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Extension Activities

Rita Dove Extension Activities

This activity contains additional poems by Rita Dove to supplement the lesson that begins on page 143 of the Ohio Reading Road Trip Instructor's Guide. "Headdress" is a biographical poem, while "Flash Cards," "Buckeye," and "Maple Valley Branch Library, 1967" are autobiographical.

Getting Started

Lesson Objectives
After completing this activity, students will be able to:

  • Write a poem using personification
  • Write a poem about their personal experiences with education
  • Collaborate to write poetry with a partner
  • Write a modified list poem

Grade Level Indicators
In meeting the lesson objectives, students will:

H. Use available technology to compose text

Time Required
These activities will require approximately three 45-minute class periods to complete.

  • "Headdress" - 20 minutes
  • "Flash Cards" - 25 minutes
  • "The Buckeye" - 45 minutes
  • "Maple Valley Branch Library, 1967" - 45 minutes

Resources Needed
Books of poetry by Rita Dove:

  • "Headdress" appears in Thomas and Beulah
  • "Flash Cards" and "The Buckeye" appear in Grace Notes
  • "Maple Valley Branch Library, 1967" appears in On the Bus with Rosa Parks



Before students read the poem, ask them to contribute to a list of metaphors for the word "hat." What is a hat like? Some comparisons might be: umbrella, crown, trademark, bonnet, helmet, shield, or billboard. Ask students to think about what these metaphors reveal about this ordinary word.

  • Why might a poet use a metaphor?
  • What can a metaphor do that simple description cannot?

Have students consider why Dove might have chosen the word "headdress" as her title.

Read the poem aloud.

Tell students that when a poet gives human characteristics to things that are clearly not human, this device is called "personification." For an easy whole-class activity, write the following statements on the chalkboard or on a transparency. Ask students to replace the italicized words or phrases with human actions. Examples of possible answers are shown in parentheses.

Fallen leaves blew across the parking lot. (danced, skipped, etc.)
A police siren sounded outside the window. (sang, screamed, howled, etc.)
The sun set in the west. (went to sleep, ducked below the horizon, etc.)

It should be clear to your students that the sentences have significantly changed after using personification and that word choice affects meaning. While personification generally makes writing more interesting, it is a device that should be used sparingly. Now ask students to find and highlight examples of personification in "Headdress." (Possible answers: sits still, is cold, wants more.)

Have students write their own poems in which they use personification to describe an article of clothing.


ashiver: v., to shake, quiver, or tremble

brim: n., the part of a hat that sticks out around the lower edge

extravagance: n., that which has gone beyond what is reasonable or suitable; more than is necessary

intimate: adj., close contact; warm friendship; suggesting warmth or privacy; of a very personal or private nature

maneuver: n., a clever or skillful move or action; v. to manage skillfully

parasol: n., a light umbrella for protection against the sun

poised: v., balanced; to hold or make firm or steady by balancing; n. an orderly and artistic arrangement of elements that are pleasing

redeem: v., to buy or win back; satisfy; to measure up to; to make happy, please; to give pleasure

seam: n., the fold, line, or groove made by sewing together or joining two edges or two pieces

sherry: n., a color; wine-colored; maroon; dark red

spangle: n., a small piece of glittering metal or plastic used for ornamentation on clothing; a small glittering object; v. set or sprinkled with spangles

tulle: n., a fine, netlike fabric used chiefly for veils, evening dresses, or ballet costumes

"Flash Cards"

Ask students what it means to be a "whiz kid." Write a list of synonyms on an overhead transparency or on the board. Ask students, "If someone is a whiz kid in a particular subject,

  • What factors might have contributed to their success?"
  • What study skills were probably required for them to become successful?"
  • Who might have helped them learn about that subject?"

After students have learned all of the vocabulary words, ask them to read the poem silently. After they are finished, ask one student to read it aloud. Remind this student to listen to his or her own voice while reading.

