2.02 – Writing a Where I’m From Poem (English Lesson)

Where I’m From poetry is a type of poem that anyone can write, feel confident about, and present with authority. Where I’m from poetry are poems about students, by students, for students – that delve into their own personal experiences and narratives.

The poem “Where I’m From” was written by George Ella Lyon, and sets the stage for all student-created pieces that have followed over the many years. These poems present students with a fill-in-the-blank template that empowers them to express themselves in a scaffolded away, as we reach towards full release of responsibility.

This could be the first poem some of your students have ever written; but, by the end of the experience, it might also be one of their favourite poems they ever will write.

English Course Pack: Unit Two – Poetry

This assignment is part of the The Full English Course Park. This piece is part of Unit Two: Poetry, which focuses on engaging with literary / poetic devices, reading and appreciating poetry, writing poetry, and creating a unique artifact filled with personal expressions.

If you would like to say thanks, consider buying me a coffee. But that is neither required, nor expected.

2.01 – Writing Where I’m From Poetry

Step One: Scaffolding Self-Expression

If you have been following along with this full course pack, you have likely already run through The Name Tag Assignment, which asked students to consider places that were important to them, adjectives that described them, and things that they enjoyed doing.

You may wish to ask students to think backwards in time and consider what they wrote, and what they visualized about themselves. A brief discussion can occur at this point where students run through a quick recap of how they felt during that activity.

Encouraging students to do some pre-thinking about what they are going to discuss, you could ask them to consider:

  • What are the most important things they own
  • What are the most important things someone has told them
  • What are the most important things they do with their family
  • What does family mean to them
    • Note: Family is a self-defined term. It does not have to mean relatives.

If students are engaged, allow this discussion to continue as long as you feel it is productive. Allowing students to share informally will provide a level of comfort for when they need to share their Where I’m From poem, formally.

Step Two: Moving through the Where I’m From template

Once students are presented with the Where I’m From poem template, they may recognize the Mad-Libs style template. You can encourage them to start filling out the blanks. You may find that some students finish this incredibly quickly, while others take a lot of time.

Encourage all students to be thorough with their poem, and really consider what they want to express about themselves. Let them know that this is another opportunity for you to get to know them, and for them to get to know them.

Step Three: Reading an Exemplar

In my experience, some students can have a very difficult time getting started. This seems to connect with their preconceived notions about what a poem is, and what a poem should be.

As soon as you read your exemplar, and they hear how “strange” they sound at the beginning, it is as if permission has been granted for them to allow their poems to sound that way too.

My Exemplar

I am from my daughter’s dollhouse.
From Garnier Fructis shampoo and Garnier Fructis conditioner – the ones with the green bottle, and the little slice of citrus.
I am from the small cramped spaces, and floors that creek with every step.
The money tree,
which somehow refuses to die no matter how long it is neglected.
I am from holiday meals, followed by river walks.
From a father immigrating on a boat across the ocean, and east coast living.
I am from my son, and from my wife,
walking for hours no matter how tired we feel and baking treats together in the kitchen.
I am from “You can do better than that, daddy”.
I am from “You’re really good at that, daddy”.
I am from “you will be able to do more than I could,” and Hippopotamus Rock.
I am from Toronto and England.
I am from hiding under my grandmother’s table, hiding from imaginary villains.
From journalist,
and from feeling as if there was an endless amount of time ahead of me.

Step Four: Formalizing the Poem

Where you go from here is up to you.

You may want to ask students to re-write the poem on a sheet of lined paper. You may want to ask them to type it up. You may want to ask them to copy it onto a sheet of blank paper, and then draw a boarder that depicts the different things they wrote about in their poem.

There are all sorts of things you could do to build on this activity. Meaningful extension opportunities like the visual representations can be offered to students who finish before the rest of the class has had an appropriate amount of time to complete their task.

You may also just feel as if completing the fill-in-the-blanks version is enough.

It’s up to you to set the tone for where you think this task should lead.

Personally, I like the blank paper, drawing task because it gives me one more artifact to put up in my classroom, that allows students to feel ownership over their space. It also honours the work and expression that went into the creation.

Looking Forward

Let students know that they can use this poem as a poem they wrote when it comes time to create their collection of work, at the end of this unit. This should also offer an additional incentive to complete the task.

By ensuring this poem is created, when it does come time to create the final collection, you will also have ensured that something was created and can be included for partial evaluation.

Step Five: Presenting their Poems

Presenting can be difficult at the best of times for some students, but since you have already read your exemplar, and it sounded a little bit silly, they’ll know that theirs can sound silly too.

By allowing the first poem to be a formulaic template, all students will share in the opportunity to read a personal poem to the class, with a strong support system in place.

In this poem, almost everyone is equal.

The Impact

By the end of this activity, students will have further considered what is important to them, learned how to give voice to those important pieces, and begun working towards their very own collection of poems.

Students will have also demonstrated oral communication skills, while sharing a personal poem with the class, setting them up to continue this as you move from piece to piece within this unit, and unit to unit within this course.

After completing this task, students will not just have gained a personal Mad-Lib style piece, they will have gained the skills and confidence to create and read poetry amongst their peers.

English – Unit Two: Poetry

English Course Packs: Full Units

Unit One: Literacy Skills
Unit Two: Poetry
Unit Three: Literature Circles (In Progress)
Unit Four: Creative Writing & Choose Our Way Tales (In Progress)
Unit Five: Essay Writing (In Progress)
Unit Six: Culminating Tasks (In Progress)

Written by…

Michael Barltrop has been teaching since 2006, integrating comics, video games, and TTRPGs into his classroom. He has been the head of English, Literacy, Special Education, and Assessment & Evaluation and Universal Design. Feel free to reach out through Twitter @MrBarltrop!

Feel free to support the website hosting by buying him a coffee or sharing this post on facebook, twitter, or whatever social media is trending these days.

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