"Zebra Question" by Shel Silverstein

It seems that I have a soft spot for Shel Silverstein's writings. They are simple yet so rich in meanings and they are always accompanied with straightforward illustrations that make them ideal for children and adults alike. Three years ago I created a short lesson on The Missing Piece Meets the Big O. This year I made a short video for one of Silverstein's short poems, the "Zebra Question". 

Zebra Question is a poem from the book A Light in the Attic, published in 1981. It is about a boy who asks a zebra whether it is black with white stripes or white with black stripes. The zebra replies somewhat sassily with an exhaustive list of questions: "Are you good with bad habits? Or are you bad with good habits? Are you noisy with quiet times? Or quiet with noisy times? and on and on and on in a repetitive way.

The poem reminds us to look at situations but also at ourselves from different perspectives. Nothing can ever be simply black or white. What do we really think that we are? What are the traits that define us? Successes or failures, joy or sorrow, generosity or selfishness? Our real value lies beyond all these and it's up to us to decide.

The poem's repetitive feature of asking questions using opposites makes it relevant in the EFL classroom. Some ideas on how to use poems in the classroom can be found in one of my older posts on a poem by Maya Angelou and on teachingenglish.org


  1. What is the rhythm shceme of this poem


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