Maternal Theory

by Nicole Tong

Writing Workshop

Workshop Title: Want

Step 1

Ask your students, “What’s something you desperately want, but, for one reason or another, you’re unable to have? How do you deal with it?” Let them brainstorm and discuss.

Step 2

Have your students read “Maternal Theory” by Nicole Tong. Then talk about the “thing” she desperately wants yet is unable to have, and discuss the different ways she is able to cope with her sense of loss.

Step 3

Give your students some time to choose one of the “things” that they desperately want but are unable to have, then have them come up with a list of ways in which they cope or move on with their lives despite the inability to own or possess this object.

Step 4

Have your students write a poem like “Maternal Theory” in which they discuss something that they desperately want but are unable to have, then have them outline the different ways in which they are forced to continue with their lives despite this sense of want or need.

Step 5

When the students are done, have them share their responses with one another.

The full presentation may be found HERE.

Analytical Lesson

Area of Focus: Various

Step 1

This lesson allows students to analyze various concepts and skills, so it is recommended that you have covered several of the “standalone” lessons before assigning this one. The prominent literary devices & techniques that this particular poem includes are: diction, selection of detail, figurative language, and imagery.

Step 2

Read your students the introductory paragraph from the exemplar essay provided in the Essay Materials below to give them an idea of the overarching message or theme of the poem. Don’t give them the text of the poem yet.

Step 3

Have your students open the following presentation and read through the instructions with them.

Step 4

Assign the students their stanzas. Since there are only 7 stanzas in the poem, there will be multiple students working on the same set of lines. Please make sure that the students are working in their own slide; this should be an individual assignment, so slides have been duplicated enough times for students to navigate through the presentation and find their assigned stanza. You can either use the 3rd slide to show them their assignments and have them work in the presentation itself or, if possible, print out the slides and distribute it to your students.

Note: If the students are working in the Google Presentation, make sure you change the sharing settings to “editable” for all.

Step 5

Give your students 10-15 minutes to work by themselves. Make sure they write at least 4 sentences in their response.

Step 6

After 10 minutes have elapsed, have the students group up with the other students who were working on the same stanzas as them and have them compare their analyses.

Step 7

Project the poem in its entirety. Then, “Jigsaw” style, have one member of each newly-formed group read the stanza aloud to the rest of the class and their analysis of said stanza. Go in chronological order of the poem.

Step 8

After they’ve shared their responses, project the title of the poem, “Maternal Theory.” Then have them write a 3 sentence analysis of how the title of the poem structures or frames the message of the work as a whole. Then have the students share a few of their responses.

Step 9

If time permits, share the exemplar essay with them.

Lesson Details

Lesson Info


  • Various


  • Aging
  • Children / Youth
  • Death / Grief
  • Family
  • Health / Health Care / Illness
  • Parenting

Literary Tags

  • Diction
  • Figurative Language
  • Imagery
  • Selection of Detail