This year I wanted to start the school year with an activity that infused reading, writing, and critical thinking while building classroom community and some personal connections.  Inspired by an Instagram post from the Ohio Writing Project at Miami University, I decided to work with my students to craft a collaborative “Where I’m From” class poem from each of my four sections of 8th Language Arts at Chestatee Academy.

We began by looking at a mentor text; for two of my classes, we used the original “Where I’m From” poem by George Ella Lyon; for two of my other sections, I used student created poems.  We gathered at the carpet in the front of the room and I did a read aloud of the mentor text poem for students as I projected it on the board.

Next, I asked students to look at the poem individually and record his/her noticings in their notebooks using the following chart as a guide:

Students took about 10-12 minutes to record their noticings.  We then had a large group share out and discussion of what we noticed as a class.

Next, students participated in a gallery walk of 10 additional mentor “Where I’m From” poem texts by middle and high school writers.  I gathered my mentor texts from here and here; after printing and number the poems, I placed them in my ever faithful neon pouch holders and hung them on small hooks around the room.   Students were instructed to participate in the gallery walk quietly as they:

  1. Read each poem closely and carefully.
  2. Recorded any three favorite sentences from the poems into their literacy notebook.  Students could record more than four, but our goal was to collect at least three mentor text sentences we loved that we could use as inspiration for writing our own lines/sentences.



Once we had completed the gallery walk, students worked independently to draft their three very best sentences that they felt best represented themselves.  Students could use the mentor sentences they had copied into their notebooks as a template; they could also free-write or do a combination of both techniques.    After completing our drafts, we did some variations of peer feedback using the praise/question/polish technique, a strategy I learned from fellow teacher Glenn Rhoades last year.  Fortunately, I had plenty of PQP slips leftover from last year to use with my students.  I was sure to take time and model/explain each part of the PQP feedback process.


Once students had received peer feedback from at least two classmates, they completed any revisions they felt were needed and then drafted the sentence onto a neon sentence strip.  Once students were satisfied with their work, they traced over their draft with a black or blue Sharpie.

This activity gave provided the following:

  • Students got to deconstruct a text together in a “safe” space.  Looking at text structure is something we will do regularly all year, so I was happy to begin with this practice in a meaningful context.
  • Students got to participate in a gallery walk, one of my favorite active learning strategies.
  • Students got to choose their own mentor texts; in this case, favorite lines/sentences for their own writing.
  • Students were using their literacy notebooks.
  • Students had opportunities to draft, engage in accessible peer feedback, and revise.

In addition, this activity that took place over 2.5 class periods served as a series of formative assessments as I observed and listened to student participation/thinking and read their drafts.

I also incorporated a writing reflection activity to help us think about the power of story and how stories don’t necessarily come from a book:

Here are the finished products that I put together Friday afternoon; students will get to enjoy the collaborative class poems this week!