Thursday, April 29, 2010

Self-Portrait Poems

Nine-year-old minds are like little sponges. They are so open to possibilities, and they aren't afraid to venture into unfamiliar territory. I spent part of the day yesterday with two classes of third graders. We had a lot of fun working on self-portrait poems. It's a workshop that I love doing.

I read a few self-portrait poems from some earlier workshops, and I could see their wheels turning. Some with delight, like when the sample poet mentioned her dislike of all things related to school. Some with confusion. Why did she call herself a flower? Some with a little trepidation when I showed them how one poet wrote about himself by writing how other people saw him.

We made lists of things they liked, didn't like, were afraid of, important places, things that made them happy and sad, dreams and goals. I asked them to choose a physical attribute and make a comparison using "like" or "as."

Using my comparison, we talked about the way the words sound when they bump up against each other. Like the difference between these two lines.

My eyes are as brown as chocolate.
My eyes are brown, dark like chocolate.

As I left, they were excited about finishing their self-portraits. That's always a good feeling.

Here's one of my favorite self-portrait poems, written by a twelve-year-old student, in a workshop I taught a few years back. I always read it when I'm doing this workshop. The kids always like it as much as I do.

Self Portrait

Who thinks she is pretty?
Me, I do.
I think I do.

Strange but in a way like everyone else,
Always messy
Sometimes dirty.

Up in trees...
Down in the dirt...
King of the mountain...
Lord of the land...

Q: Would she have rather been a boy?
Q: Inside or outside?
Outside! Definitely

Nose in her books
Fingertips on pens
Ear to the door
Feet to the floor.

Would she want to live a different life?
No, she wouldn't trade.
She is content with what she has.
She does not ask for more
But could not live with less.

Small house.
Small room.
Small yard.
Big life.
Big feet.
Big knuckles.

Cold or hot, never warm.
Black or white, never pink.
Up or down, never on solid ground.

Always expressive
Smile, frown, laugh, or cry.

Saturdays...Yardwork. Ugh.



  1. Wonderful! I so love reading words written by young writers. Kids need to know they have SO much to say!

    Thanks for sharing, Dori.

  2. Thanks for stopping, Andy. I agree. Kids are very honest. I love hearing what they have to say and seeing them put those words on paper.

  3. Dori,

    Kids are so amazing! Awesome poem!

    What a wonderful exercise the self-portrait. May I borrow it to use someday?

    Laura Evans

  4. Laura, You certainly may use the exercise. It's not original to me. I first discovered it in a little book called "Teaching Poetry Writing to Adolescents" by Joseph I. Tsujimoto. Since then, I've seen it in several other formats. Tsujimoto's book is out of print, but it's worth tracking down at a used book outlet online. It has some wonderful poetry writing exercises for middle grades students.