Lesson Title: Who I am, Where I’m From Poem



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Lesson Title: Who I Am, Where I’m From Poem


Course and Grade: Sophomore English, 10th

Generalization: The main idea of this lesson is to be able to express one’s individual, unique personality as influenced by heritage and culture, through poetry; to express what one’s heritage is, where one comes from, who one is, why, and where one is going. This lesson is important so that students get to know each other, so that I as a teacher can get to know them, and create a sense of community in the classroom.

Learning Targets:

Facts: definitions of ‘heritage,’ ‘culture,’ ‘deep culture,’ and literary terms: ‘poetry,’ ‘prose,’ ‘connotation,’ ‘denotation,’ ‘simile’ and ‘metaphor.’

Skills: incorporate metaphorical language into poetry (simile or metaphor) and TPFASTT poem analysis

EL’s: Writing

1.2a choose words to convey intended message in a precise, interesting, and natural way

1.2c use figurative language and sound patterns effectively

1.2d consider connotation and denotation when choosing words

2.3e apply information gained from reading to give a response and express insight.



Materials: Lesson plan, copies of complete lesson packets, copies of the checklist for the assignment, paper, pencils, whiteboard and pens, SmartBoard, definitions of poem, prose, connotation, denotation, figurative language, simile and metaphor on the whiteboard or the SmartBoard, sound file of the song “Who I Am” and computer w/ speakers, copy of the ‘Simile School’ sketch from Almost Live.

‘Denotation’ means ‘a dictionary definition.’

Denotation of poem: A verbal or written composition designed to communicate experiences, ideas, or emotions, characterized by the use of condensed language chosen for its sound and by the use of literary techniques including (but not limited to) meter, metaphor, and rhyme.

Denotation of prose: Any ordinary, non-poetic speech or writing.

Denotation of connotation: The mental associations with a word beyond its actual dictionary definition.

Denotation of simile: A comparison of two different things using ‘like,’ ‘as,’ or ‘than.’

Denotation of metaphor: A comparison of two different things that does NOT use ‘like,’ ‘as,’ or ‘than.’

Denotation of figurative language: Any language that is not literal, including similes and metaphors.



Anticipatory Set: Have “Who I Am” playing through the computer speakers as students walk in, and turn it off once I’m done with attendance.

Read “Human Family” by Maya Angelou, and ask students to respond to it.

“What do you think is the main or most important message of this poem; what was Maya Angelou’s main point she was trying to make, that is, the theme?”

“Yes! That we are more alike than we are unalike; we’re all unique, we may all come from different cultures, but pain is pain and joy is joy and we are all part of the same human family. Our similarities are more important than our differences. Now, ‘culture’ is something that a lot of us think is just about the ethnic or racial background we have—where in the world our ancestors came from—but culture and one’s identity are much larger than that. There are some other aspects of culture and identity beyond just race and ethnicity. What your personal culture is, what has shaped you, what has made you into the person you are today; that’s what we’re going to be addressing today through the poems you write. Basically, you’re going to be writing poems today that give a sense of and explain your identities.


Context and Purpose: “My learning goals for you today are: I want you to be able to write a poem that expresses your identity, and I want you to know the definitions of ‘poetry’ and ‘prose’ as well as ‘connotation’ and ‘denotation’ and demonstrate that you comprehend all these by defining them in your own words and giving examples, which is a critical thinking skill; and also I want you to know the definitions of ‘simile’ and ‘metaphor,’ which I will know that you know when you actually use them and can highlight and correctly label them in the poem you will write. This would be applying your knowledge. So, someone tell me all the literary term definitions you need to know by the end of class.”


(Poetry, prose, simile, metaphor, denotation, connotation.) “Good. I also want you to be able to analyze a poem using a specific method known by the abbreviation TPFASTT, and I also want you to understand the concepts of culture, deep culture, and heritage, and to be able to explain these concepts to me.

