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

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Classroom Activities
  1. Warm-up (quick write): Write about a time or times when you failed to do something. What do you remember? How did it feel? (Teachers, if you are meeting online, you could ask students to share their writing in the chat feature, or you could ask a few volunteers to read their work.

  2. Before Reading the Poem: Listen to the first song from the Regina Carter Quintet’s performance at the Kennedy Center here twice. As you listen, either sketch images that come to mind or think about what you notice. 

  3. Reading the Poem: Read the poem “Violin” by Nikki Wallschlaeger silently. What do you notice about the poem? Annotate for any words or phrases that stand out to you or any questions you might have. (Teachers, if you are meeting synchronously, we suggest sharing a video screen that allows for students to annotate together. If you are meeting asynchronously, we suggest asking students to post or share their annotations in your online classroom platform.

  4. Listening to the Poem (enlist two volunteers to read the poem aloud): Listen as the poem is read aloud twice, and write down any additional words and phrases that stand out to you. You may also opt to listen to the poet read the poem here. Call back the lines that you like by saying these lines aloud with your classmates. (Teachers, for synchronous meetings, you could ask two students to read the poem, and for asynchronous meetings, students could read the poem on their own or with a family member.)  

  5. Small-group Discussion: Share what you noticed in the poem with a small group of students. What imagery does the poet use to describe playing music? What songs come to mind when you think of this poem? 

  6. Whole-class Discussion: Read Wallschlaeger's notes on “Violin” in the “About This Poem” section here. What do you think of the repetition of “played along”? In what ways is the speaker playing along or not playing along? In what ways have you or others you know “played the part”? 

  7. Extension for Grades 7-8: Write a poem from the perspective of the violin in the poem. What does the violin need to say? Or, use your writing from the beginning of class to explore a time that you failed at something. Write a letter to something that you failed and explain what you learned. (Teachers, you may wish to create space on an online platform for students’ responses.)  

  8. Extension for Grades 9-12: Revisit this line from Wallschlaeger’s writing: “I was one of those people who was unable (or unwilling) to play along with the crowd, even when I kept up the appearance of doing so.” Write a scene in which two or more people explore this idea of keeping up appearances. Share or perform your scene with your class. 

More Context for Teachers

“Beginning with the birth of blues and jazz at the start of the twentieth century, jazz poetry can be seen as a thread that runs through the Harlem Renaissance, the Beat movement, and the Black Arts Movement—and it is still vibrant today.” Read more about poetry and jazz.