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.
Warm-up: (individual writing) Do a quick write about how you social distance and how it makes you feel. Share it with someone, preferably a person who has done the same quick write.
Before Reading the Poem: (noticing) Look carefully at the photograph of people social distancing outside a store in London, England. Make a list of all the things you notice. Be sure to include how far apart the people are, what they are doing as they stand, and how their bodies are shaped as they wait. What might the shape of their bodies tell you about how they might be feeling? Share what you noticed with someone else who has looked at the same photo. If you saw different things, add the new items you learned about to your list.
Reading the Poem: (individual reading) Before you read the words in this poem, look at the placement of the words on the page. What does this arrangement symbolize? Read “About this Poem” to see what Juan Felipe Herrera says about the ways to read his poem. Choose one of his suggestions and read the poem silently. Write down the words, phrases and structure that jump out at you.
Listening to the Poem: (enlist two volunteers to read the poem aloud) Listen as the poem is read twice (Perhaps once by you, and once by someone else). Are there any additional words or phrases that jump out at you?
Small-group Discussion: Share what you noticed in the poem. Does what you hear change if you start at a different point in the poem? Does the poem make you feel the same way as the photo, or do you feel differently?
Whole-class Discussion: Why do you think Juan Felipe Herrera shaped his poem this way? (Teachers: Now might be a good time to introduce the term concrete poem.) How might the shape contribute to the overall meaning of the poem? What do you think the poet is trying to tell us in his poem? How is this similar to, or different from, what the photograph is telling us about social distancing?
Extension for Grades 7-8: Write a poem of your own using the shape of the sun. What words come to your mind, when you think about the sun? What will the tone of this poem be, since you are using this shape? Share this poem with your teacher, and perhaps, the rest of your class.
Extension for Grades 9-12: Why do you think Juan Felipe Herrera titled his poem “Social Distancing?” Using evidence from what you noticed in the photograph and your exploration of the poem, write a brief essay defending your position.