I enjoy bringing new life to old concepts. When it comes to poetry, I see a lot of the same examples that were in my textbooks as a teenager, which isn’t all bad, but there are some opportunities to bring something new to students while still keeping the essence of what’s truly important. In this post, I’ll show you my alternative lesson to the “from” poem by teaching “My Honest Poem” by Rudy Francisco.
What’s a “from” poem?
A “from” poem is a type of form poem. Meaning it follows a formula to complete. You might also hear it called an “I am” poem. Essentially, students fill in information about themselves to mimic the essence of the original George Ella Lyon “Where I’m From” poem. It’s a great poem to use. I love the template because it allows student to have access to the world of poetry by following a clear structure. However, once your students get to your class, they may have already done a “from” poem many times.
What is the “My Honest Poem”?
This poem is a contemporary example that students can also use as a formula. I like this poem as an alternative for a number of reasons. One is the fact it is a contemporary piece, and you can find clips of Rudy Francisco’s performances online. There’s something really powerful in seeing an author read their own work, with the inflections they intended, the expressions they give to certain lines.
I also think it does the same job as the “from” poems, but in a fresh way. While many students may recognize the structure of a “from” poem from previous years, having a new set of criteria brings about motivation. It’s absolutely the same format. Students use a brainstorming sheet or fill-in-the-blank worksheets to get the vibe of the poem in their own words – but it also doesn’t have to be left as strictly fill-in-the-blank. Using a contemporary poem, specifically “spoken word” poetry, opens up the door for discussion about modern poetry and the opportunity to explore other poets.
Where to Begin
I always start with bell ringers or warm-ups because I find them essential for student motivation. For this lesson, I use an episode from Poetry Unbound. Students might take note of a particular poetic device (which we would have reviewed in a previous lesson). Or, they may focus on the meaning of the title before and after listening.
After the bell ringer, I give students a handout to brainstorm poetry. Students should fill it out and chat with each other if they need to gather information. This gets them thinking about themselves (or interviewing each other about what others think of them) before they interact with the “My Honest Poem” and see how it’s formulated.
Poem Example and Discussion
Students then watch the performance of “My Honest Poem” and follow along with the full text I either display or pass out individually. Students complete the TP-CASTT handout about the poem and, once complete, discuss the content and delivery. I group my students in a variety of ways, depending on their nature and abilities. Some classes do better with group discussions, while others work with think-pair-share groups. Students benefit by having some discussion questions available to them, such as asking what makes a “good” spoken poem or what makes a “good” performance of poetry.
Write Their Own
At this point, I will have students continue working on their brainstorming handout to write a personal version of Francisco’s poem. I don’t typically have students finish in the same class period, and I let it bleed over into the next day. I want students to have ample time to work on not only mimicking the structure but also thinking about how to make it personal to them. Where can they put their own spin? What honest things about themselves do they want to think about before sharing it?
Ways to Differentiate
Emergent learners or ESOL students may benefit from having extra time explaining and discussing spoken word poetry. They may also benefit from watching the clip twice so they can listen with intent and make notes while watching. I would also take time to review any graphic organizer and complete one step at a time as a whole class. Move from section to section together. Students may also benefit from working through the full organizers as pairs or having scheduled “regrouping” points.
Ask students who are looking for a challenge to match some of the play-on-words that Francisco uses in his poem. When working on their brainstorming handout to draft their own, they can add depth and creativity to their personalized version.
This lesson can be found in the English Teacher Vault, which you can join here. The Vault includes the handouts that were mentioned here and additional resources you might find helpful in teaching this lesson. I also have included some suggested recent episodes of Poetry Unbound that your students might enjoy. You can find this lesson and many more when you sign up for the Vault!