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

Related Resource

Chicago River

Look closely at a photograph of the Chicago River.

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.

  1. Warm-up (quick-write): What is it that makes you who you are? Feel free to make a list, draw or free-write. 

  2. Before Reading the Poem (think, pair-share): What does it mean to write? Why do people write? OR: Look closely at a photograph of the Chicago River. What stands out to you in this image? Look again. What else do you notice? 

  3. Reading the Poem: Now, read the poem “Why I Write Poetry” by Leah Kindler silently. What do you notice about the poem? Note any words or phrases that stand out to you or any questions you might have.

  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. Or, you may opt to watch the video of the poet reading the poem. (Teachers, we suggest pausing the video at 1:20 and sharing the rest of the video later in the lesson.

  5. 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 and the resource from the beginning of class, how would you characterize the speaker’s relationship to poetry? Why? 

  6. Whole-class Discussion: (Teachers, this might be a good time to introduce anaphora, which you can find more information about.) How might this poem be different without the use of anaphora? What do you think of the last two lines of the poem, “Because the winter always makes me like this. / Because I don’t know what I mean by like this?” After watching the poet’s explanation of the poem, what else do you notice about the poem? 

  7. Extension for Grades 7-8: In the video, Kindler suggests writing about what is important to you. At the beginning of class, you made a list of important topics. Write a poem about one or more of those topics. Share your poem with your class. 

  8. Extension for Grades 9-12: Read Reginald Shepard’s essay “Why I Write.” Write an essay comparing these two pieces of writing, or write a reaction to the essay. 

More Context for Teachers

Respect the Mic is an expansive, moving, poetry anthology, representing twenty years of poetry from students and alumni of Chicago’s Oak Park River Forest High School Spoken Word Club. “The young poets featured in these pages hold nothing back, spilling their souls into spellbinding odes to pain, hope, and justice and delving into intensely personal subject matter.” Find more videos, resources, and reviews about the anthology.

Poetry Glossary

This week’s poetic term is ars poetica, a poem about poetry, examining the role of poets, poets’ relationships to the poem, and the act of writing. Read more.