Instruction: “If I were to ask you to answer these questions: Where do you come from? What is your background? You might give me some straightforward answers: Snohomish. Seattle, New York, etc. African-American, Chicano, Norwegian, Italian, Vietnamese, Japanese ... But, although these answers may tell you something about a person, these answers are not particularly interesting or creative for a poem; they don’t really tell you what matters about a person, or what matters to that person. So, instead of saying New Mexico, what are some things you could say about New Mexico; what connotations—mental associations—do you have about New Mexico?” (Brainstorm.)

“And what about cultural or ethnic or familial backgrounds? You can say what kind of income your parents have, or where you can trace your ancestry—the nations from which your ancestors came—or, you could say what aspects of your culture you still have, or which remain a presence in your life. So describe some important aspects of culture generally; not any specific culture, but what are things that are different from culture to culture, and make those cultures unique, and may still have a presence in a person’s life? How could you talk about culture in a creative way, what elements are important to talk about?” (Food, expressions, language, customs, social expectations, structure of families and relationships, obligations, responsibilities, freedoms, religion, fashion, art.) “Those are some good aspects. Simply defined, culture is a set of rules a community of people live by: rules on what to wear, how to talk, what to eat, how to dance, how and when to celebrate … it’s ‘how we do things.’ The aspects of culture that most people think of when they think of ‘culture’ are very visible to us: things like a culture’s foods, traditional costumes and holidays, music, arts, and so on. But there are lots of aspects of culture that people do not think of immediately because they are things we take for granted, they are largely unconscious, we are not aware of them, we don’t consider them to be culture because we’re so used to them. It’s like water to a fish. Born into it, surrounded by it, they could never identify it as part of their environment because it’s just always been there. That, right there, that I just used, that was a simile: like water to a fish, or like the air that we breathe. That’s what ‘deep culture’ is to us. Another example of metaphorical language or thinking to help us understand ‘deep culture’ is to represent it as an iceberg. Most of an iceberg is under the surface of the water; we can’t see it. Deep culture is like the part of the iceberg submerged below the water level. That was another simile. If I said ‘deep culture IS the part of the iceberg under the water’ that would be a metaphor. Examples of deep culture include …” (List some examples.)


“So, today we’re going to answer the question, ‘How have your traditions, culture, and heritage shaped you to be who you are?’ through the poetry we write. Now, culture includes traditions; but traditions can also be family traditions, but your heritage or background is not just what nations and cultures your ancestors came from; your heritage or background is also your family and family history, and your own personal history, your life history. Families can be like cultures unto themselves; you can have your own rules and ways of doing things within a family, too. A classroom is also a culture unto itself, or can be. ‘Heritage’ can include things like your hobbies, your philosophical influences, your family traditions and vacations; basically, your heritage or background or identity, whatever you want to call it, includes every single thing that’s happened to you from the moment that you were born until right now. It’s your whole life experience up to this moment.
“Poetry is a great way of expressing ourselves, telling something important about ourselves, discovering things about ourselves—free-form poetry is sometimes an easier form of self-expression than prose writing—prose [literary term] writing means anything that is not poetry—because poetry has fewer rules. You can often express what you want to with short, simple phrases or even images that create a verbal collage. So today, we’re going to express ourselves, our heritages, our cultures, and get to know each other through poetry. You are only required to turn in one poem at the start of class next time, but you may certainly write more than one. First, definitions.”
(Have students read definitions for poetry, prose, simile, and metaphor, and explain those in their own words, and give examples; write ‘simile’ on board and write ‘simil(ik)e’ next to it to help them remember.)
Read the poem “Identity” aloud and model out loud how to use TPFASTT to analyze it, and then read “Where I’m From” aloud and have them use TPFASTT to analyze it.

Title—what is the title? Based on the title, what do you guess the poem might be about?

Point of view/paraphrase—who is telling the poem to us, and how do we know this? Is it told by a character in the poem or by an outside observer? Explain what’s going on in the poem, in your own words.

