On The Subway

by Sharon Olds

Photo by Eamonn McCabe

Writing Workshop

Workshop Title: Class

Step 1

Watch the following scene from the film Office Space. Though the clip is meant to be comedic, ask your students about the larger truths or ideas it reveals.

Step 2

Read “On the Subway” by Sharon Olds. When you’re done, briefly discuss the poem. What does the woman’s response to this experience reveal? Why?

Step 3

Say, “Take a few minutes to think of privilege and how it affects one’s perception of race, class, identity, etc. Can you think of any instances when you’ve seen this first-hand? Take a few minutes to brainstorm.

Step 4

Ask your students to compose a poem similar in sentiment to “On the Subway” in which they discuss a moment in time or experience that reveals a larger truth or question about social class, race, etc.

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.

Step 2

Watch the following video from The Washington Post about white racial identity. When the video is done, briefly discuss. How do the interviewees in the video reckon with or understand their racial identity as members of a “majority ethnic group”?

Step 3

Read through “On the Subway” by Sharon Olds. As you are reading, have your students pay attention to the speaker’s own understanding of her own racial identity and how it fluctuates/develops throughout the piece. When you’re done, briefly discuss.

Step 4

Ask your students to open the following document and go through the introduction and directions with them. In this assignment, your students are going to read through the poem, “On the Subway” by Sharon Olds and have them and determine how the speaker of the poem grapples with her own racial identity by making connections between her experience and the different steps of the “Racial Identity Development” process. Then give your students time to work.

Step 5

When your students are done, have them go through each of the steps of the racial identity development. How does the speaker’s experience reflect (or even contradict) each step? Briefly discuss.

Lesson Details

Lesson Info


  • Various


  • Children / Youth
  • Class
  • Criminal Justice
  • History
  • Race / Ethnicity / Racism
  • Violence

Literary Tags

  • Diction
  • Figurative Language
  • Imagery
  • Selection of Detail
  • Sound Devices
  • Structure
  • Tone

Content Warning

  • Racism or Racial Slurs