Getting to know you activities at the start of the school year can take many forms; this year, I tried a new approach by using poetry as a way of
connecting personally with students, and
making a quick assessment of student writing and 'soft skills' such as following directions and attention to time and care for assignments
One of my goals this year is to work on building a strong learning community in my classroom and that means making our shared experiences personally connected as much as possible. By creating and listening to poems about their childhood memories, students will notice similarities in their life history, interests, and experiences in ways that can inform my role as their teacher and help facilitate trusting relationships between my students.
My other goal is to draw in those kids who come in to class on the first day telling me that they aren't very science oriented. By starting with a visual and creative writing activity, I am thinking I can catch their attention and allow them the creative outlet that they may not see as part of the science process and classroom--yet!
In the past, I have done other activities such as having students create concept maps telling me about themselves as a student/individual. What I found is that it was a very stilted communication that happened only between the two of us and did not really stretch out to the entire class even though the maps were posted around the room. The thoughts that went into my planning of this lesson are something I talk about in this short video.
My class just completed this activity and I was thrilled to see that the students have been engaged in every aspect of our activity and encouraging of each other as they presented to the class. Students loved sharing their artifacts, were brave about presenting to the group our first two weeks of school, and the responses from the audience were a sign that we are on the right path to building community, empathy and respect.
Start the class by sharing one of the sample poems listed in this packet of source materials. Or, use one you have created yourself from your own 'Where I'm from' narrative. Once you have done that, introduce the task for every student to write their own "Where I'm from" poem to share and pass out the written guidelines for the activity for them to take home with them.
This lesson comes from "Where I'm From: Inviting Students' Lives into the Classroom" by Linda Christiansen, found in Rethinking Our Classrooms: Teaching for Equity and Justice Vol. 2 (2001).
1. Share with students that the key to a great poem is descriptive language that really draws the reader into the author's experiences.
2. Introduce students to the pre-writing tool that students will fill in to help them think about what ideas they would like to include in their poem. The chart includes category prompts for different kinds of words they might use in their poems to evoke important memories or ideas. Go through each category.
3. Allow students time to work quietly on their own reflecting and writing descriptive words. For this portion of the lesson, put some quiet music to help students get in the creative, reflective mindset that will lead to a great list of words they can use to build their poems.
1. Once students have finished their pre-writing activity, announce that it is time to begin their poem creation. Suggested guidelines for this activity are:
2. You will find that students want to see/hear your examples of other "Where I'm From" poems to help them get started. Reminding students of the 'show time and care' directive really helps to alleviate any anxiety about expectations of their work as they go home and continue to create and revise their poems.
Students may approach you to discuss the possibility of creating their poem in a different way. In my experience, the students who do this will have very serious and well-thought out justifications for their request! Because this is a personalized activity in which students are sharing parts of themselves, I encouraged students who came to me to make the assignment fit their needs and interests. The results add complexity, variety, and interest to the work and the discussions students have with the audience after each group presentation.
1. On the due date, each lab table of four students will share their poems with each other for about 10 minutes. The goal is to provide students time to practice their poem out loud before doing so for the class, something especially important for our ELL students.
2. Each day for the rest of the week, each lab group will share out their poems with the class. Ask one rockstar lab group to volunteer. Write out the presentation protocol on the board:
This is the time to be encouraging to the point of comical! As the group comes up to the front, encourage the class to snap, clap in the round, or whatever other fun way they can think of to show their appreciation to the group reading their personalized work during our first week of school together. Put up some presentation guidelines (we brainstormed a list of four key points to good public speaking: volume, enunciation, posture/stance, and eye contact) and asking each student to pick one that they will attempt to embody while they presented their poems made a significant difference in the audience experience of hearing them read aloud.
3. After the poems have been read, ask for the audience to share at least 2 comments. Two potential sentence starters on the board can help with this process:
"What I liked best about your poem was…"
"Your poem reminds me/makes me think of…"
3. As each small student group shares out over our second week together, they can post their poem in the classroom until the class has finished building their first wall of work together. Our wall is still evolving as students have chosen to change what it looks like over the past two weeks. I am happy to see them take interest in and ownership of our room! Student poems ranged from a geometric art piece, a passport theme that mirrored her family's many moves, one that was created with craft paper scraps mentioned in the poem, and another that focused on childhood soccer memories.
I'm really excited to see how this initial getting to know you activity turns out! Let me know how your experience goes too. :)
This year I expanded upon our poetry exploration into storytelling. Students had the option of either creating a poem or a neighborhood map. If they chose to create a map, their goal was to use that map as an idea generator to inspire a story that they could tell us. The map could be an actual map of their neighborhood or any other representation of the space they were taking us to with their words: collage, stick figure drawings, word maps, anything. And 'neighborhood' could mean any space that had meaning for them: a house or apartment, a special spot in the part, a family vacation place or Boy Scout campground, you name it and it works! It is important to talk about the aspects that make a story great:
It has a beginning, a middle, and an end
The language is descriptive and connects the listener to the map and the memory
It inspires the speaker to be excited/happy/invested in their retelling
I post examples here soon! :)