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

Classroom Activities
  1. Warm-up: (pair share): Share with a partner the three best adjectives to describe yourself. 

  2. Before Reading the Poem (writing and pair share): Create a brainstorming web of all the things that represent your identity. Share with the same partner. (Teachers, you may want to create a web that you can show your students as a model.)

  3. Reading the Poem: Read the poem “how to say” by  Safia Elhillo 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: Listen as the poem is read aloud twice, first by a student and then by the poet. Write down any additional words and phrases that stand out to you. Call back the lines that you like by saying these lines aloud with your partner. 

  5. Small-group Discussion: Share what you noticed in the poem with your partner and another pair of students. Based on what you just shared, what connections can you make between your own web and how the poem’s speaker views identity? 

  6. Whole-class Discussion: What is the conflict in the poem? What might be meant by the phrase: “i dream my alternate selves each with a / face borrowed / from photographs of /the girl who became my grandmother   brows & body rounded & / cursive like arabic / but wake to the usual borderlands”?  

  7. Extension for Grades 7-8: Write a poem in which the different identities you described in your web collide. Or, write a poem focused on the importance of language.  

  8. Extension for Grades 9-12: Watch the video and read the transcript of Safia Elhillo’s Arab American Book Award acceptance speech here. How does the following part of the speech compare or contrast with the poem? “I have increasingly over the past few years had trouble with identifying as Arab as part of my identity, as Sudanese, as black. I’m still trying to find language to harness the strangeness and the intersection.” Choose to write an essay that answers this question. Or, create a self-portrait about your own identity that also includes a short artist statement about what you created. 

More Context for Teachers

In this video from the 2015 Poets Forum, poets Naomi Shihab Nye and Khaled Mattawa discuss the importance of engaging with voices from around the world, share some of their favorite international poets, and examine how education, translation, and online resources affect access to international poetry.