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

A native Hawaiian juxtaposed with traffic from the music video

Watch the video of Israel “IZ” Kamakawiwoʻole's “Hawai’i ‘78.” 

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: Watch the video of Israel “IZ” Kamakawiwoʻole’s “Hawai’i ‘78.” What do you notice in the song? What stands out? (Teachers, your students might want to read the lyrics.)
  2. Before Reading the Poem: With a partner or small group of students, review this page to help you learn more about the language of Hawaii. What did you notice about the language and the translations? Did anything stand out to you or surprise you? 
  3. Reading the Poem: Now, silently read the poem “Message to My Sistah” by Joe Balaz  What do you notice about the poem? Note 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. You may want to remind your students to be respectful of the language if they are unfamiliar.) Listen as the poem is read aloud twice, and write down any additional words and phrases that stand out to you. Or you may opt to listen to the poem read by the poet.
  5. Small-group Discussion: Share what you noticed in the poem with a small group of students. Based on the details you just shared with your small group and the resources from the beginning of class, how does this poem connect to the video and the resource? What is the importance of the speaker’s “message?” 
  6. Whole-class Discussion: Balaz writes in both Hawaiian Islands Pidgin (HIP) and American English. How does this poem combine oral and written poetry? What is the importance of preserving language?
  7. Extension for Grades 7-8: Continue learning more about Hawaiian poetry by reading this article, or listening to this podcast episode. Then, respond by writing a personal essay or creating a song, collage, poem, etc., that answers this question: what is the importance of language?
  8. Extension for Grades 9-12: Choose one or more Pacific Islander poet videos to watch. Discuss with a small group. What video did you watch? What did you notice and enjoy about the video? (Teachers, we suggest previewing the videos to find the poems that feel right for your students, as some deal with sensitive and/or mature topics.
More Context for Teachers

“For a while now, there have been discussions within our communities about disaggregating this grouping [Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month] because we aren’t really sure if this is actually serving any of us. So, from a Pacific Islander poetry perspective, this grouping has resulted in our issues and creative work being somewhat invisible within the American public sphere, because our work tends to be eclipsed by the really amazing work of Asian American poets.” Listen to or read the interview with May 2022 Poem-a-Day guest editor Brandy Nālani McDougall.

Poetry Glossary

This week’s glossary term is speaker, the voice of the poem, similar to a narrator in fiction. Read more.