Teach This Poem, though developed with a classroom in mind, can be easily adapted for remote-learning, hybrid-learning models, or in-person classes. Please see our suggestions for how to adapt this lesson for remote or blended learning. We have also noted suggestions when applicable and will continue to add to these suggestions online.

Featured Poem

Related Resource

Trees

Watch this video here about “How Trees Secretly Talk to Each Other in the Forest.”

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: Read this definition of idioms here. (Teachers, you can find more idiom examples here.)  Work with your classmates to generate a list of idioms that you know or create your own idiom. After you have your class list, read over the entire list. What do you notice about idioms? 
  2. Before Reading the Poem: Watch this video here about “How Trees Secretly Talk to Each Other in the Forest.” What did you learn about trees? How are they important?  

  3. Reading the Poem: Read the poem “The Forest for the Trees” by Rena Priest silently. What do you notice about the poem? Annotate for any words or phrases that stand out to you or any questions you might have.

  4. Listening to the Poem: (enlist two volunteers to read the poem aloud): Listen as the poem is read aloud twice, and write down any additional words and phrases that stand out to you.

  5. Small-group Discussion: Share what you noticed about the poem with a small group of students. Based on the details you just shared with your small group and the video from the beginning of class, how does the speaker feel about nature and its relationship to humans? What do you make of the first stanza? “I have seen a tree split in two / from the weight of its opposing branches. / It can survive, though its heart is exposed. /I have seen a country do this too.”

  6. Whole-class Discussion: What do you think of the title? Have you ever heard of the idiom“cannot see the forest for the trees?” If so, how does this idiom compare to the poem and to the idioms that the class generated? You can find more information about the “forest for the trees” idiom here

  7. Extension for Grades 7-8: Think back to the video that you watched at the beginning of class. What might a tree language sound like? What might trees say to each other? Write a poem that explores these ideas or your own ideas about nature. 

  8. Extension for Grades 9-12: Using the idioms from the beginning of class, research the history of your idiom, if available. Choose to write a creative response (like a poem) or an analytical response about your chosen idiom(s).

More Context for Teachers

“Land is both resistance and reflection, and we understand land as landscape, nature, wilderness in the American consciousness. However, land takes shape and form in many different ways where I come from.” Read an interview with the November 2022 Poem-a-Day Guest Editor, Jake Skeets, about the connection between land and poetry.

Poetry Glossary

Idiom: a short expression that is peculiar to a language, people, or place that conveys a figurative meaning without a literal interpretation of the words used in the phrase. Read more.