Three printable templates for Where I’m From poems

Photo by Santi Vedrí on Unsplash

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.

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:

Try this template from Scholastic if you think it might work for your students. Get it by clicking here.

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!


Thanks for reading! If you’ve tried George Ella Lyons’ Where I’m From poems, let me know your thoughts and experiences. Click like, share a comment, and become a follower for more ELA posts like this one! Here’s a link to another recent post on acrostic poems and distance learning.

“Where I’m From” Poems: download these mentor texts written by students

Photo by Liam Anderson from Pexels

Share these examples with students to help them create their poetic personal histories

Where I’m From poems are one of my favorite poetry assignments, and one of the best ways to get kids invested in writing their own is to show them some examples written by other students.

In case you’re unfamiliar with Where I’m From poems, check out this post I wrote a year ago.

George Ella Lyon

In short, Where I’m From poems allow kids to use specific details from their lives, including their families, likes, and dislikes, to create a highly personal free verse poem.

After introducing kids to George Ella Lyon, the author, poet and creator of the original Where I’m From poem, we discuss and share the concrete details (clothespins, a, cottonball lamb, dirt that tastes like beets) from her poem that especially struck chords within us as we read and listened. Click here for a PDF from Scholastic of Lyon’s original poem.

I then show students four examples written by other middle school schoolers so they can get an idea of how to adapt the structure of Lyon’s poem to their own personal history. By the way, Lyon has written this memoir/how-to book about the Where I’m From poem that might spur some ideas for teaching this poem in your class. I haven’t read the book, but the information provided on Amazon about it pique my interest.

Here’s one of the student-written mentor texts:

Where  I’m From

I am from a Hello Kitty toy box,

From a yellow-trimmed blanket with Winnie the Pooh.

I am from a hot driveway that burns your feet

And a red brick mailbox at the end of the driveway.

I am from horses and a green garden,

Where I look out onto a pasture.

I am from glittery lip gloss and fairy wings,

From Dunn and Matson.

I am from brown hair and eyes,

And from “Always be a lady,”

From tea parties with extra sugar.

I am from egg salad after church.

I am from Jim and Dee,

From Kraft mac and cheese and no-bake cookies,

From asking questions about the grandmother I never knew

And from spending nights with the one I did know.

I am from swinging on green willow trees with my brothers.

I am from those moments of sitting with everyone,

Contemplating what the future will be like.

Melanie D., Grade 7

And here’s the link to the Google Doc:

To receive this poem plus three more written by sixth- and seventh-grade boys and girls, click here for a Google Doc to download.

These poems were a favorite activity for my middle school students in my previous teaching position. At my new high school position (where I teach juniors and seniors), students create these poems as freshmen.

It’s always interesting to read their poems in the hallway after the activity is over, but I do miss having students write them in my classes.


Thanks for reading again this week! Mentor texts are a huge help when presenting writing assignments. When I realized I hadn’t included any in my original Where I’m From poem post, I knew I had to share those with you today. Feel free to click like, leave a comment, and become a follower for more posts like this one.

Corona virus acrostic poems perk up distance learning

Students create acrostic poems to document the pandemic

My students learned from home since March 17 until yesterday when the school year officially ended. As part of their distance learning, I asked students to write a couple of paragraphs every other day or so for a “Life in the Time of Corona” journal.

This journal, which we will finish in the fall, will document their personal experience during the global pandemic.

I got the idea for students to create these journals thanks to a tweet from Kelly Gallagher in March. Here’s the assignment sheet I created to guide students through the journal assignment.

To add variety to their journals, I suggested that students illustrate life during the pandemic by creating an acrostic poem… a poem where certain letters in each line spell out a word or phrase. In this case, students used terms such as corona virus, COVID-19, or pandemic, and so on.

As you can see, the acrostic poems below exhibit varying levels of quality. That seems to be a common by-product of distance learning. Several factors affect the amounts of effort students spend on a distance learning assignment.

