CommonLit’s digital literacy program has over 100 unique poetry lessons for middle school students that teach important literary analysis skills and reading comprehension.
Many of CommonLit’s poetry lessons focus on the major theme of family. Families look different for everyone. Despite the occasional dysfunction, each has their own way of communicating, showing love, and sharing connection. Similarly, poems have their own unique structures that speak to readers in different ways. With our poetry selection, students can learn from each other by discussing their family’s cultures, values, and favorite memories together.
“To A Daughter Leaving Home” by Linda Pastan (6th Grade)
In this brief poem, Linda Pastan details the first time a mother watches her daughter ride a bike on her own. The speaker uses descriptive verbs to note how her daughter quickly speeds away. The mother’s feelings change as she compares her daughter to a “handkerchief waving goodbye,” a simile that captures her daughter growing up.
Help students understand where the author develops the theme of family in the poem by leading a class discussion around Assessment Question #2. Here, students will be able to identify lines in the poem that support the theme.
“Eating Together” by Li-Young Lee (6th Grade)
Content warning: This text briefly references the death of the speaker’s father. This may be a sensitive topic for some students.
In this poem, Li-Young Lee describes a meal the speaker shares with their family after the passing of their father. The author uses imagery to show how eating together can be a meaningful way to honor and remember loved ones. Lee’s use of tone calls readers to reflect on how cooking and sharing food are expressions of love.
You can use the Related Media tab to access the video “Poetry Breaks: Li-Young Lee Reads ‘Eating Together’” and have a class discussion around the author’s intention in writing this poem. Then, have students share their thoughts on why the author pauses after words like “brothers,” “sister,” and “mother.” Guide students to see how the author emphasizes these words to show the importance of family.
“Elena” by Pat Mora (7th Grade)
In this descriptive poem, Pat Mora describes how a mother feels isolated from her family due to a language barrier. The mother believes she cannot speak English well enough to connect with her family. The author incorporates Spanish and English in her stanzas to show how the speaker yearns to maintain a strong relationship with her children.
Have students use their annotations in addition to examples from their life to answer Discussion Question #3: “The speaker’s main motivation for learning English involves wanting to help her children when they need her. Have you ever worked hard at something because you wanted to help someone else? What did you do, and why did you care enough to do it?”
“Legacies” by Nikki Giovanni (8th Grade)
In this poem, Nikki Giovanni describes an eager grandmother who wants to share a family recipe with her disinterested granddaughter. By using dialogue, the author portrays the differing values between generations and leaves the reader feeling like a piece of family tradition is lost. The speaker’s emotional words show how the preservation of traditions, or lack thereof, plays a role in family dynamics.
Consider supplementing this text with a short story under the Paired Texts tab, such as Walter Dean Myers’s “The Treasure of Lemon Brown.” Students can compare and contrast the characters in both works and explore what loved ones leave behind to pass on to other family members.
“Abuelito Who” by Sandra Cisneros (8th Grade)
In this poem, Sandra Cisneros captures how a grandfather acts differently as he grows older. Through literary devices like repetition, the speaker describes how her aging grandfather is becoming sick and more forgetful. The poem’s mood calls readers to reflect on how the speaker’s relationship with her grandfather changes over time.
After reading, use the Discussion tab to spark dialogue in your classroom. Ask students to share their opinions individually or in groups for Discussion Question #2: “In the context of the poem, what makes a family?” Consider having them tie in examples from the poem to show how the speaker defines family as well.
“On How My Mother Sleeps” by Mikala Rempe (8th Grade)
In this poem, Mikala Rempe uses imagery and visual details to describe specific memories between the speaker and her mother. The speaker remembers intimate moments like when her mother sleeps and when her mother helps her get ready for school dances. The speaker’s nostalgia can be felt as she lists the small ways her mother shows love.
After reading, have students share what they notice about the structure of the poem. Then, discuss how the structure reflects the message of the poem so that they are prepared to write their answers for Assessment Question #4, “How does the structure of the poem contribute to the relationship between the speaker and her mother?”
Looking for more lessons about family to include in your ELA instruction? Check out the CommonLit digital library’s thematic unit on friendship and family.