The Hum

by Maggie Smith

Photo by Devon Albeit

Writing Workshop

Workshop Title: The Hum

Step 1

Ask your students, “How do you feel about “uncertainty”? Or how do you feel about questions that don’t have concrete answers, at least for the time being?”

Step 2

Read “The Hum” by Maggie Smith. When you’re done, briefly discuss the feelings & emotions of the speaker throughout the piece. How do they respond to the concept of uncertainty?

Step 3

Say, “Choose something “uncertain” that you think about. How do you respond? What do you anticipate? What do you fear? Does it bother you? Jot down as many emotions that immediately spring to mind.” Then give your students a few minutes to brainstorm.

Step 4

Ask your students to compose a poem similar in sentiment to “The Hum” in which they contemplate the subject of “uncertainty.”

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: Structure (Line Breaks)

Step 1

If your students are not familiar with the concept of “line breaks,” go over the introductory lesson with them.

Step 2

Ask your students to tell you their future. What will happen to them as they age? What is to become of their lives? Keep probing until they cannot give you a response.

Step 3

Ask your students how these questions – ones without concrete, definitive answers – make them feel. What is their immediate emotional response? Briefly discuss.

Step 4

Now read “The Hum” by Maggie Smith and project the poem on the board as you read aloud. As you are reading, ask your students to pay particular attention to the speaker’s complex attitude toward the subject of uncertainty and how the structure/line breaks contribute to this attitude.

Step 5

Briefly discuss the format of the poem. Did it feel “stilted” as they read along? Or slightly different than a poem with a more traditional structure or standard lineation? Discuss.

Step 6

Have your students open the following document and go over the instructions with them. In this assignment, your students are going to look at the poem’s line breaks and how they contribute to the meaning of the work as a whole. After you’ve gone through the instructions, give your students time to work.

Step 7

With about 15 minutes left in class, tell your students’ your students that you will discuss their responses as a group and “compare” them to Maggie Smith’s own rationale for utilizing certain line breaks.

  • Use the following presentation to lead them through this discussion.

Lesson Details

Lesson Info


  • Structure (Line Breaks)


  • Aging
  • Philosophy

Literary Tags

  • Diction
  • Figurative Language
  • Imagery
  • Structure (Line Breaks)
  • Structure (Syntax)
  • Tone