Teach This Poem is a weekly series featuring a poem from our online poetry collection, accompanied by interdisciplinary resources and activities designed to help K-12 teachers quickly and easily bring poetry into the classroom.
Listen to this audio recording of “Autumn Leaves,” sung by Edith Piaf. (The English version of the song ends at 1:25, followed by the song in French.)
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): Share one or two associations you have with autumn.
- Before Reading the Poem: Listen carefully to the audio recording of Edith Piaf singing “Autumn Leaves.” (If you do not know who Edith Piaf was, do some quick research so you have some context for what you hear.) Listen a second time. Write down what you hear about how she sings the poem, as well as the words you notice.
- Vocabulary Review (pair share): Look up (or figure out) the definitions of the following words and phrases, if you do not already know them: negative space, impatiens, congruence, refuse.
- Reading the Poem: Read the poem silently. Write down the words, phrases, and structures that jump out at you.
- Listening to the Poem (enlist two volunteers to read the poem aloud): Write down anything new that you hear when the poem is read aloud.
- Small-group Discussion: What are the words and phrases in the poem that jumped out at you? What is the structure of the poem? (Consider introducing the definition of couplet.)
- Whole-class Discussion: What are the details that the speaker in the poem uses to describe this season? Is the poem simply about blowing leaves, or is it also about something else? How is the poem similar to the song about autumn leaves? How is it different? Give evidence to support your interpretations.
- Extension for Grades 7-10: Write a short poem about autumn that is also about the loss of something or someone. What details will you use?
- Extension for Grades 11-12: Why do you think the poet chose to write this poem in couplets? Try writing a poem in couplets; think about how the use of couplets might help convey what you’re writing about.
More Context for Teachers: In a brief essay called “To Go Its Way in Tears: Poems of Grief,” the poet Edward Hirsch writes, “Implicit in poetry is the notion that we are deepened by heartbreaks, that we are not so much diminished as enlarged by grief, by our refusal to vanish—to let others vanish—without leaving a verbal record.” Read more.