Figurative language—what hyperboles, metaphors, and/or similes does the author use, and why?

Attitude—what are the poem’s emotional tones established by the poet? If you had to read this poem out loud, what would you do to show the attitudes or emotions you think the author meant the poem to have?

Shifts—where in the poem does the attitude/tone, or the subject matter, or the time period, or anything else, change or shift? Where are the most extreme or dramatic shifts? What effect do those shifts or changes have on how we react to the poem?

Title—knowing what we now know, why does the title appropriately fit or not fit the poem?

Theme—what is the main message or ‘moral of the story’ here; that is, what’s the main point of the poem?


“Now we move on to where you will grade my poem using the very same checklist I’ll use to grade your poem. Read the checklist first, and then use it to grade my poem. You don’t have to read my whole poem in order to grade it. Grading it should actually go very quickly.”
(Have students read the checklist and use it to grade my poem.)
Then tell the students I’m going to show them some counter-examples on the SmartBoard, examples of what NOT to do, and have them point out the mistakes, such as mislabeling a literal statement (such as “My life is fun” or “My life is mine” or “I have a baseball mitt made of leather” or “My laughter is a sound I make when I am amused or happy”) as a metaphor, when this literal language is, by definition, not any kind of figurative language. Then show examples where people have mixed up their similes and metaphors and mislabeled them, in one case even writing ‘metaphor’ next to a line that was written in the ‘SIMILES’ top section of the template where the student did not cross out the word ‘like.’ Then show examples of people who merely underlined or circled their metaphor or their simile instead of highlighting it and have students use the checklist to grade it, and tell them that it would not get those checklist items of metaphor and simile because those lines were only underlined or circled and not highlighted, and highlighting is required by the checklist. Reiterate the point that students must always do exactly and precisely and specifically what I tell them to do verbally and/or in writing, and this includes the checklists I give them, which should be followed to the letter if they want to earn all the points they can get and receive full credit.
Then have students start to write their own poems (remind them they don’t have to follow the format of the examplars, those are just there for them to use if they choose, to guide them, and they can write more than one poem) and the only thing they have to do is express who they are through poetry, and include some metaphorical language. Go over the concept of TAP. “Three things to always have in mind whenever you are writing anything are the following: what your topic is, who your audience is, and what your purpose is. Topic, Audience, Purpose, or TAP for short. Your topic today is obviously who you are and how your heritage, culture, and background have shaped your identity; your audience would be your peers and me; your purpose is mostly to explain, making this expository writing. That is, you’re trying to explain who you are and why you are the way you are, what influenced and shaped your identity. So since you are trying to explain, this would be expository writing, not persuasive. You’re not trying to convince your audience to do anything, you don’t need to try to prove anything; you are simply explaining something: who you are, and why you are who you are. The word expository looks a lot like the word expose, or expose (as in a news expose), or look at the first three letters: exp, like explain. Expository writing, which explains: that’s the type of writing you are doing today. So to review, what is your topic? Your identity. Your audience? That’s me. Your purpose? To explain. That’s TAP, something we’ll do for virtually every piece of writing that we do. Fill in the blanks on your poem template with appropriate similes and metaphors to describe yourself. You could also word process them when you’re done and add more, as long as you correctly label each and every one of your similes and metaphors. I don’t care whether you think you’re a great poet or not, or whether your poems are any good or not. All that matters to your score is that you are writing about your heritage and your identity, and whether or not you demonstrate that you ‘get’ the concept of simile and the concept of metaphor, and that you put your name on your poem and have it ready by the due date. That’s it. Do those things, and you’ve got your points.” To reinforce the difference between a simile and a metaphor, if there is time, show the Almost Live sketch about ‘Simile School’ on the SmartBoard. Have students begin writing their own “Where I’m From” poems.

Closure: “Bring in your completed poems next time and continue to study your vocabulary.”

HW: Finish writing their poems and continue to study their vocabulary for the next vocabulary quiz.
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