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.
- Warm-Up: Read the first paragraph of A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens silently.
- Small-group Discussion: What would happen if you tried to turn this paragraph into a poem without changing the words? Try different ways and see what happens. How would you break up the lines? What words would you not want to separate? Why? Create one “poem” using line breaks on which everyone in your group can agree.
- Whole-class Discussion (each group presents their paragraph with new line breaks): What happens when you change the placement of the words? Do you read them differently on the page? Do they sound differently when read aloud? Is the meaning of the words the same, or do they change in some way?
- Reading the Poem: Read the poem silently. Write down the words, phrases, and structures that jump out at you.
- Listening to the Poem (enlist two volunteers to read the poem aloud, and make sure they read the line breaks appropriately): Write anything new that you hear when the poem is read aloud.
- Pair Share: What did you notice about the line breaks in the poem? How did they influence the way you read and heard the poem?
- Whole-class Discussion: How are the last four stanzas different from the rest of the poem? What happened to the line breaks? Why do you think this is the case? What is the connection the poet is making between line breaks and immigration? Cite evidence from the poem.
- Extension for Grades 7-10: How does this poem relate to what is happening in our country today concerning immigration? Write a short essay connecting this poem to current events.
- Extension for Grades 11-12: Write a poem about a current event that you feel strongly about. Use what you have learned about line breaks to create stops, emphasis, and movement in your poem.
More Context for Teachers: In her essay “Where It Breaks: Drama, Silence, Speed, and Accrual,” the poet Dana Levin writes, “I want the line-break to tell me something about how a poem feels: where a speaker butts up against silence.” She explains, “When my students read poems aloud, I insist they ‘read’ the line-breaks (this is not very popular). Feeling speaks where the line is silenced.” Read more essays about the poetic line.