Poetry Friday: Starting the school year with "Where I’m From"

Poetry Friday is hosted by Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect 
Next Thursday will mark the start of our yearlong, every-Thursday poetry study.   I usually begin with a summer poem, one my kids will immediately connect with and easily free-write in response to.  This year I want to start with a poem that is more self reflective, a poem that makes them think about who they are, and what influences their lives: George Ella Lyon’s “Where I’m From”.

Where I’m From

I am from clothespins,
from Clorox and carbon-tetrachloride.
I am from the dirt under the back porch.
(Black, glistening,
it tasted like beets.)
I am from the forsythia bush
the Dutch elm
whose long-gone limbs I remember
as if they were my own.
I’m from fudge and eyeglasses,
          from Imogene and Alafair.
I’m from the know-it-alls
          and the pass-it-ons,
from Perk up! and Pipe down!
I’m from He restoreth my soul
          with a cottonball lamb
          and ten verses I can say myself.
You can read the rest of the poem here, the poet’s own website.

I’ve seen this poem taught in format style, where the teacher hands out a template for students to fill in.  That’s anathema to me – it defeats the purpose of poetry, and reduces what should be a reflective process into a fill-in-the-blanks activity.  Lyon provides some imaginative teaching ideas on her website, and I think this will be my approach as well.  
Also on her website are these amazing digital versions of “Where I’m From”, the first by a student (my favorite) and then one by Lyon herself:

This might be a poem I want to revisit at the end of the school year, perhaps in digital story-telling form.  It would be interesting to see how my students’ perceptions have changed, how they’ve grown and matured in their first year of middle school. 
This must be the year for George Ella Lyon in my classroom, because I will be starting Reading Workshop with her (now out of print) “Book”  – a  free verse poem, set to lovely paintings by Peter Catalanotto, about the joys and wonder of reading.

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3 thoughts on “Poetry Friday: Starting the school year with "Where I’m From"

  1. Hi Tara, I love your beginning ideas for using this poem, and the follow-up 'doing' at the end of the year will be interesting, as you imagine. I also got the chance to see the videos from previous post-so good to see such teaching in action! Thanks for all the info! Hope your year has a terrific beginning!

  2. I love "Where I'm From" and use it every year. It is a great mentor text for those kids who think they can't write poetry. I am always amazed at the quality of writing I find when I use this.

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