Plus photos and links to help you plan
Where I’m From poems from the author and poet George Ella Lyons… you just can’t write enough good things about them. That’s why this week I’ve decided to post twice about these poems that were a mainstay in my middle school ELA classes a few years ago. (Click here for Tuesday’s post that featured links to student-written mentor texts.)
And even though I now teach juniors and seniors in high school, I still look back on Where I’m From poems with fond memories. These poems were always one of my students’ favorite activities because of the personalized portrait they would paint of each student.
Parents loved them, too!
In fact, several parents told me the poems would be a treasured keepsake. (At my current school, freshmen students write Where I’m From poems to kick off the school year; my juniors explore headline poetry, a found poetry technique.)
Even so, below you’ll find three templates (plus the links!) that you may want to use with your classes whenever you decide to give Where I’m From poems a try. The templates will guide your students through selecting memories, family sayings, names, and all the other imagery-inducing details that make these poems so personal and enlightening.
All of these templates have merit; however, after experimenting with these, the first one has worked best for me.
And here’s the big caveat:
Any of these templates work best with lots of one-to-one conferencing. You may need to help students recall memories or name things. For example, a student may not know the “clicking thing” on Grandma’s piano is called a “metronome.”
Get in the trenches with your kids and help them unlock the magic of where they’re from.
Template and Link No. 1:
Freeology.com offers this template. Get it by clicking here. Sometimes I must edit or make a few changes to ready-made templates and handouts to make them work for my teaching. After all, why reinvent the wheel, right?
However, with this template, I made no changes. After reading several examples (Lyons’ poem, one that I demo for them on the fly, and a few student-written mentors), students can take this template and run with it.
The only detail some kids have trouble with on the template is the “natural item.” To solve that, we just brainstorm what a natural item could be if it wasn’t a plant or tree, as suggested on the same line. A sea shell? A worry stone that your grandpa kept in his pocket?
Also, some students don’t have many religious phrases or memories. And that’s okay. I just suggest focusing on another regular activity they remember… a family reunion or Christmas morning, for example.
Template and Link No. 2:
As for me, I found that this Scholastic template wasn’t specific enough. Simply listing sensory experiences didn’t spur a sufficient number of specific memories and ideas to craft the poem. My students needed more direct prompting and a structure that more directly mirrored Lyons’ original poem. Template no. 1 did the trick.
Template and Link No. 3:
This template, which I found in a Google search late at night during a mad rush of lesson planning (LOL!), combines the poem with a visual project.
While I’ve never asked students to create an accompanying visual to complement their poems, it might make an interesting project for your back-to-school open house, a Mother’s Day gift, or merely an extension activity.
As for the actual poem template, I like how it calls out specific parts of speech. This format is also very specific with regard to the words students are to write into the blanks. In my experience, middle schoolers will find the line in the template below that reads “It tasted / sounded / looked / felt – choose one)_________” too stifling and possibly confusing.
I do, however, like that this poem is part of a larger project that allows kids to draw, gather mementos, and show some added creativity.
There. Those three templates should get you started.
If you haven’t tried Where I’m From poems, consider adding them to your lesson planning for fall. Support your young writers with some student-written mentor texts (click here for those links), George Ella Lyons’ original poem, and your own Where I’m From verse and I’m sure you’ll love it just as much as I and many other ELA teachers do!