Persona Poems: Urban and Rural


 Your Names:  Kai Bicknell and Michaela Goldfine

Class Grade Level(s): Grades 4-5

Class Subject:  Language Arts: Poetry

Number of Students in the class:  15

Lesson/Project Name:  Persona Poems:  Urban and Rural


A.  Pre-Reflection

1. What are your professional teaching goals going into this?  Please list at least 3.

1.) To add another activity to our reservoir for getting outside with students.

2. To implement outside work into multiple aspects of our curriculum and day

2.) To effectively use both our Spring St. campus (urban) and Fore River Campus (rural) for language arts activities.

3.) To collaborate with a colleague in another grade level.


2.  What are your goals for students going into this?

a.  Process/skill goals

1.)  To exercise four of their senses (sight, hearing, touch, smell) to make observations and increase awareness about the environment around them.

2.) To hone and sharpen their observational skills.

3.) To begin to develop a sense of place and stewardship for their everyday environment.

b.  Subject/content goals

1.) To develop and practice descriptive writing

2.) To learn to write a persona poem.

3.) To continue to gain comfort with sharing and critiquing their peers in a writing workshop format.



The plan is to bring a 4-5 language arts class outside onto our school grounds to write riddle persona poems.  In order to write they will need to exercise their senses of sight, smell, hearing and touch to compose a poem about something they observe.  This poem will be in the form of a riddle that their peers will get a chance to try to solve…also using their powers of observation of the environment around them!

1.  Materials

1.)  clipboards

2.) pencils

3.) hand held pencil sharpener or extra sharpened pencils

4.) lined writing paper

5. Dirty Laundry Pile by Paul Janeczko (2001)


2.  The Class/Project

Please note approximate time necessary (and over how many days) for each step of this plan, and then describe the prep you will do beforehand with students, the activity outside, and then the follow-up activity inside.  2-4 paragraphs per section.

a.  Prep before going outside: (10-15 minutes)

Description of prep:  Please include, in detail, all aspects of preparation:  tools, discussion, academic work, review of any outdoor behavior rules, clothing, etc.

Students have already been introduced to poetry and had a chance to brainstorm what they know about this writing form.  They have also had a class or two focused on using their senses and writing color poems as well as hearing other examples of poetry (Hailstones and Halibut Bones by Mary O’Neill,  1989).

Before leaving the building we will explain to the students that we will be doing some poetry writing outside in the Sanctuary.  They will be reminded that this is a class and not recess and asked for suggestions about how their behavior will reflect this (stay in a group, walking, voice control, attentive listening).  “We want students to feel relaxed in the outdoors, but it is critical that outdoor instruction not be equated with playtime,” (Broda, 2007,69).  The students will be encouraged at this point to attend to their personal needs, i.e. go to the bathroom, get a drink of water, get a jacket/sweater etc.  Each student will be responsible for a clipboard, a few sheets of lined paper and a pencil, which their teachers will give to them before going outside.


b. Outside: (60 minutes)

Once outside the students will gather in a circle and sit down.  “The circle conveys a sense of purposefulness and also fosters the feeling that we are a part of something special,” (Broda, 2007, 72).  We will start with a warm up/brainstorming activity.  They will have 2 minutes to write down everything they observe from where they are sitting using four of their senses (no tasting!).  What are the sounds, sights and smells of our Sanctuary situated not only in the middle of our campus but also in the middle of the city of Portland?  What can they feel from where they are sitting?

After this warm up, students will be instructed to put their materials behind them so their focus can be solely on the instructions for the outdoor writing assignment.  Students will have 20-30 minutes to find a spot in the Sanctuary within the boundaries delineated to write a persona poem about something they observe from where they are sitting, in the form of a riddle:  Who or what am I?  Before separating, the students will be asked to define what a persona poem is and a few examples will be read to them from Dirty Laundry Pile by Paul Janeczko (2001).   Before separating, students will be reminded that this is a time for independent work and a chance for them to take in their surroundings, therefore they need to find their own workplace within the boundaries of the outdoor classroom space. In addition, the students will be reminded to be respectful of the plants and animals they encounter.  In his book, Schoolyard-Enhanced Learning, Herbert W. Broda is quite clear about the importance of instilling respect for all aspects of the natural world.  “Even a quick schoolyard outing should include reminders to respect all living things,” (Broda, 2007, 73).