These factors include:

  • Internet access (especially having strong, reliable service)
  • Support from parents (who may have to continue to work jobs outside the home)
  • Jobs (part-time or other that a student works)
  • Family responsibilities (such as students having to care for younger siblings during the day)

Regardless, I’m glad some students chose to make an acrostic poem to add some variety to their journals. It’s interesting to see how word choice and ideas reveal the concerns and individual personalities of my students. Enjoy!







Thanks for reading! As of yesterday, school is now officially out for the summer. I made it through my first year teaching high school with new curriculum, new students, new co-workers, and new experiences dealing with COVID-19 and distance learning. I plan to continue to post during the summer. Feel free to leave a like, share a comment or become a follower!

Something there is that doesn’t love a Coronavirus pandemic

Photo by Evgeny Dzhumaev on Unsplash

The coronavirus and Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall”

Holed up at home at my dining room table, I’m continuing with my lesson planning as scheduled during our two-week school closing. After our recent Ernest Hemingway unit concluded last week, my plan was to introduce my juniors to Robert Frost.

Lucky them.

Frost’s poetry is poignant, honest, and direct and comments beautifully on personal wonderings, human relationships, and living in general. I always find Frost’s work to be rejuvenating and clarifying.

My plans call for students to first read Frost’s “Mending Wall,” and then “Birches,” and finally, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” Once we return to school, we’ll tackle “The Road Not Taken.”

On my distance learning plan for today, I scheduled my juniors to read some short biographical background articles on Frost in our textbook.

Robert Frost in 1910 Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Then, they were to freewrite in response to a prompt designed to prepare them for reading “Mending Wall.”

“Mending Wall” is one of Frost’s most well-known poems. It’s about the barriers that people use (and often work darn hard to maintain, by the way) to keep others at a distance. Here’s the freewriting prompt my students have for today:

“Think about the people who live near you. Do you see them often? Are you good friends, or do you barely speak? What activities, if any, bring you together? What things keep you apart?”

When I first read this prompt, I thought of the coronavirus.

What brings us together? Coronavirus. What keeps us apart? Coronavirus.

Yes, the coronavirus is literally keeping us apart. Social distancing is the new buzzword and best practice.

However, we can also say that the coronavirus pandemic and school closings are bringing us together. For example, I’m emailing regularly with one of our neighbors, an elderly woman who lives across the street. Before the social distancing began, even though she lives just across the way, our busy schedules prevented us from seeing her outside of our weekly meet-up at church (which is now cancelled indefinitely, of course). However, now, due to the coronavirus, we’ve had more contact with her this week than we usually do.

Bottom line: the walls that keep us from more regular contact with our neighbor — busy schedules — don’t have to exist. And that’s what Frost is getting at with “Mending Wall,” his little poem that questions why humans erect and then maintain barriers that distance themselves from those nearby.

And that brings me back (yet again) to another reason why I love Robert Frost. His work, and “Mending Wall” in particular, is as relevant today — possibly more so — than it was when it was written in 1914.

And that’s a good reason to stick to my regularly scheduled lesson plans during this two-week school closure.

My daughter took this picture of me visiting Robert Frost’s grave in Bennington, Vermont in 2002.

Thanks for reading! I’m writing daily about my Life in the Time of Corona along with my students. We are journaling and keeping artifacts from this time of school closings and social distancing to document this history. Since I think a great deal about school and lesson planning, my daily journaling about the pandemic and this blog naturally coincide.

Feel free to leave a comment about the lessons you have planned for the school closing.

Photo Friday Eve: Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon

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This is educator and innovator Austin Kleon’s book, Steal Like An Artist.

Happy Friday Eve!

This is a quick pic of Austin Kleon’s book,Steal Like An Artist. In this book, Kleon, the inventor of black-out poetry, discusses creativity, the values of unplugging from technology to create, and tips for producing more.

He offers up some solid ideas that I found particularly helpful. Here are two:

  1. Don’t throw any of yourself away. If you have two or three real passions, don’t feel like you have to pick and choose between them. Don’t discard. Keep all your passions in your life. 

