I was first introduced to the poem “My Papa’s Waltz” by Theodore Roethke when Michael W. Smith (co-author of Literary Elements: How to Teach What Really Matters About Character, Setting, Point of View, and Theme) came to our middle school. We use it in our 7th grade ELA class just the way he presented it to us.
I have students read the poem once to themselves.
Students read the poem a second time silently, annotating something new that they notice the second time around.
Students listen as the teacher reads the poem aloud this time, taking note of the rhythm. The teacher opens discussion with this question: Does the rhythm remind anyone of anything?
Students note what they feel is the overall mood of the poem on this sliding scale, what Michael Smith calls a “semantic differential scale”:
The students circle or highlight three words from the poem to support their choice, and as a class we discuss, “What words contribute to the mood or atmosphere of the poem?”
Students can now take the time to move their mark on the sliding scale or not, depending on the evidence they hear in the discussion.
We use this poem to practice fishbowl discussions, so you could extend the sliding-scale question into a discussion of why it is considered “warm” or “cold.” I find I change my mind often during fishbowl discussions, depending on the background information students bring to the table.
Joy Kirr currently teaches 7th graders in Arlington Heights, IL and blogs at http://geniushour.blogspot.com. Follow her on Twitter +Joy Kirr