 “…it is vitally important that we teach children a respect for the natural world, and strongly discourage the random destruction of plants and habitats as well as the unnecessary removal of natural materials from a location,” (Broda, 2007, 75).

It will be announced when the students have 5 minutes left of writing time in order for them to finish the poem they are working on and then the group will meet again in a circle.  Volunteers will be asked to share one of their poems and the other students will try to guess “who” is speaking in the poem to answer the riddle!


c.  Classroom follow-up: (1-2 class periods)

Students who did not get a chance to share will have the opportunity to do so and their peers will have the chance to try to solve these riddles.  The following week or during one of the next class periods, students will have the chance to write in a more natural/rural environment, for us our Fore River Campus.  They will have the chance afterwards to reflect on the differences between the two settings and the differences in their poetry

They will continue their poetry study, now with the deeper understanding of the importance of strong vocabulary and images made from one’s heightened senses, and publish one or more of their poems.

As an evaluation for their teachers, students will also be asked to reflect on their writing experience outside:  What worked for them.  What was challenging.  What was different about working outside from inside the classroom.


C.  Reflection:

We were fortunate that our planned poetry outing landed on the one beautiful, sunny day of the entire week!  We are also fortunate that we teach in a school that wholeheartedly supports bringing students outside and thus our students did not need as much instruction about how to behave outside for a class versus recess.

The activity was very successful.  The warm up went well.  There was a lot to observe around us and it changed from moment to moment with new sights and sounds emerging every time a plane or gull flew by or middle school students traveled to and from their classes!  Students had a chance to share their brainstorm lists and it was interesting to hear how many different things they observed.  All of the students were very focused on their poetry writing.  We observed kids touching tree bark, smelling spruce needles, sitting at the base of trees or on the grass and all of them remained writing for the entire 30 minutes! It was exciting to hear them bring their observations to the page through their poems, and as they took on voices of both human made and natural parts of the environment around them. Many students were eager to share when we returned to the circle and the topics of poems included new grass struggling to grow through protective burlap, a gull, the tetherball and a garden sign! All of the students clearly grasped the concept of a persona poem and all of them wrote it in the form of a riddle.

Just before we transitioned back to the classroom we asked the students whether they preferred writing inside or out.  It was clearly a unanimous agreement that they all preferred working outside!  Their reasons were varied:  “I like writing outside because things keep changing.  Inside things stay the same.”  “I think it’s better to write nature poems outside in nature.”  “There are so many things to write about outside.”  “Even though there are a lot more distractions, I felt more focused.” “I like working outside better because I like being outside.”  When asked if they would like to do more writing outdoors they were once again in clear agreement: Yes!

A couple of days later, as an extension to bridge the trip outside on our urban campus and the trip to the Fore River Campus, the students were asked to write a variation on the persona poems in their classroom environment (this time incorporating repetition and onomatopoeia). The contrast was stark: students were less focused, there was more concentrated volume and distractions, and a few students lost their interest after ten minutes or so. This seemed testament to the impact that taking a group outside can have on learning. Helen Ross Russell explains in Ten Minute Fieldtrips, “Because activities carried out on the school grounds bridge the gap between abstract ideas and the real world, they make learning meaningful and often interest youngsters who are bored or have failed to relate to the classroom studies,” (Russell, 2001, 5). There’s no doubt outside learning awakens the senses and adds a welcome interruption to the typical routine of the school day—something beneficial for the students and teachers!

All in all, the plan seemed to work out well.  We are looking forward to the follow up activity of writing poems out at our Fore River Campus, which is a bit more removed from the activities of the middle of an urban campus!  In the future it would be great if we could allot more time so that all students could share both their warm up lists as well as at least one of their poems in one class period.


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