Students are clustered around a computer talking quietly, pointing and giggling.  A student sits with headphones speaking into a microphone.  A small group creates frozen sculptures with their bodies that come to life speaking lines of poetry. These are all scenes from the Lee Elementary 6th grade classrooms in Massachusetts as students created poems about their lives and shared with each other and across cultures with the help of technology. Sixty students participated in the project. And on the other side of the globe 6th grade students in South Korea engage in a similar process…


A recently published article, “Where I'm from: Cultural Exchange through the Arts,” shares the collaboration of a 6th grade class in Lee, Massachusetts, and the Songwon Elementary School in South Korea, using “I am from” poems. Students shared their culture through these poems using VoiceThread, an innovative technology that allows for mutual sharing of image, text, voice, and video. You can download the complete article for free here:


Arts Integration and Multiple Perspectives
One of the themes in Common Core is that of multiple perspectives. Engaging students in arts integration can bring forward each student's unique frame of reference, showing the diversity of backgrounds within a classroom. Using the structure of “I am from”poems, a writing structure developed by Ella George Lyons, students consider themes from their lives that make them who they are. Writing prompts include family foods and traditions, family relations, sayings, household items, and memories. Students construct the poems with the repeating line, “I am from.” The results are poignant—very personal poems that reveal much about what the writer holds dear.

Here’s an example of an “I am from” bio poem created as a model, using source material from the Common Core suggested texts about the life of Harriet Tubman. (Inspired by Harriet Tubman: Conductor on the Underground Railroad [1955], by A. Petry.) This example, for grades 6-12, can be found in the ELA book page 155 in versions appropriate for K-2 and 3-5 as well.

I am from freedom

I am from the tidewater
eastern shore of Maryland
life in plantation slave quarters
yearning for freedom.
I am from “slow of speech, but quick to laugh,”
an  “unteachable child”
sold…then returned to my owner when  “I didn’t work out”
I am from beatings
Criss crossed scars across my back
Hiding--driven back by hunger
until I was older.
I am from the traplines
freeing muskrats from bondage
preparing me for bigger escapes
I am from fieldwork
strong arms and back
Hearing tales of a pathway north
I am from my father’s training
stealth in the woods
creep without making a sound
barely breathing.
I am from escape
Making my fate alone
without  my brothers
I am from numerous points along a dangerous route
from bondage to freedom
I am from the underground railroad
never seen but often spoke of
I am from duty—scout, spy and nurse
depending on the need of the moment
I am from Colonel Montgomery
and his regiment of one time slaves
rescuing eight hundred from slavery
in one daring night
scarcely breathing
heart pounding
I am from icy rivers, and hiding in woods, wagons, and brush
I am from courage
from speaking out and taking a stand
I am from singing spirituals
strains of “Go Down, Moses” wafting in
announcing my arrival
Come with me
I’ll take you to the promised land.
Two trips a year
down to slave territory
I am conductor on the underground railroad
Keep those wheels a movin’ singing
Go Down, Moses…Go Down…

Putting It into Practice
Consider integrating poetry into your classroom, allowing students bring forward their own backgrounds while engaging in the use of expressive language.

Interested in examples across the curriculum? Linda Dacey and I are also coeditors of a new Shell Education series on arts integration, which provides practical techniques for using the arts across curricular areas to deepen learning and engage students.

Your Turn!
Want to try it in your own classroom? Click here to check out the full lesson from Jenn Bogard and Lisa Donovan in Strategies for Integrating English Language Arts and the Arts (2013), pages 150-156.  And share your own examples below!