Odes and the Modes

I have always found Pablo Neruda’s odes fascinating. How can something so complex be written about one very simple object? My favorites are the odes to foods; maybe because I love to cook or perhaps even better because I love to eat!

In this lesson (which cycles through several modes of communication), students will read closely and analyze Odes to Common Things by Pablo Neruda, a Chilean author [interpretive-reading]. Neruda has been widely translated, so teachers of other languages could use his odes in translation or select analogous poems in their target language (such as Francis Ponge’s prose poems in French or Japanese haibun poems).  Prior to doing this reading, our focus was studying foods, recipes, and food preparation to make cultural connections and comparisons with the Spanish speaking world through games and vocabulary activities.

To begin the lesson, students watch and listen to two clips from the movie Il postino (in Italian with English subtitles) that explain and demonstrate what a metaphor is by Pablo Neruda who plays himself in this movie [interpretive-listening]. (High tech: these clips can be embedded in an interactive lesson or downloaded off of Youtube; low-tech: cue up your DVD!). Next, we look at the definitions of metaphor and simile with an example in Spanish. In groups, students then come up with simple examples of each in Spanish and share them with a partner, such as: “A watermelon is…or A watermelon is like…” [interpersonal-speaking].

After this introduction, we listen to the first ode, Oda al tomate. We then do a close reading of the ode together, marking the text for metaphors, similes, images, themes, and any unfamiliar words as well as words that are essential to our comprehension. Each student has their own paper copies (low-tech) or an iPad with the document open (high tech) of what I have on the interactive whiteboard page (high-tech). Students then listen to the second ode, Oda a la cebolla, and repeat the process with a partner. I circulate and help students who aren’t writing and/or need help with vocabulary. We go over what they found for metaphors, similes, images and themes by sharing out and writing the info on a graphic organizer (low-tech: paper or whiteboard; high-tech: interactive whiteboard, apps such as popplet). We are once again in the interpretive mode, but then move into interpersonal as students comment on what they have read and noticed pertaining to the characteristics of Neruda’s odes.

Oda al aceite

Once we have worked with two odes, I distribute a list of the titles of many other odes by Neruda about foods. The students then choose a title and begin to brainstorm how to write their own ode to that food. Students continue working on writing their own odes using the thematic vocabulary and grammar requirements from the unit we have studied [presentational-writing]. I also show them a model ode written by a past student and we read it to see if it has all of the requirements and techniques found in Neruda’s odes. Students are also provided a rubric to help them understand the expectations of the final assessment. When students finish their own personal ode, they are given copies of the real ode to compare it to the one they have written. This is a great opportunity for more interpretive practice combined with interpersonal speaking, as students compare, contrast and even defend their ode against Neruda’s version in groups or with a partner. The low tech version of these activities is done on paper in class and speaking face to face. High tech versions can be done via Google docs and Google hangouts with students commenting in writing or commenting and discussing orally outside of class or with student from other classes. Students can also comment and compare/contrast directly with you using Google voice. You leave them an oral prompt and they speak their mind!

For this final assessment, students record audio or video of themselves reading their odes with background music and props [presentational-speaking].  (Low-tech version: students can present their odes in class or can read for other classes, parents or other groups, such as elementary school classes. They can also create their visual with poster board, paper/markers etc. High-tech version: students can use many apps or web tools that allow photos with audio recording for students to be even more creative and eventually share their work, such as 30hands, Picview, Educreations, and Voicethread). Having a broader audience outside the classroom definitely raises the quality of the students’ presentational performances!


Examples and Collaboration: Object Poems – Poèmes-Objets High school students in Brittany, France, created a project in which they compose poems about objects and then write the poems directly on the objects.

They would like to partner with students in the US on this and other creative writing projects (contact: Corinne Prigent coprigent@gmail.com)

Suggested Resources:

Standards: Communication: interpersonal-speaking, interpretive-listening/reading; presentational-writing/speaking; Connections (literature/poetry, foods, daily routines); Communities (other classrooms, social media) Common core standards 1 and 10 http://standards.dpi.wi.gov/stn_ela-tchingandlrng

Level: These activities can be adapted for any level depending on how much scaffolding is done and which activities and assessments are chosen.

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