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.
The Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress has added a series of images from the coronavirus pandemic by Camilo José Vergara to their archives.
Warm-up: Before class, bring in a photo or image of something that makes you think of the pandemic. (Teachers, if you are meeting online, you could ask students to post this image to an online platform.) Look at all of the images in either an in-person socially distanced gallery walk (or online). What images stand out the most you? Look again. What patterns, if any, do you notice in these images?
Reading the Poem: Read the poem “When the Virus Comes” by Angelo Geter 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/share their annotations in your online classroom platform.)
Listening to the Poem (Teachers, 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. 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.)
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, how might the poem compare or contrast with images you viewed at the beginning of class? What images from the poem stand out to you?
Whole-class Discussion: What do you think of the repetition “When the virus comes?” How might this poem be different without this repetition and the title? How has the speaker’s life progressed or changed since the virus came? How has your own life changed?
Extension for Grades 7-8: With your classmates, create an online gallery of images that answer the Library of Congress question, “How will we remember COVID-19?” (Teachers, you may wish to create space on an online platform for students’ responses.) OR, create a visual response to this poem by creating a collage with images that you find online and lines from the poem. Share with your classmates.
Extension for Grades 9-12: Prepare for a socratic seminar (either in person or online) by reading The New York Times lesson plan “The Digital Divide: Researching the Challenges of Online Learning for Many Students.” Choose one of the following questions and write for several minutes: How has life changed for you this year? What happened when the virus came? How will you remember COVID-19? Then share your responses in a whole-class discussion.
In his iconic essay “How to Read a Poem,” Edward Hirsch offers advice perfect for introducing poetry in the classroom: “Reading poetry well is part attitude and part technique. Curiosity is a useful attitude, especially when it’s free of preconceived ideas about what poetry is or should be. Effective technique directs your curiosity into asking questions, drawing you into a conversation with the poem.” Read more.