“I am” hand poems, suitable for all grade levels, are a great way for students and teachers to become better acquainted. Students brainstorm descriptive words that will then be written on a construction paper cutout of their hand. Time permitting, students share while the teacher then asks them to elaborate on one or two words.
Finally, the students will tape their work to the wall, literally leaving their mark in their new classroom.
If your gut response is to think of the activity as a time waster, think again. Community and routine building are crucial for a successful school year. This is a low stress, ungraded activity that will allow you as a teacher to observe how students tackle tasks and interact with one another. It’s also a good time to casually interact with them as they work.
Introduce yourself to the class by using five words that best describe you based on the activity that will soon follow. Then pose the question of how the students would brand or market themselves.
Direct students to get out a sheet of notebook paper. They should write each category and skip about 5 lines between each one. Take 5-7 minutes to brainstorm descriptive words for each:
- I am a… (nouns)
- I look… (adjectives)
- I like to… (verbs)
- I admire (proper nouns)
- I would rather be… (gerunds, -ing ending)
The issue at this point is not how well they remember their parts of speech, but to get them engaged in coming up with a variety of words. Don’t provide a pre-set number of words. Tell them to come up with as many as possible. That will help you see who struggles with brainstorming, as well as students who have a competitive streak.
Students should then put a star by what they consider the most important or telling detail in each category. Each short sentence will later be written on their hand cutout.
Then introduce your hand poem. Have the class flip over their brainstorm sheet to do a practice outline of their hand before turning them lose to get supplies. Point out that their first and last name should be written fairly largely on the palm of the hand. Explain your classroom procedures for materials. It’s also a good idea to remind them to trace lightly in pencil.
As they trace, it’s a good idea to walk from desk to desk and peel off a couple of pieces of masking tape they can later hang their hands on the wall. That way individual contact can be made with each student.
Depending on how much time is available and what other items you need to fit into that day, consider having the students go to the front of the room and share what they came up with. Before leaving, make sure they make their mark by fixing their paper hand to the wall.
As students share is also a great time to take a digital photo of each one for later use or simply a tool for quickly learing their names or making electronic seating charts.
What other ways have you used poetry in the classroom?
Image Credit: Black Hand Background by Jiri Hodan
Jeri, what an interesting idea and a great way to loosen up a class and get them brainstorming. I noticed that you were a teacher and have taken a break to write. Do you miss your teaching?
I do miss teaching, but I don’t miss the scrutiny that the profession must function under. Teaching English was always a 65+ hour work week for me, so I never got much writing done. I’ve found what I miss the most is just the social nature of the classroom. Writing all day everyday can be lonely at times, especially when living in a new city.