With your students, develop an evaluation tool for their work using the terms exemplary, proficient, developing, and basic. What, for example, do they (and you) think are the characteristics of an exemplary poem that tells a story? A proficient one? One that is developing or basic? You may also want to prompt them to evaluate the appropriateness of their choice of scenario and whether their resolution is based on the details in their poem.

Creating Deeper Meaning

Ask your students to write a persuasive essay about the ingredients needed to create a community and whether one can be created easily or not.


Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this lesson plan do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.