Submitted by ehine on Fri, 01/25/2019 - 13:44

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 (individual writing and pair share): Write down several words you associate with the word tending. What does this word mean to you? Share your words with a partner, adding to your list as more words arise in your discussion.
  2. Before Reading the Poem: Write a paragraph describing a time someone cared for you or you took care of someone. Try to use some of the words from the warm-up activity in your writing. Share your paragraph with your partner and ask them to tell you if they think your paragraph includes enough description. Ask them to make suggestions about how you could add more precise description in your work. When you are finished, change places.
  3. Reading the Poem: Read the poem “Tending” silently, then write down the words and phrases that jump out at you. Include any vocabulary words that are new to you.
  4. Listening to the Poem: Listen carefully, without writing anything down, to the video of Elizabeth Alexander reading her poem aloud. Listen a second time and write down the words and phrases that jump out at you. The third time you hear the poem, write down the descriptive words and phrases that help you visualize what is happening in the poem.
  5. Small-group Discussion: Join your partner and another pair of students to form a group of four. Together, share the words and phrases that jumped out at you and research the meanings of any words that are new to you.
  6. Whole-class Discussion: Describe the speaker in the poem. What do you know about her, and what do you think might be happening in the poem? How do you think the speaker feels about her grandfather? Use evidence from the previous activities to support your interpretations.
  7. Extension for Grades 7-8: Using what you learned from the poem, write a letter to the person about whom you wrote during the warm-up. (You can decide whether or not you want to share your letter with this person.) Make sure to incorporate the descriptive words and phrases you developed with your partner.
  8. Extension for Grades 9-12: Read the poem again, this time focusing on its structure and on the last four lines.  How does the poet describe love? Does this description feel surprising or familiar? Why do you think the poet placed the line breaks where they are and chose to indent alternating lines? How might this structure affect the way someone reads the poem? Write your own poem about the situation in your warm-up paragraph, using descriptive words and phrases from your individual writing as well as what you learned about structure from “Tending.” Try to use surprising language.


More Context for Teachers

In this conversation with Maria Popova, founder of the popular newsletter and website Brain Pickings, Elizabeth Alexander says, “I believe that human beings want to be seen and want to be known. Want to be recognized, want to feel true. And that is what poetry strives to do. It’s the big namer, the big describer, the way of fixing in time by description with tremendous precision.” Read more.