"Where I'm From" Poetry
- Create a memory map that outlines important details of cherished memories
- Write a poem that emulates George Ella Lyons’ original “Where I’m From” poem
Culturally-responsive teaching practices, such as inviting students to share about their identities, histories, and cultures, help create a more inclusive, welcoming classroom environment in which all students feel validated and welcomed. Furthermore, creating this sense of belonging has a powerful impact on students’ academic and social development. Educators should encourage students to practice self-awareness as they write their poems, and perspective taking and inclusivity as they seek to learn more about their peers’ identities from their poetry.
To learn more about these skills, and how they promote students’ healthy growth and the development of empathy, please check out our Empathy Framework.
- “Where I’m From” mentor texts
- “Where I’m From” handout (three copies for each student)
- Audio recording of George Ella Lyon reading “Where I’m From”
- Begin the activity by sharing that today, students will be reading a well-known poem called “Where I’m From” by George Ella Lyon. Then, they will analyze the poem’s structure and learn how to write a similar poem.
- Open the audio link to George Ella Lyon reading her original “Where I’m From” poem, and ensure that students have access to the poem’s text (located on the first page of the “Where I’m From” mentor texts). You can either project the poem on a board, or distribute a copy to each student.
As you listen to the recording, suggest that students close their eyes (if they feel comfortable) and visualize the images that are being shared. Encourage them to concentrate on the overall picture depicted in the poem, rather than getting caught up on specific words or names that may be unfamiliar to them.
- After students have listened to the poem, give them a moment to read through the text of the poem. Then, ask the following questions:
• Which words or phrases are unfamiliar to you? What do you think they might mean?
• Which people, places, and things were mentioned in the poem? Do you know their significance to the writer?
• Did you personally connect to any of the images in the poem?
• What do you notice about the structure of the poem? Are there certain lines or words that are repeated?
• What did you learn about the writer after hearing the poem?
After discussing Lyon’s poem, consider repeating the analysis with one of the other mentor texts, which were written by other students, which may help the format feel more relatable and clear.
- Next, ask students to think about three memories from their lives that are particularly significant to them. Give them fifteen minutes (five minutes per memory) to free-write about them.
Encourage them to focus on the details of the memory, such as the other people present, the sensory details, and the setting, rather than using perfect grammar and spelling. Students can also draw pictures of their memories and label the important details.
- After students have completed their free-writes, they will create a memory map to brainstorm ideas for their own poem. To do this, they should use the “Where I’m From” handout to record more details about each memory. Students will list a three-word summary of their memories, the settings of their memories, other people that were present, and any sensory details that they remember. These are all elements that can be used in their final poems.
- After students have mapped out their memories, they can use the information to begin writing their poem. The poem’s shape is entirely up to the students, but if they’d like to stay true to the original, they can begin with the phrase: “I am from.” This phrase can also be repeated throughout their poem.
Below, there are three additional formatting suggestions if students need help getting started:
Each stanza is a pair of lines. The first line begins with “I am from…” and includes a concrete detail from their memory map, and the second line describes that detail, such as the example below.
I am from a state shaped like a hand,
surrounded by 5 lakes, so Great.
I am from Vernors and Better Made Barbeque.
I can feel the bubbles itching my nose.
Each stanza acts as a list, and the different details presented all fit into specific categories. In the example below, the first stanza is about places, and the second stanza is about food.
I am from hot, sandy summers,
and sunsets on the shore of Lake Michigan.
From time traveling at Greenfield Village and the Henry Ford,
reliving and learning from history.
I’m from Vernors and fried chicken Hanis
after Friday night football games.
From french fries dipped in strawberry milkshakes
before play practice.
Each stanza represents their memory, as it is written out on their memory map: the three-word summary first, then the location, followed by the other people, and ending with the sensory details. The example below represents the first entry on the memory map and would include a different memory from the map as the second stanza.
I am from hot, sandy summers
on the shores of Lake Michigan
from beach volleyball with Rori and
the Kite Festival with Brandon
Where the wind whistled in my ears, and the sun burnt my skin to a crisp red
Because I never remembered sunscreen.
- Once students have finished their poems, invite volunteers to read their pieces aloud for the class. They can read their entire poem, or even just a single stanza that they love.
- Afterwards, engage them in a reflection by asking the following questions:
• What did you think about the process of analyzing a well-known poem with the intention of finding inspiration to write your own poem?
• What did you learn about writing (and yourself) through this process?
• How did listening to your classmates' poems provide insights into their unique perspectives and experiences?
• Did you notice any similarities or differences in the memories that you and your classmates described?
• How did this activity help you understand your classmates better through the memories they chose to share?
If students in both classes have individual devices (e.g., mobile phone, tablet, laptop, etc.)...
Use a platform such as Google Meet, Zoom, or Microsoft Teams which allows you to screen-share during a video call.
One educator should set up the Kahoot! game and share the code with students in both classes by following this tutorial about using Kahoot! in a remote learning environment, and share their screen so everyone can follow along.
If students in either class don’t have individual devices...
Follow the same instructions above, with one educator starting the game and sharing their screen so both classes can follow along.
Instead of students joining the game to answer the questions, they can hold up their fingers, call out their answer, or use a paper template to indicate their response.