Produced for K-12 educators, Teach This Poem features one poem a week from our online poetry collection, accompanied by interdisciplinary resources and activities designed to help teachers quickly and easily bring poetry into the classroom. The series is written by our Educator in Residence, Dr. Madeleine Fuchs Holzer, and is available for free via email.

Featured Poem

Li-Young Lee Reads “I Ask My Mother to Sing”

Classroom Activities
  1. For homework ask your students to bring either a song that their parents taught them from their native culture or a photograph of a place in the country where their ancestors came from originally.
  2. Ask your students to write a short paragraph about their song or photograph and how it makes them (or other members of their family) feel.
  3. Gather your students in small groups and ask them to share their songs and photographs, along with any contextual information or stories they know about them. They can use the paragraphs they wrote as reference, if helpful.
  4. Project “I Ask My Mother to Sing” so your students can see it. Ask them to read it silently and write down the words, phrases, and structural aspects of the poem that jump out at them. Ask a student to read the poem aloud. Then play the video of Li-Young Lee reading his poem. Ask your students to write down new words, phrases, and structural aspects they might think important after hearing the poem in two different voices.
  5. Whole-class discussion: Why does the speaker in the poem “love to hear [the song] sung,” even though it makes his mother and grandmother cry? How does the speaker feel about the places in China he mentions? Ask your students to give evidence from the poem to support their thoughts.
  6. Introduce the idea of a sonnet. You may also want to ask your students to write sonnets about their memories relating to their native cultures.