'Where I'm From' Poems: Making Connections to Home

This issue is dedicated to developing a sense of place about the polar regions, two places which are literally at the “ends of the earth.” While fascinating and relevant, Antarctica and the Arctic can seem unconnected to students’ daily lives. To make these regions more meaningful, we once again turn to the research-based strategy of identifying similarities and differences (see the article Identifying Similarities and Differences for more information). Instead of comparing the Arctic and Antarctica, though, have your students compare the polar regions and their home. Reading poetry about the polar regions and then writing poems about home provide an alternative to the traditional Venn Diagrams and other graphic organizers.

An elementary school teacher in Anchorage, Alaska, (we’ll call her Ms. K) developed a lesson plan for writing sensory poems as part of a unit on poetry. She then asked her students to use the model to write poems describing their home through one of the five senses for each season of the year. The results – poems all ending with the common “That’s Alaska, where I’m from” – give us a glimpse into what it might be like to live in a sub-Arctic area. We’ve briefly described her lesson plan and highlighted some samples of student work. These poems can be used to build students’ content knowledge about Alaska, and then prompt writing similar poems about home.

Many elementary school teachers may be familiar with George Ella Lyon’s poem Where I’m From. Her book Where I’m From, Where Poems Come From has inspired poetry writing in classrooms everywhere. Check it out if you are interested in other types of poems that make connections to home.


Lesson Plan

Lesson Title: “Where I’m From” Poems

Grade Levels: This activity can be modified for use with all elementary students. Primary students may need help brainstorming and writing. Upper-elementary students should be able to complete poems independently, and can begin to use figurative language to extend the images in their poems.

Goals: Students will identify and use imagery and sensory/descriptive language.

Students will compose a poem that reflects a personal view of Alaska.

Context: This lesson was developed as part of a poetry unit, which had this goal: Students will compose poetry capturing themes and voices they have studied and learning to add their own voice and contribution to literature.

The “Where I’m From” poems are included in a personal poetry book. The students wrote several poems and found poetry from published authors. Each book included student- and teacher-selected poems from published authors, class poems, and student written poems.

Activity:

  1. The teacher leads the class in brainstorming words and phrases that fit into each sense and are related to your town or state. The teacher uses columns (one per sense) to list ideas on the board.
  2. The teacher helps students use the model (below) to write a class poem about the town or state, using the brainstormed words and phrases.

Sensory Poem Model

The sight of…
The taste of…
The touch of…
The sound of…
The smell of…

That’s _______, where I’m from.

Teachers may want to add descriptive words – “The strong smell” or “The loud sound” – to the poem model.

  1. The students write their own poems, using the model and class poems as guidelines. Ms. K. asked her students to write four poems – one for each season. Students were allowed to “borrow” one phrase from the class poem if needed, though many chose to use their own ideas. You can modify the assignment to suit your needs.

Assessment: Ms. K. assessed her students’ poetry books using a rubric. You could choose to assess the individual poems with this rubric created with RubiStar.


Student Work

Winter in Alaska

Glaciers
The sight of blue ice on glaciers,
The sound of silty water flowing through creeks,
The taste of snow,
The smell of fresh air,
The touch of cold ice,
That’s Alaska, where I’m from.

Winter
The taste of moose stew,
The sound of jingle bells,
The smell of stinky hockey gear,
The sight of the Northern lights,
The touch of ice,
That’s Alaska, where I’m from.


Spring in Alaska

Iditarod
The taste of cold apple cider on cold trails,
The sound of dogs barking,
The smell of pine,
The sight of beautiful sled dogs,
The touch of warm cozy snow gear,
That’s Alaska, where I’m from.

Spring
The taste of King Salmon,
The sound of a newborn moose,
The smell of wild flowers,
The sight of snow melting,
The touch of warm sunshine,
That’s Alaska, where I’m from.


Autumn in Alaska

Fall
The touch of dead grass,
The sound of dry twigs cracking,
The sight of orange leaves falling,
The smell of wood smoke,
The taste of raspberries,
That’s Alaska, where I’m from.


Summer in Alaska

Summer
The taste of fresh caught halibut,
The sound of running water,
The smell of fireweed,
The sight of Denali on a clear blue day,
The touch of gold nuggets,
That’s Alaska, where I’m from.


Share these poems with your students and have them write their own. What would they say about where they’re from?


This article was written by Jessica Fries-Gaither. For more information, see the Contributors page. Email Jessica at beyondpenguins@msteacher.org .

Copyright March 2008 – The Ohio State University. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0733024. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. This work is licensed under an Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons license.

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