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.


Featured Poem


Read “Who Invented the Zero?,” a History article about the concept of and symbol for nothingness.

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 (pair share): Discuss with a partner what you think the number zero represents. Why do we use the zero? 
  2. Before Reading the Poem (noticing and pair share): Read the short article “Who Invented the Zero?” Discuss why the concept of zero is important. 
  3. Reading the Poem: Read the poem by Brenda Cárdenas silently. Notice the words and phrases that jump out at you, then think about what you noticed as you annotate the poem. As you read, feel free to use this Spanish to English dictionary to help you translate any unknown words. (It might also be a good idea to allow students to read and translate the poem in small groups.)
  4. Listening to the Poem (enlist one volunteer to read the poem aloud): Listen as the poem is read aloud twice, once by a student and once by the poet. Write down any additional words and phrases that jump out at you. Call back the lines that you like by saying these lines aloud with your group. 
  5. Small-group Discussion: Share what you noticed in the poem with your partner and another pair of students. Based on the details you just shared, who are the different people speaking in the poem and what do they want? 
  6. Whole-class Discussion: The poem is a bilingual poem, written in both Spanish and English. How do the English sections compare to the Spanish? Why might the poet have decided not to translate the entire poem into English? How does this affect your reading and understanding of the poem? 
  7. Extension for Grades 7-8: Think back to what you wrote and read about zero at the beginning of class. Write a poem that imagines a day in the life of zero. What might zero do? Why?
  8. Extension for Grades 9-12: September is National Translation Month. To celebrate, read this article “Translation: From a Poet’s Glossary” as well as two to three more bilingual poems. Respond by either writing an essay about the importance of translation or by writing your own poem and then translating parts of it into another language. 


More Context for Teachers: In a primer called “An ABC of Translating Poetry,” Willis Barnstone writes, “Translation is the art of revelation. It makes the unknown known. The translator artist has the fever and craft to recognize, re-create, and reveal the work of the other artist.” Read more.