Student Activity

"Translation for Mamá,"by Richard Blanco

Activity 1. What Do You Miss?

This activity is preparation to write a detailed paragraph about an object or person you miss. Begin by thinking of this object or person and sharing where it is from and what it is with the class.

Activity 2. Turn and Talk—Show, Don’t Tell

Now, turn to a partner. Remind your partner of the object or person you have chosen to write about, and share some details that you would like to include in the paragraph that show how you feel about the person or object.

When it is your turn to listen to your partner, be sure not to interrupt them. Once they have finished sharing their ideas, make a positive comment about something they have said, and then make suggestions of other details that might deepen the emotion expressed.

After sharing with your partner, write a detailed paragraph about the person or object you have chosen, using the ideas developed in your conversation. Remember to show, rather than tell, how you feel.

Activity 3. Reading the Poem “Translation for Mamá”

Read the poem “Translation for Mamá,” by Richard Blanco, from Poets.org. As you read, note words, images, and phrases that jump out at you.

Listen to the poem read aloud. As you listen, identify new and different words and images that stand out.

Throughout this activity, keep a running list of words you read and hear but don’t understand.

Activity 4. Watching Richard Blanco Read “Translation for Mamá”

Watch the video of Richard Blanco reading his poem. As you watch, pay attention to the way he reads the different stanzas and how he pauses. What do you hear differently now? Record your new perceptions of the poem.

Activity 5. Small-Group Work “Translation for Mamá”

Work in small groups to share what you have noticed about the poem. The following prompts can guide your discussion:

  • What do you notice about the use of two languages in the poem? What might be the importance of this?
  • What do you make of the poem’s vivid details?
  • What is “translated” in this poem?

After reflecting on these questions, share your lists of observations about the poem and compile a master list for your group. You will share this list with the class.

Activity 6. Whole-Class Discussion “Translation for Mamá”

Share your group’s master list of observations with the class. Note which details of the poem are repeated most often, and reflect on why those aspects of the poem caught the attention of the most people.

Use the following questions to guide your discussion:

  • What is being “translated” in this poem, both literally and figuratively?
  • Why are some Spanish words in the middle of English stanzas?
  • What bridges, literally and figuratively, are being built through these translations? What evidence is there for this interpretation? Why are these bridges important?
  • What emotions does Richard Blanco express through the use of vivid details? Give specific examples from the poem.