Welcome to Biology Class! Getting to Know Each Other Through Poetry

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Objective

Students will be able to utilize pre- and creative writing techniques to create and share an original "Where I'm From" poem.

Big Idea

Build classroom community, practice public speaking, and introduce group sharing norms by brainstorming, creating, and sharing student poems!

Notes for the Teacher

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

building community
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. 

The Classroom Flow: Introduction

10 minutes

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).

The Classroom Flow: Prewriting

15 minutes

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.  

  • Note:  Students may ask if they can add in their own category--yes!  This is a tool for them as writers and as such, they can modify it to meet their personal needs.  

 

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.

  • Note:  Students will want to know if they have to use all of the words they write into their pre-writing chart.  Remind them that this activity is to allow them to really get into the heart of what memories have influenced them and that they would like to share with others.  Also share with them that the more words they are able to list out, the more inspirations they will have to choose from when they are writing and illustrating their poems.

The Classroom Flow: Poem Creation, First Draft

15 minutes

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:

    • poems must have at least 3-4 stanzas
    • they must be visually attractive, showing time and care
    • every student will bring one artifact (a photo, an object, etc.) that represents the theme of "Where I'm From."
    • every student will share their poem out loud with the class and post it on our classroom bulletin board so we can all enjoy them throughout the semester.

 

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.   

  • Note:  I envision this poem to be visually attractive, with images students draw or find, and artifacts they bring in from home.  This activity is all about setting the tone for our year together and encouraging students to think in a visual/graphic way as they plan, learn, and express themselves for public view and comment is one of my teaching and learning themes for our class.   

 

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. 

Presenting "Where I'm From"

10 minutes

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.

  • Note:  One of the great outcomes of public work is that some students will see the level of quality around the room and then quietly approach me to ask for more time to make their poem even better.  This is exactly what I want to see students do in terms of meeting high expectations and being persistent and assertive!  My answer is always yes. 


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:

    • one lab group team gets up as a group and stands at the front of the class.  
    • one person says their name and then slowly reads their poem
    • each member of the group takes their turn saying their name and sharing their poem
    • as an audience, we clap after each poem.  

 

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…"

  • Note:  I use these sentence starters because I want to reinforce and model positive communication between students as we start the year together, especially when they are sharing personalized work like visual art, personal experiences, and individual points of view. I found that I minimized this aspect of the lesson more than I had initially envisioned because the kids were clearly being asked to step out of their comfort zone already by presenting so early in the year.  I was very proud of their work in front of their classmates!


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.  :) 

Poetry and More the Second Time Around

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! :)