Tell students that the main idea of a poem is usually the "message" that the reader is left with after the poem is read. Have students summarize the main idea of this poem in a sentence of their own. For example, students might say that the speaker loved the idea that she was a whiz in math, especially when it came to story problems -- "In math I was the whiz kid, keeper / of oranges and apples." (Story problems often use things like fruit as units: If you have six oranges and three apples. ) However, at the end of the poem, the speaker sees herself being spun around on a wheel while having to do math problems. It is clear that the speaker feels a lot of pressure to do well in school, and to continue to be the "whiz kid." This pressure, judging from the final line, is only going to intensify as the speaker gets older.

Use these questions to help students support their main ideas with details. Ask them to make connections to their own lives to help them determine the relevance of the details.

  1. Do any of the phrases remind you of your own early school experiences? (Give specific examples.)
  2. Why do you think the speaker says "Ten, I kept saying, I'm only ten." What might this suggest about how she is feeling? Have you ever felt that way?
  3. What do you infer from the line "What you don't understand, / master, my father said; the faster / I answered, the faster they came."
  4. What do you infer about the setting of the poem in the second stanza?
  5. What can you infer about the speaker's family and the part they play in the pressure she feels to excel?


drill: n., a task or exercise for teaching a skill by repetition

geranium: n., plants widely cultivated for their rounded, showy clusters of red, pink, or white flowers

pane: n., a framed section of a window or door that is usually filled with a sheet of glass or other transparent material

whiz kid: n., informal, one who has remarkable skill; a young person who is exceptionally intelligent, clever, or successful

"The Buckeye"

Assign students to locate a list or pictures of the state symbols of Ohio. Tell them to visit http://16crayons.com/flag-symbols or check other resources to find this information. If time permits, students can work in small groups to find the symbols for other states, such as Ohio's border states: West Virginia, Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania. You can assign one state to each group to save time.

Before reading "The Buckeye," it would be fun to bring in a number of buckeyes or photos of buckeyes to your classroom, ideally one for each student. Give students a piece of white paper and access to color pencils, crayons, and/or markers. Tell students to hold the buckeye in one hand (or look at the photo) and draw it with the other hand. As they draw, ask students to make a list of words on the paper that describe the buckeye's physical characteristics and what they think or feel about it as they draw. Allow 15-20 minutes for this activity.

Next, pair students to talk about their experience, and share drawings and word descriptions. Based on their observations about the buckeye or their feelings about the activity, have each pair of students write a poem together. Rough drafts of the poems should be completed by the end of class. After you have finished leading a discussion of the poem "The Buckeye," have students revise, type, and proofread their own poems. You can then display the students' poems and sketches in your classroom.

Note: "The Buckeye" is a straightforward, very literal poem. You will need to prepare your students for a line in the fourth stanza that includes inappropriate language (the word "piss").

After students have learned all of the vocabulary words, read the poem using the "three voices" method. When everyone is finished, have students re-read lines 1-13. Ask: Why does the speaker focus on the uselessness and ugliness of the fruit rather than the obvious beauty of the tree?

Ask students to look carefully at the line breaks in lines 7-14. Explain that line breaks are deliberate and that the poet chooses to arrange words on a line in a specific way. When we read to emphasize line breaks, we place a slight pause at the end of each line. This pause makes the reader more aware of the last word in each line. (Since the objectionable word in "though they stank like / a drunk's piss in the roads" is located in the middle of a line, it does not have as much shock value as if it were placed at the end of a line.)

Re-read lines 14-24 aloud. Ask students: What is the "discovery" that the kids make about buckeyes in autumn? (Possible answer: The seedpod of the buckeye is ugly, but the seed inside is shiny and attractive.)


commend: v., to express approval of; praise

countenance: n., appearance, especially the expression of the face; the face or facial features

gutter: n., a channel at the edge of a street or road for carrying off surface water

modest: adj., shy; startled; timid; simple; not elaborate or complicated

spiny: adj., Bearing or covered with spines, thorns, or similar stiff projections

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