School Poetry Workshop: Creating a Character

Today is the poetry open house at Northfield Elementary, where I’ve been in residence for the past month. I haven’t seen the third grade poets since our revision day. It’s always exciting to read their poems again and see how they have developed.

Let’s look more closely at persona poems.

When we’re creating a character, whether it’s in a poem or in prose, how do we move away from our own thoughts and experiences and begin to imagine the internal life of another person?

I’ve shared that I use images of people — postcards and magazine cut-outs — to give young poets a concrete starting place. Layering imagination onto a picture of a stranger can be a challenging task.

Over the years, and with the help of classroom teachers, this is the brainstorming sheet I’ve developed. It helps students dig into the personas they are creating for their poems. Feel free to use this worksheet. As always, if you share it, please acknowledge or link back to me.

Laura’s Persona Poem/Character Development brainstorming sheet.

Feelings: How does your person feel in this moment or about his or her situation?

Thoughts: What is he or she thinking?

What happens next?: Imagine that the picture is a TV or movie screen, with the action on pause. If you hit the “Play” button, what’s the next thing that would happen?

Maybe: Any other possibilities or ideas you have about this person’s life or situation.

You can read a full description of how to run this workshop at Today’s Little Ditty. I often use Shonto Begay’s poem “Down Highway 163” as a mentor text.

Persona Poem Workshop post at Today’s Little Ditty.

Persona Poem mentor text, “Down Highway 163” by Shonto Begay.

Thanks to the Northfield 3rd grade team and families for giving me permission to share students’ persona poems. This writing prompt is a great way to teach voice.

Sophia’s poem is all about capturing tone. Each item in the image adds to the feeling of loneliness.

Poet: Sophia B.

The girl looks

sad and lonely. She is alone.

She stands out against

the black wall and

brown curtains.

She’s eating apples

in a blue dress.

A lonely five year old

girl sitting at the table

all alone.

*

Isabella’s poem creates an entire family! The speaker’s happiness and love for her husband and daughter shines through this poem.

Poet: Isabella C.

I Am Outside

 

With my husband and daughter.

We are getting ready to play ball.

My daughter’s having fun with Dad.

They make me smile.

I love you, is what I think

she is trying to say.

She is one. She loves to play.

I named her Kali. I love her

and my name is Mara.

My husband’s name is Juston.

My family is one of a kind,

but I love that.

We have a dog named Lucky.

We named him that

because they were getting ready to put him down.

Then Juston and me bought him.

I love my family.
*

Who hasn’t imagined what a baby might be thinking? I love the tactile images in Shalisa’s sweet poem. And the clasped hands at the end — wow!

 

Poet: Shalisa I.

 

I am a baby.

Even though I can’t speak full sentences

I have them in my head

and this is what I can speak,

Goo goo gaa gaa.

Anyways, I am about to go outside.

It is windy, but it’s divine.

The breeze ruffles through my hair.

My mommy puts me gently on the grass.

It tickles my toes.

I suddenly feel like

I am rising from below

and I am on my mother’s toes.

Soon I say, Goo gaa,

which means “Yay! This is fun!”

I am swinging and rocking.

My mom is smiling at me

and I smile back.

Her loves makes me happy

and so does her smile too.

We put our hands together.

My hands are the key

and her  hands are the lock.

This is my favorite thing to do

with me and my mommy.

*

 

This is Mark’s updated draft, with an illustration. Isn’t it cool?!

Listen to the sounds and rhythms in Mark’s exciting poem. “Sparkle in the dark” — wonderful wordplay!

Poet: Mark G.

Places! Places!
The s
how will start.
The s
how must go on!

On you go, the crowd

won’t wait. If

there was no show,

I would hate!
We w
ill have effects.

the costumes will

sparkle in the dark.

The music will sound like

it’s from Broadway!
*

I like the way that Mounira captures a specific moment in her character’s life and walks us through it slowly, so we can experience all of this person’s emotions.

Poet: Mounira H.

 

First!

 

Feeling nervous as I walk

to a stall. I don’t wanna

try to swim, it’s scary.
Get t
o a stall and put my

bathing suit on. I know

I have gear I can float

in, but I’m scared.
Mom t
akes a picture. I try

to look happy for her.

I feel weird with everything

on me. I wish it wasn’t

my first time swimming.

Finally, I get out
of the s
tall and put my foot
in t
he water. I feels nice

in the water. My swimming

teacher comes over and

says, “Ready to swim?

I say Yes and

five minutes later

I am swimming
for t
he first time.
*

Look for the final set of Northfield persona poems tomorrow, Poetry Friday. I hope you’ll stop by and visit with these wonderful third grade poets.
*
Check out the previous posts in this School Poetry Workshop series:

School Poetry Workshop: Haiku Hike, May 12, 2017
School Poetry Workshop: Food and the Five Senses, May 19, 2017
School Poetry Workshop: A Second Helping of Food Poems, May 25, 2017
School Poetry Workshop: Persona Poems, May 30, 2017