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.
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.
- Warm Up (whip around or quick write): What associations do you have with a busy city street?
- Before Reading the Poem (individual writing and pair share): What do you see and hear in a clip of a video of a busy street? After watching the clip a second time, write down what you notice. Be specific. For example, if you say “a taxi” that is too general. Write down the colors and shapes, labeling what you see. Share with a partner what you saw and heard in the video.
- Reading the Poem: Read the poem silently, then write down the words, phrases, and structures that jump out at you.
- Listening to the Poem (enlist two volunteers to read the poem aloud, one after the other): Listen as the poem is read aloud, and write down any additional words and phrases that jump out at you.
- Vocabulary Review: What are images, similes, and metaphors?
- Small-group Discussion: Share what you noticed in the poem. If you were a passerby, what would you think the old man was doing? What in the poem tells you this? What might the speaker in the poem think the old man is really doing? What in the poem tells you this?
- Whole-class Discussion: How do you think the speaker feels about the old man? Why? Why do you think the speaker talks about “a thousand mustard flowers”?
- Extension for Grades 7-10 (research): Read the biography of Ajmer Rode, who wrote this poem and translated it. What did you learn about him? Where is he from? Learn more about Punjab. How would you describe it?
- Extension for Grades 11-12: Why might the speaker in the poem think, “A river of images, metaphors, and / similes flows through” the old man’s head? What poetic device is the speaker employing in this sentence? Do you think the old man is really the speaker’s father, or might he be someone else? Support your answers with evidence from the poem.
More Context for Teachers: “Mustard Flowers” was originally published in Words Without Borders, a journal that expands cultural understanding through the publication of contemporary international literature and one of our new content partners. Read more about Ajmer Rode and his poem in the July 2018 issue of Words Without Borders, which features a special section on Punjabi poets.