Tuesday, April 2, 2019

2019 Post #19 -- Letters To and From the Past

by Rama Janamanchi

When I read the poem "Dear NaiNai" by Jennifer Tseng with my class, I remembered my own grandmother, now long gone, and the ways in which I lean back into her as I have come from her. I think too of the many silences that prevent me from knowing her. This is a great way for students to see their own lines going back and leading back to where they stand.

We begin by reading the poem chorally (I project the poem and give my students copies to hold). Then I divide the class in half and have one group read the poem from the beginning until “#1 writes me a letter.”

Group 2 then reads the letter. Group 1 picks up to read the rest of the poem but group 2 joins in just for the italicized words. I tell the students that NaiNai means "grandma" in Chinese and point out that the poet’s father is dead so in effect, she is listening to ghosts. In one group, a student noticed this before I said anything!

We read the poem again but this time switch roles -- Group 1 reads the letter and joins in for the italicized words. This time, group 2 reads the main voice. At the end of the reading, I ask them what they noticed about the poem and its voices.

I then ask them to turn over their copies of the poem and draw a single vertical line. At the bottom of the line, they write their name. Then they write the name of one parent and one grandparent. Then next to each name, write a word or phrase they associate most with that parent and grandparent. For each word, they write what other words they associate with that word. After 3 rounds of word association, we talk about how we could use these words to build our own “Dear NaiNai” letters.

Further Reading:

Bio: I teach 11th-grade English at a private high school for students with language-based learning differences. Twitter: @MsJanamanchi410

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