Credit: Academy of American Poets
It is very common in the United States, when meeting a new person to ask them, “Where are you from originally?” In her poem “Peaches,” Adrienne Su, a Chinese American who grew up in the state of Georgia, sheds light on the complexity of answering that question when you are both “stranger and native.” This poem reflects upon the complicated identities many Americans grapple with—a critical factor to consider as our nation continues to evolve into a 21st-century American community characterized by wide diversity.
The following sequence of activities is designed to help students think about the connections between food and identity that Adrienne Su evokes in her poem. This lesson plan provides a sequence of activities that you can use with your students before, during, and after reading “Peaches.” Use the whole sequence, or any of the activities, to help your diverse learners enter, experience, and explore the meaning of the poem. Feel free to adjust each activity to meet the needs of your particular students. This lesson can be adapted for secondary students in grades 6–12.
Link to an audio of the poet, Adrienne Su, reading “Peaches.”
This lesson is an adaptation of an original lesson by the Academy of American Poet’s Educator in Residence, Madeleine Fuchs Holzer.
Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.
Evaluate a speaker's point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.
Analyze the structure of texts, including how specific sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text (e.g., a section, chapter, scene, or stanza) relate to each other and the whole.
Link to an audio of the poet, Adrienne Su, reading “Peaches”
Perform this exercise before viewing the video and reading the poem.
Objective: Students will begin to think about the symbolic nature of food in different cultures.
Ask your students to think of a food that is representative of their culture in some way. Quickly go around the room and ask each student to call out their food and where they or their ancestors are from. If a particular student needs more time, they can pass, and you can come back to them after every other student has had a turn.
Ask your students to quick write down as many associations they have with the food they mentioned in the warm up (Activity 1.) These associations can include things such as how the food is bought, when it is eaten, with whom it is eaten, any history of the food, etc.
Have your students get into small groups to share their foods and their lists with one another. Have them ask one another questions about the food, so they can add more detail to what they have written.
Conduct a whole-class discussion around the question: What is the significance of how food is obtained, prepared, and eaten in different cultures? Make sure your students use details from their small group discussions to support their answers.
Objective: Students will identify words, images, and phrases that jump out at them in the poem, as well as the placement of the words on the page.
Project the poem “Peaches” from Poets.org.
Ask your students to read the poem silently. As they read, they should write down the words, images, phrases, and word placement that they notice.
If your class size allows for it, select 9 student volunteers to read the poem aloud, one for each stanza. (See the definition of stanza on Poets.org.) Ask the listening students to close their eyes and listen to the rhythm and the words.
Again, if your class size allows, select another 9 student volunteers to read the poem aloud, one for each stanza. This time, ask the listening students to listen for new and different things that jump out at them. They should write these down.
Ask your students to keep a running list on the front board of the words they read and hear, but do not understand. You can either conduct a separate vocabulary lesson about these words during which students try to figure out their meaning from context and connections, or review the vocabulary as you progress through the other activities.
Objective: Students will notice the difference between reading a poem on a page and experiencing a poet reading her poem.
Tell your students that when they listen to the audio, they will record what they notice when Adrienne Su reads her poem. Ask them to pay close attention to the emphasis Su places on different words and phrases. Do they hear anything differently now? Make sure they record their new perceptions with their other notes.
Play the audio of Adrienne Su reading her poem.
Ask your students to get back in their small groups. Have them look carefully at the words, phrases, and structural elements in the poem that are on their lists and use them to create questions that will help them understand the poem better. Ask each student to share their questions with the other members of the group. Ask the group to brainstorm answers to each person’s questions.
Ask the representative from each small group to present the one question they would like to brainstorm with the entire class. Write the questions on the front board with the students’ responses.
After the questions are written down, ask your students to look at their lists of details from the poem to see how they can help answer the questions they still have.
Additional Questions for Discussion:
(If your students have not raised the following questions on their own, you can add these to further their discussion and their exploration of the poem’s meaning.)
At this time, you can also introduce the idea of a “turn” in poetry: also referred to as a “volta” or a sudden change in thought, direction, or emotion near the conclusion of a poem. Have students consider how Adrienne Su uses a “volta” in this poem.
Ask your students to write a poem focusing on a significant food in their family using a number of four-line stanzas that include slant rhyme. They should follow these guidelines when composing their poems:
With your students, develop an evaluation tool for their work using the terms exemplary, proficient, developing, and basic. What, do they (and you) think are the basic characteristics of an exemplary poem (or essay) that starts discussing a food and connects to other important aspects of a family’s life? A proficient one? One that is developing or basic? Remind them to include items such as vivid details, slant rhyme, four line stanzas, and turns.
1-2 class periods