Submitted by ehine on Wed, 02/20/2019 - 11:50

Resource: Objects or artifacts that are special to your students and that they would like to protect.

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. Homework:  Bring in something that is special to you and that you’d like to keep safe or protect.
  2. Warm-up (whip around): Share the object that you brought with the whole class. If you did not bring anything, please describe something you want to keep safe instead. Pass if you need to, and the teacher will return to you.
  3. Before Reading the Poem: Share the object again in a small group. Tell the other people in your group why the object is special to you and what you might do to protect it. What do the objects everyone brought have in common? How are they different? Are your ideas about protection similar or different?
  4. Reading the Poem: Read the poem by Joshua Bennett silently, then write down the words, phrases, and structures that jump out at you.
  5. Listening to the Poem (enlist two volunteers to read the poem aloud): Listen as the poem is read aloud and write down any additional words and phrases that you notice.
  6. Small-group Discussion: Share the words, phrases, and structures that jumped out at you with the rest of your group. What do these details tell you about the speaker in the poem? How does the structure of the poem hold your attention?
  7. Whole-class Discussion: What is the first object the speaker in the poem talks about? After the plastic covers on the couch, what comes next? And after the grandmother and her actions? How does the speaker talk about the issue of race? How do all the previous images lead up to this? Why do you think the poet used the word “Owed” in the title? What might be owed, and to whom? What is an ode? (Teachers, if you have not already done so, please introduce this poetic term.)
  8. Extension for Grades 7–8: Think more about the following lines: “So we hold on to what / we cannot hold. / Adorn it / in Vaseline, or gold, / or polyurethane wrapping.” What is it “we cannot hold”? Why might it be adorned in these materials? What might the plastic-covered couch represent in the speaker’s mind? Share your ideas in your small group and present them to the class so you can explore individual and shared interpretations of the poem.
  9. Extension for Grades 9–12: Identify the internal rhymes and assonance in the poem. Do you see any alliteration? What role do these poetic devices play in the poem? Would the poem be as effective without them? Write a persuasive essay defending your position using specific examples from the poem.

More Context for Teachers

In his iconic essay “How to Read a Poem,” Edward Hirsch writes, “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.