Making Meaning from the Past
Teacher:  Rozlyn Truss

Overview: Students use Ella Lyon’s autobiographical poem, "Where I’m From" as the impetus to critically reflect on key images, memories, and events from their own lives and communities. They define their own history and heritage, examining how they are often displaced. They then strategize effective ways to reclaim, acknowledge and/or celebrate that heritage.

Materials: Ella Lyon’s autobiographical poem, "Where I’m From"

Time: approximately two thirty minute sessions

Instructional Sequence:

Part 1:

  1. Seated in a circle, the teacher introduces Ella Lyon’s poem, "Where I’m From". The teacher and students read the poem aloud and discuss patterns.

  2. The teacher reads his/her own personal version of the poem. Students are asked to record at least three key words or phrases that stand out as the teacher shares.

  3. Each student writes one sentence that describes a memory or event from his/her childhood. (Direct students to follow the format "I am from…".

  4. Students share the sentences and explain why they selected this memory.

  5. Teacher shares other versions of Ella’s poems with the students.

  6. Challenge students to describe/identify where this person may be from geographically. Encourage students to make judgments, evaluate and suggest changes for the poems they have heard.

  7. Instruct students to create the following lists based upon their own community, history, preferences, and heritage.
    • Sayings
    • Names of foods
    • Hobbies and interests
    • Items found around their home
    • Stereotypes or ideas associated with their community
    • Pop culture relevant to their lives
    • Challenge student to create at least one line using at least one item from each list beginning with "Where I’m From". (This may be a homework assignment.)


Part 2:

  1. Post model poems around the room. Highlight specific lines students found striking from the teacher’s own poems and post.|

  2. Encourage others in the school to write a "Where I am From Poem" as well.

  3. Post as many examples of what this poem can look like when it is completed.

  4. Encourage students to borrow techniques they see. (Focus on content, not structure.)

  5. Students share their work. Students raise their hands to comment on what they liked about each piece.

  6. Polish with peer editing.

  7. Publish and illustrate.

Evaluation: Students are evaluated on their completion of each step of the project and the quality of the final poem and illustration.


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