Students clarify aspects of their identity or the identity of a historical or literary figure by writing poems that focus on deeper elements of personal makeup like experiences, relationships, hopes, and interests.
“Who am I?” is a question on the minds of many adolescents. This activity helps students clarify important elements of their identities by writing a poem about themselves or about a historical or literary figure. Bio-poems help students get beyond the aspects of identity that are often more obvious and familiar (such as ethnicity, gender, and age) by asking them to focus on factors that shape identity, such as experiences, relationships, hopes, and interests. By providing a structure for students to think more critically about an individual’s traits, experiences, and character, bio-poems are a way for students to demonstrate what they know about historical or literary figures. Having students share their bio-poems is a great way to build peer relationships and foster a cohesive classroom community.
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Select the focus of the bio-poem. Students typically write bio-poems about themselves, but the poems can also be written about historical or literary figures. You can assign students a specific individual to use as the focus of the bio-poem or you can allow students to choose an individual relevant to the current unit of study.
Select what you want included in the bio-poem. A poem typically includes the following information:
Adjectives that you would use to describe yourself
Relationships in your life (e.g., friend, brother, daughter)
Things you love
Hopes or wishes
You can adapt this format to include other items, such as important moments, heroes, beliefs, and special sayings or words.
Before they begin writing, it is helpful to give students an opportunity to brainstorm ideas they might include.
Explain the format of a bio-poem to your students. You can also share with them a sample bio-poem, such as the one included in the example section.
There are many ways that students can share their bio-poems. They could post them around the room as part of a gallery walk, for example, or share them with a partner. Or you might want to try one of these sharing strategies:
Students can read their poems to the whole class. Each reader is assigned a “responder.” After the bio-poem is read aloud, the responder has to comment about something he or she heard that was particularly interesting or surprising.
Ask students to pass their poems to their neighbor. Give time for a thorough reading. Have students silently write comments or questions in the margin. Every three to five minutes, have students pass the poems on to the next person. Repeat as time allows. At the end of the allotted time, students should have a poem filled with comments and questions. Be sure to remind students about expectations for appropriate comments.
A bio-poem highlights biographical information about a subject, including their experiences, relationships, hopes, and interests.
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