My students are wrapping up an activity in which they use George Ella Lyon's poem, Where I'm From as a model for a free verse poem of their own. This is an activity that Nancie Atwell outlines in her book Naming the World. Her students developed a questionnaire which they used to interview their parents and grandparents to gather material for their poems, and we use a version of that, too.
Ours is a chart that has space for the answers to 12 questions in four columns. One for mother, one for father, one for grandparent, and one for other. One of our students has two dads, so before I gave the sheet out this year, I changed the first two columns to "parent." The questions are about nicknames and birthplaces, toys, games and hobbies, favorite books, candy, TV shows, and singers, hip expressions, heroes and hoped for careers.
We have several adopted and foster kids on the team this year, and many of our students and/or their parents were born in countries other than the United States. It was difficult for some kids to gather much information about the lives of the people in their family. It was also challenging for them to fit some of the non-traditional details of their lives into the template based on Lyon's poem. We talked our way through it, though, and everyone wrote a poem of which they were very proud.
We have one student, who was born in India and adopted into a family with a brother from Vietnam and a sister from Guatemala. Her mom e-mailed this morning to say how touched their family was by the poem. Her daughter wrote, in part:
I am from black shoes,
from Razzles and Legos.
I am from the crowded streets of India,
hot and noisy...
I am from watching American Idol
and arguing about the results.
I am from jocks and book worms,
from "Stop talking!" and "Do your homework!"
... from the love of my parents
when they tuck me in at night,
the funniness of my brother,
and the grumpiness of my sister.
I am from the wooden box in my parents' room
filled with pictures,
and all the things in my family
that make us who we are.
What can I say? It's a great assignment. They were all that sweet.