I love this idea! I often feel like I have no focus with my writing. For example, on my personal blog, I write about travel destinations and parenting. I also have some personal narratives and short stories along with some more serious education-related essays that I’ve reposted from this blog. But that’s not all! I’ve also posted three random reviews of Ed Sheeran concerts I’ve seen. I’ve often thought Wow, I need to focus. Reading Kleon’s advice to keep cultivating all these parts of my writing was reassuring. I need to trust that all these topics have a reason for being explored. This next tip is closely related:

2.  Don’t worry about unity from piece to piece. What unifies all of your work is the fact that you made it.

Ahhh! That’s so good to hear! To know that there are benefits to writing about myriad topics. Again, I love how Kleon believes branching out and cultivating a variety of works is perfectly okay. That’s a good thing that someone with diverse interests like me needs to hear.


Thanks for stopping by! Kleon’s book is worth a look-see, not only for your own use, but for use in the classroom to cultivate and encourage creativity. Follow my blog for more posts about teaching ELA in a high school classroom. Here’s a recent post: Treasured Object Poems: A favorite poetry activity for all grades

Treasured Object Poems: A favorite poetry activity for all grades

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Photo by Marcos Paulo Prado on Unsplash

In this post: Treasured Object Poems mentor texts and lesson tips

Need a fun poetry activity to use with your students? One that will also hone their sensory language and revision skills?

Show them how to write a short free-verse poem about an object they value. Paying tribute to a precious personal item encourages them to think positively about their lives and builds their creative writing skills.

After you first explain the poem, if your students are like mine, one of the very first responses you’ll hear is, “But I don’t have anything that I treasure.”

When that happens, I elaborate. I ask them,

“Okay, if the fire alarm in your house went off, and you had to get out NOW, what two or three things would you grab?”

One of these things might be the perfect thing for a Treasured Object Poem.

To get started, hold a conversation to get students talking about their favorite things. Students of mine have written about a necklace from Grandma, their turquoise Converse, a pocket watch, a fishing rod, a book, a special hoodie, and more.

To help them get ideas, I also provide mentor texts former students have written.

 

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This is the handout for the Treasured Object Poem project. This handout is kept in a manila folder in the rack of writing projects that students complete during our Writer’s Workshop.

 

This year, I wrote my own Treasured Object poem and shared it with my classes. I donned my awesome ’90s vintage bomber jacket, and read the following example: 

My ’90s Bomber Jacket

Thick and heavy, warm and supple

Chocolate brown leather, a world map lining

Four pockets to hold:

Gloves, change, Kleenexes, icy fingers.

Oversized,

It clothes me in comfort

Distressed,

It encloses me in memories from

Years of travel from

Minnesota to Maine,

Vermont to Florida.

Oregon to Kansas.

My trendy friend found years ago

In a Phoenix boutique

Is now classic outerwear and

Perfect for…

Ever.

 

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I couldn’t resist showing you my jacket. It’s exactly thirty years old this year!

 

Here’s a student-written example of a Treasured Object Poem:

My Old Turquoise Converse by Hailey B.

My old turquoise Converse,

tarnished with dust and dirt.

My old turquoise Converse,

laced with well-worn shoestrings.

Oh, how my old turquoise Converse

are embedded with memories.

The memories they hold include

meeting a special friend and

having rotten days.

My old turquoise Converse,

walked in only by me.

*****

Here’s another:

The Piano by Elijah D.

The piano’s mahogany stained legs stand

Arching over the flat worn pew.

Graceful as the tree it was separated from.

The shimmering finish of the basswood keys glistens.

A mild hiatus, waiting to be played by skilled hands

Keys sheltered until then.

Though, piano is my forte.

Hammers drawn crisply.

Strings unfrayed for their age.

The contrivance gives a beautiful melody, however untuned.

Dust mustn’t settle on the antiqued surface.

The high, console style backing draped in cloth.

Complemented by family photos in elegant frames.

Thoughts of my grandmother come to mind,

As it was her’s at one time.

But now, it is mine to own.

*****

And even though I encourage students to write a free verse poem, occasionally, a student will use rhyme. And that’s fine with me as long as it’s not forced. Here’s one of those:

The Rocking Horse by Devyn R.

