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

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.

Resource:  Read the Encyclopaedia Britannica entry for “Okra.”

  1. Warm-up (whip around): Name a food associated with your region, culture, or heritage that you really like. If you can’t think of one immediately, pass, and the teacher will come back to you.
  2. Before Reading the Poem (individual reading): Read the entry on okra in the Encyclopædia Britannica and write down the words and phrases that jump out at you. What did you learn from this entry?
  3. Reading the Poem (individual reading): Read the poem “In Praise of Okra” silently, then write down the words and phrases that jump out at you.
  4. Listening to the Poem (enlist two volunteers to read the poem aloud): Listen as the poem is read aloud and write down any additional words and phrases that you notice.
  5. Small-group Discussion: Share the list you’ve created with the rest of your small group. What do these words and phrases suggest to you about the importance of okra for the poem’s speaker? How did the entry from the encyclopedia help you understand this poem?
  6. Whole-class Discussion: Why does the speaker in the poem think her friends are “cheating themselves” if they don’t like okra? What evidence in the poem leads you to this interpretation?
  7. Extension for Grades 7-8: Think again about the food that you named during the warm-up. Do you know why it is important in your region, culture, or heritage? What is its history? (If you don't know the answers to these questions, think instead about why you or your family like this particular food.) Write a poem (or essay) that describes what you know about this food and why it is different from other foods you eat. Remember to use descriptive words.
  8. Extension for Grades 9-12: Read the entry on “soul food” in the Encyclopædia Britannica. How does this article influence your understanding of this poem? With this in mind, what do you think okra might symbolize for the speaker? Why do you think the speaker has chosen to end the poem with these words?

More Context for Teachers

On Lucille Clifton’s “won’t you celebrate with me,” the poet Safiya Sinclair writes, “What a balm and a blessing this poem has been to me. I have carried this sonnet—both an ode to the self and also an act of resistance—inside me like gospel, like armor.” Read notes from Sinclair and eleven other contemporary poets about what poems they recommend reading during Black History Month, and why.