Today I wanted to do one more writing prompt for the kids to use as a possible final draft, one that really works well with those students who are more poetically challenged. This is the classic “I Am” poem, where students write with personification, coming from the perspective of an inanimate object or abstract idea. Doing this pushes the students to look at their topic of inquiry (in this case students, or teachers in all likelihood) in a different way, considering how the object their speaking as would see their user, for example. It has a way of exposing weaknesses or issues as a way to present a theme or argument.
The first poem we work with is “I Am the People, the Mob” by Carl Sandburg, which takes the abstract notion of members of a society and speaks through them as one. This is a very well known poem, and one that has been used in the National Poetry Out Loud competition:
Here are two links to videos of it being performed by students in this competition:
While I am using this mostly as a prompt, for the students to fully understand how the personification works, and also to see some of the language devices and their effect, we will spend some time in a group discussion about the poem. When working with poetry, I like to start by asking students what words stand out, or devices, before talking about themes or meaning, so students see how they can really start from any word and build meaning by connecting that to other observations and asking questions. For example, if a student mentions “I forget” being repeated, we can then ask what it is the people are forgetting, which will lead to other words in the poem. Because I spend a great deal of time in my tenth grade classes with poems (all my students had me in tenth grade), they are very familiar with this process. With their adeptness at having strong academic discourse at this point in the year, we should be able to do this as a group discussion. However, if I feel like they are confused, I will put a word or phrase one of them suggests on the board with a circle around it, and ask them to shout out words or phrases from the poem that they connect to the word for some reason (either in the context of the poem, or because of their own connotations); when they say a word, I will ask them to state why. Once we have words on the board, they can say words that connect to any others. For example, if we start with “red drops” someone might say “death,” another might say “Lincoln” because of the Civil War, and another might state “Napoleon connecting to “Lincoln” because they were leaders. This process does essentially the same thing as the discussion explained above, but it allows for a visual map of the words students can see. After the discussion continues (or after the board is full of a word web), I will then ask what tone and themes immerge for them, based on the conversation. Additionally, it will be important in the context today to establish the effect personification has—of his writing from the point of view of the whole mob, as entry into their own writing.
After working with this poem, I will show them a more concrete “I Am” poem I wrote as an example so they can see how to capture the emotions of people through inanimate objects, like a smart phone. I did what I’m asking the students to do—spent fifteen or twenty minutes on this example, so it will be rather obvious how I’m showing how attached and obsessed students are with their phones.
After reading this model, the students will have the rest of the period to write. In the last five or ten minutes, we will do some sharing if there is time. Sometimes students will have a hard time deciding what to write about, so I will give them a topic such as the desk they are sitting in, or the notebook--something immediate they can start from.