Rocking horse, rocking horse, take me away

To faraway places and spaces to play

Farther and farther I knew we went

Across the kitchen and through the vent

Over the hills, galloping we go

When we’ll stop, I’ll never know

Back and back, my head’s in a spin

Nobody else knows the spin that I am in

Taking me places I’ve never been

As high as a bird, as fast as a fish

In the clouds, through the ocean, anywhere I wish

*****

Three ways to beef up this activity

1. Try this revision strategy:

Adding more sensory language will help these poems come to life. After first drafts have been written, have students take their poems and add:

  • one fragrance or smell
  • one sound
  • one texture
  • one taste or flavor

2. Guide your students away from these treasured object ideas:

  • Game systems, phones, and other screens… Honestly, students give enough attention to their screens. I tell students that they’ll have more success with an object that’s tangible. In other words, it’s important to be able to touch or physically experience their object. However, sometimes I give in and let them attempt a poem about their PS4, for example, so they can learn on their own that video games and virtual realities are difficult to describe with physical terms. When they invariably struggle to add sensory language to their poem, they usually change their mind on their own to something that invariably has more poetry potential.
  • Food…There’s always one student who will want to write about a food, as in “But I treasure pizza, Mrs. Yung!”  But unfortunately, such a temporal item will make their Treasured Object Poem feel insignificant. Encourage them to focus on something permanent and precious. Food disappears too quickly to deserve a poem.

3. Enter these poems in a contest.

In fact, on the handout in the photo above (it was used with my middle school students in my previous teaching position), you can see that my students limited their poems to twenty lines. This limit was placed so the students could enter their poems in Creative Communication’s Poetry Contests.  Read my blog post about this publisher here.

I hope you enjoy sharing this poetry idea with your kids. It’s always been a favorite with my own students. In addition, it’s a poem they can return to again and again as they think of other objects they treasure. Most of my students, even my high school students, surprise themselves with how much they like their final product.


Thanks for reading again this week! If you try this in your classes, feel free to let me know in the comments how it goes or drop me an email in the “Contact” menu.

 

 

 

 

 

Sometimes poetry can teach better than I can

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Take word choice, for example

Last December, when I read a student’s second draft of their Treasured Object poem and saw that it contained the word “get” four times, I thought Really? Get? Four times? 

It surprised me because I thought I had taught not only sentence variety, but word variety as well. It’s good to vary our words. Yes, a writer can repeat certain words in order to:

However, many times using the same word repeatedly —- especially a vague one like “get” — is simply a sign of lazy writing.

Here’s the second draft that a student turned in during our fall writer’s workshop:

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“Get” is a weak, vague verb as it is. And then to have four in the same short poem! Arghghgh!

In our writer’s workshop process, I simply make a few suggestions for revisions and edits on a student’s second draft. I address the most glaring issue that will help the writer improve for his or her third (and usually final) draft. In this case, the most glaring issue was the overuse of  “get.”

I circled the four “gets” and in the margins, I wrote “Replace weak verbs.” When I returned it to the student, we talked briefly. I suggested his poem would be stronger with a variety of powerful verbs mainly because the reader wouldn’t be distracted and pulled out of the poem by all the “gets.”

Here’s the student’s third and final draft:

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The poem is much stronger, don’t you think?

Sometimes it just takes a little more time to think of a better word. 

I also wondered to myself how this poem was the student’s second draft. How did the student who gave him feedback on his first draft not catch this obvious issue? Lazy editing?

Probably, I thought, acknowledging that enabling students to provide effective feedback is still one area in my high school writer’s workshop process that needs improvement.

This poem allowed a quick fix for a common problem. And it caused the unnecessary repetition to be readily recognized and quickly and effectively repaired. This is yet another reason I like teaching poetry. It truly does teach some concepts more efficiently than I can.


Thanks for reading again this week! How is your poetry practice? Do you encourage and/or assign students to write poems? Do tell. And by the way, my next post will focus on the “Treasured Object” poem. I love this easy-to-write poem that allows students to get personal and write about a belonging they wouldn’t part with for the world. Follow my blog to catch my next post!