What Should I Do On the Second Day of English Class? Read A Poem!


There are a lot of suggestions floating around out there about what to do on the first day of school. But what should you do on the second day in Language Arts? I already did a post on using a short story to establish how you approach the task of reading. In this post I’m going to do a similar activity with a poem.

The poem I’m going to use for this activity is “Mindful” by Mary Oliver. It’s a pretty easy poem, but there’s just enough in there the students will find difficult that will get their brains working. Also, Oliver is a very inspirational poet, and I find that students like the positive, contemplative aspects of her work. Poetry can be a tough sell for kids anyway, so starting off with Sylvia Plath or John Donne is probably not the way to go. So let’s stick with Oliver.

Here’s a link to the poem.

This is what I plan to do with the poem:

1.Where do you get stuck?

This is a poem where kids will go along swimmingly until they get to the middle, I’m guessing right around the “nor.” A lot of poems work this way, and I find that I have to train kids not to bail out too quickly because the heart of the poem is often in the last few lines.

So the next question is: what tools do you have at your disposal for when you get stuck? Obviously you can reread, and that’s almost a requirement for any poem to be experienced fully. Are there any words that you don’t understand, like “acclamation” (which is different than “acclimation”)? Anything that’s worded in a strange way? Most importantly, do you need to know what that word or phrases means to understand the poem? Sometimes you don’t.

2. Who is the speaker?

Obviously it’s important to train kids not to assume the poet is the speaker, but in this case it doesn’t make much difference if they do. What we’re getting at with this question is not just inferences but textual support. If this were the only poem you read by Mary Oliver, what could you tell about her and how do you know? What are her character traits? What does she like to do? Where does she like to be? And where do you see it in the text?

3. What’s the main idea?

The dreaded question! Kids don’t like this one because it gives them the greatest chance of being wrong. But this poem has a pretty easy message to figure out: there is great wisdom to be found in everyday experiences if we simply allow ourselves the time to see them.

This is a great message in a world in which we are overly reliant on technology, but I think it’s a particularly important message for my seniors, many of whom have spend so much time chasing after grades and activities that them have left themselves very little time to pause and figure out who they are. I know several students from the past that graduated and found themselves adrift for this very reason.

A bonus activity!

I’m going to do a Mary Oliver unit later in the year and this will be one of the activities that I’ll do, but it would be a good second day activity as well. I would have them look at something they find for much longer than they would have to see what they notice and take a picture of it. It could be anything – a flower, the front yard, anything that you see on a daily basis that you don’t give much thought to. Here’s an article about how to take mindful photographs you could use. You could even have them write a poem that accompanies the photograph, or create a bulletin board from all the pictures that people have taken. What fun!


If you’re looking for a fun way to review the Parts of Speech during the first week of school, check out my set of comics and activities called Grammar Comics: Parts of Speech.

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