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.

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Featured Poem

Feather, 20th Century

Feather, 20th Century

Date: 20th century. Culture: American. Medium: feathers. Credit line: Gift of Mrs. Vera Maxwell, 1949. www.metmuseum.org

Classroom Activities

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.

  1. Warm-up (quick draw): On a clean sheet of paper, quickly draw what you can remember of a feather. You will not be judged by how perfect this drawing is; instead, focus on experiencing the way your hand moves as you draw quickly. When you have finished, write a few sentences describing your image and how drawing this feather felt.
  2. Before Reading the Poem (individual writing and pair share): Look very closely at the image of the feather from the collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Add details to your drawing based on what you notice, then add more to your written description based on these new details. If your feelings about the image have changed over the course of this exercise, be sure to include this in your writing. Share your drawing and your sentences with a partner.
  3. Reading the Poem: Read the poem “Bracken” silently, then write down the words and phrases that jump out at you. What does bracken mean? If you do not know, look it up.
  4. Listening to the Poem (enlist two volunteers to read the poem aloud): Listen as the poem is read aloud twice. Write down any additional words and phrases that jump out at you.
  5. Small-group Discussion: Share the words and phrases you noticed with your partner and another pair of students. What might these words and phrases tell you about what the speaker in the poem thinks is the process of writing?
  6. Whole-class Discussion: How do you think the art of drawing compares with the art of writing a poem? Do you think the last three lines in the poem can apply to drawing as well? What is the same? What is different?
  7. Extension for Grades 7-8: Take a photograph of an object from nature that interests you. Look carefully at the photograph and write a detailed poem that evokes how you feel about it. (Teachers, you may need to explain what the word evokes means. Explain that the students are trying to make the person who reads the poem feel the same way they do about the object.)
  8. Extension for Grades 9-12: How do you imagine a scientist might describe a feather? How might a poet? Write an essay that shows what you think the different descriptions would be like. What can we learn from reading both?

More Context for Teachers

To celebrate a previous National Poetry Month, we asked teachers to share how they teach poetry in the classroom. Here are some of their responses.