by Tyler Mills

Photo by Arik Lubkin

Writing Workshop

Workshop Title: Distance

Step 1

Start by reading “Totalitarian” by Tyler Mills. When you’re done, briefly discuss the piece. What issue(s) does the poem address or shed light on?

Step 2

Ask your students, “Where else do you see this “behavior” taking place? Where else do you witness this insulation, apathy, ignorance, or desensitization? How?” Briefly discuss.

Step 3

Say, “Choose an issue where – in your opinion – there is a vast divide between those affected and those witness to it. Then simply jot down a list of details that illustrate the divide between both parties.” Then give them a few minutes to brainstorm.

Step 4

Ask your students to compose a poem similar in sentiment to “Totalitarian” in which they illustrate the divide between those affected by a particular issue and those witness to it.

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: Selection of Detail

Step 1

If your students are not familiar with the concept of “selection of detail,” go through the brief introductory lesson.

Step 2

Ask your students to describe the bedroom of somebody who embodies “sci-fi fandom.” What’s in their room? Ask them to describe it as specifically as possible.

Step 3

Now show them the following scene from the film Galaxy Quest. How close were they in their predictions? How do those details from the film contribute to the film’s depiction of the character and his fandom? Briefly discuss.

Step 4

Have your students open the following document and read the introduction by Major Jackson with them.

Step 5

Briefly go over the introduction. What kind of issue(s) is he referring to in this statement? What does this “apathy” look like in the real world? Where, when, or how do your students see it?

Step 6

After you’ve gone through the introduction, go over the directions with your students. In this assignment, your students are essentially going to create a scene in which they make “apathy” tangible, then compare/contrast their findings with the poem “Totalitarian” by Tyler Mills. Once you’ve gone over the directions, give your students time to work.

Step 7

When your students are done, ask them to share their scenes and briefly discuss them. How do the details serve to accentuate their point?

Step 8

Then discuss the poem and their connections to it. Where did the two pieces (their “scene” and the poem) overlap? What similarities did they share?

Step 9

Finally, talk about the poem itself. What kind of social commentary did it provide? What issue(s) does it shed light on? How do the details contribute to this message? Briefly discuss.

Lesson Details

Lesson Info


  • Selection of Detail


  • Children / Youth
  • Death / Grief
  • Family
  • History
  • Home / Homelessness
  • Immigration
  • Police Brutality / Profiling
  • Race / Ethnicity / Racism
  • Social Movements / Protest
  • Violence
  • War

Literary Tags

  • Diction
  • Figurative Language
  • Imagery
  • Selection of Detail
  • Structure
  • Structure (Syntax)
  • Tone

Content Warning

  • Abduction or Kidnapping
  • Death or Dying
  • Racism or Racial Slurs
  • Violence