Presents/Presence: TC Tolbert's Zoom Poetry Activities


In February, teaching artist and Tucson Poet Laureate TC Tolbert offered a professional development session, Inviting the Poem into the Room, that centered on Zoom-friendly poetry activities for K-12 classrooms (and beyond!). The activities from this session are now available in our lesson plan archive and via the links below:


"'Presents/Presence' is an improvisational activity in which one person mimes giving a gift to another person (in this case, the group) and the receiver interprets what they have received (without trying to read the giver’s mind! – I’ll say more about this later). This activity is designed to facilitate: connection between participants; attention to the present moment, concrete details, and descriptive language; imaginative leaps and creative risks; comfort with not knowing; and delight in surprise.

I learned about this activity from Robert Poynton in his book Do/Improvise (Do Books, 2014) and I’ve adapted it for poetry classrooms hundreds of times. In the last year, I’ve adapted it for zoom classrooms and I’m genuinely amazed each time at how well it works to bring us 'into the room together' even while apart."

"Poems Create Relationship":

"One activity I like to use immediately after 'Presents/Presence' goes like this:

  • I give a little segue into poetry by using NourbeSe Philip’s idea that 'poems create relationships' and that our job, as poets, is simply to set things next to each other to see what relationships emerge. One way we can do that is by experimenting with prepositions!
  • Be sure students know what prepositions are and how they function. It can be helpful to point out a few and/or to name the most common ones (in front of, behind, on, under, above) and then brainstorm a list of lesser used ones. If your class needs help doing that, just show them this list and have them call out ones that interest them.
  • Once they have a handle on prepositions, have them go back to the chat where people identified the gifts they received in Presents/Presence. Give them 5 minutes to create a 7-line poem using ONLY words found in the chat and 3 interesting prepositions from the list.
  • Encourage students to share these poems because they are always a total hoot! And you and your students will see the joy of collaboration and revision (using someone else’s words in a new way) while allowing a new part of an earlier activity to become prominent (the new relationships).
  • By having them write their first poems this way, it can also relieve them of the pressure to write something 'very profound' or 'perfect.' It can also help them to see that all words have poetic possibility."

Feature photo by Quah Choong Ming