Derek Walcott’s poem, “A Far Cry from Africa” confronts us with layers of complexity in its context, language and subject. What better way to spur students’ curiosity, and hone their question-asking and research skills than to provide them with a compelling poem?
The Literacy Common Core Standards in the areas of Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening are aligned with these activities. Feel free to break these activities up, use them as a self-contained unit, or differentiate them for your students’ specific needs.
Reading: Literature, Key Ideas and Details
Reading: Literature, Craft and Structure
Speaking and Listening, Comprehension and Collaboration
It is likely that a number of students will wonder about the references in “A Far Cry from Africa” by Derek Walcott. Rather than give them the answers up front, we want to scaffold their learning by first helping them connect to something in their own experience that might help them empathize with the dilemma expressed in the poem, and then guide them to discover the cultural references to which the poet refers.
• work in small groups to create a non-verbal tableau,
• notice details,
• and make connections among physical details and the emotions they evoke.
Warm-up: Community Whip Around
Quickly go around the room asking your students to identify two communities they belong to—for instance Mexican/American, Church/friends, neighborhood/school.
Activity: Creating Dilemma Tableaux
Ask your students to think of one or two ways in which these communities allow/ask/require different things of them. Give examples—On the streets in my neighborhood it is all right to speak a certain way/It is not all right to speak that way at school or at my job. My religion asks that I cover my head/All my friends do not cover their heads.
In groups of four, ask them to pick one of these dilemmas and create a tableau (a still portrait with their bodies) of the dilemma and how it makes them feel.
Ask each group (or volunteers) to share their tableaux with the whole class.
• What do they notice in the tableau? What are the details that they see?
• How does the tableau make them feel?
• What are the specific things in the tableau that make them feel that way?
Keep a record in the front of the room of the details and the feelings they evoke.
Introduce your students to “A Far Cry from Africa" by telling them it is a complex poem that will require some work to understand, but that it is well worth the effort as they will get to think more deeply about communities and their role in shaping identities. Tell them they will be working with partners and using research skills on the internet to help them discover the layers of meaning in the poem.
• identify key details in the poem,
• hone listening skills,
• connect personal emotions from prereading activity to emotions elicited by the poem,
• identify with a partner what they understand in the poem,
• and identify questions for further research.
Activity: Silent Reading
Ask your students to read the poem “A Far Cry from Africa” silently, as quickly as they can. Then ask them to go back and circle all the things they do not understand in the poem.
Activity: Oral Reading
Ask one of your students to read the poem aloud to the rest of the class. Have the students who are listening underline the words/phrases that “jump out” to them as they listen to the reading.
Ask another student to read the poem aloud to the class. This time, the listening students will write down additional questions they have about the poem.
Activity: Turn and Talk
Ask your students to turn and talk with a partner about what they now know about the poem, what jumped out, what connections they made to the tableaux they created in the prereading activity, what they don’t understand, and additional questions they would like to answer.
Activity: Large Group Discussion
What do students know from these readings of the poem? What do they still need to find out?
Based on your students’ questions, their prior experience using the Internet for research, and your school’s Internet filters, give your class suggestions about how to begin their web searches, and sites they might visit.
• develop a deeper understanding of issues raised in the poem by conducting research on aspects of the poem they cannot understand on their own.
With their partners, students should open their laptops or tablets to get some of the answers to their questions.
You may want to keep an ongoing list of vocabulary words from the questions your students ask. They can figure out the meaning of these by making connections to context or by looking up the meaning in a dictionary. If you draw up your own list, some words you might include are: