Inspired by the success of our popular syndicated series Poem-a-Day, we're pleased to present Teach This Poem, winner of the 2018 Innovations in Reading Prize given by the National Book Foundation.
Produced for K-12 educators, Teach This Poem features one poem a week, accompanied by interdisciplinary primary sources and activities designed to help teachers quickly and easily bring poetry into the classroom. The series is produced with the guidance of our Educator in Residence, Dr. Madeleine Fuchs Holzer, and is available for free via email.
Watch a video about Teach This Poem and teaching with primary sources with Dr. Holzer and our Education Ambassador Richard Blanco.
Read more about Teach This Poem's impact.
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.
In this “What’s Going On in This Picture” activity from March 2016, photographer Cagdas Erdogan shows a boy playing in his home in Cizre, Turkey.
Warm-up (quick write): Look at this photograph from The New York Times “What’s Going On in This Picture” section here. In your notes, answer these questions from The New York Times activity: “What’s going on in this picture? What do you see that makes you say that? What more can you find?”
Before Reading the Poem: Read this caption from The New York Times: “This week’s image comes from the March 2, 2016 ‘Pictures of the Day’ post on the Lens blog. The original caption reads: A boy played in his home in Cizre after residents were allowed to return home for the first time since Dec. 14, 2015.” After reading the caption, look at the picture again. What else do you notice?
Reading the Poem: Read the poem “We Lived Happily during the War” by Ilya Kaminsky 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.
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. You may also opt to watch and listen to the poet read the poem here. Call back the lines that you like by saying these lines aloud with your classmates.
Small-group Discussion: Share what you noticed in the poem with a small group of students. How might you describe the speaker in the poem? Why? What do you think of the repetition of the phrase “of money”?
Whole-class Discussion: Read the last four lines of the poem out loud. How does the parenthetical phrase “forgive us” impact the tone of the poem? How might the poem be different without this phrase? What might this poem say about solidarity?
Extension for Grades 7-8: Write a poem from the perspective of the speaker or the “we” in the poem. What happens in the lines the reader doesn’t see? What happens between when the first bomb was dropped and the “sixth month of a disastrous reign”? Or, explore what would have happened if the “we” in the poem had protested more and opposed the war.
Extension for Grades 9-12: Think back to the image from the beginning of class. How do the poem and the image explore the juxtaposition between everyday life and violence? What juxtapositions, if any, have you experienced in 2020? Read the interactive timeline of this year here. Then, make your own timeline of 2020, including both events and photos from your own life and images, texts, and quotes about local and international events. Be sure to write a short caption for each and cite all of your sources.
“We Lived Happily during the War” is the first poem in Ilya Kaminsky’s most recent book, Deaf Republic (Graywolf Press, 2019), a finalist for the National Book Award in Poetry. Read more about Deaf Republic, which is an “interrogation of individual and civic response to political upheaval and collective action,” and browse several more poems from the collection here.