An All About Me Unit

So far on this (very young) blog, I’ve focused mostly on listicles, but this week I want to zoom in and focus on doing one idea very thoroughly. This is the very definition of rigor, and it’s something an arts-integrated unit is very good for. So here’s an All About Me unit incorporating poetry, drawing, book-making, and writing. (Tip: for a quick poetic sentence stem All-About-Me activity, jump to the end under “Wrapping Up” – all those poem models can be used as stand-alone lessons).

Resources:

Chart paper
Markers
Excerpted text from Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself
Class set of paper for making books (regular copy paper works fine)
crayons, markers, colored pencils, other preferred means of illustration
glue or glue sticks
Construction paper for the book covers.
collage materials (if using)
pencils

Possible read-alouds:
From Head to Toe by Eric Carle
The Magic School Bus Inside the Human Body by Joanna Cole
The Foot Book by Dr. Seuss
The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn
A Chair For My Mother by Vera B. Williams
Miss Nelson Is Missing by Harry Allard and James Marshall
Big Bad Wolf Is Good by Simon Puttock
Ally-Saurus & the First Day of School by Richard Torrey
The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat
Oh! The Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss

(*If you teach an upper grade and like this unit but have a different book list, I’d love to hear about it! Getting current on my upper grade reading lists is one of my blogging resolutions this year.)

Possible poem models:
My Name Is by Pauline Clarke
Where I’m From by George Ella Lyon

Learning goals: Through the lens of their own personhood, students will learn about anatomy and opposites, compare and contrast families, and explore their imaginations. They will read and write poetry and create a nonfiction “All About Me” book.

Vocabulary: multitudes, contradict, multi-faceted, trill, boughs,

Procedures:

You can open with any poem or book that addresses selfhood, but for this particular project I would open with (carefully edited) excerpts from Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself. It’s THE classic American epic poem (53 stanzas I believe), but also one of the most quoted. Below is an excerpt containing the very first line of the poem, a chunk taken from Stanza 3, and ending with the most quoted line from the poem, which is found in Stanza 51. Depending on the class/age group, I could cut this down further to just the first and last lines, or even just the last bit about containing multitudes. With just those few lines, I would risk this poem as early as K.

Walt Whitman – The Song of Myself
I celebrate myself, and sing myself,…
My respiration and inspiration, the beating of my heart, the pass-
ing of blood and air through my lungs,
The sniff of green leaves and dry leaves, and of the shore and
dark-color’d sea-rocks, and of hay in the barn,
The sound of the belch’d words of my voice loos’d to the eddies
of the wind,
A few light kisses, a few embraces, a reaching around of arms,
The play of shine and shade on the trees as the supple boughs
wag,
The delight alone or in the rush of the streets, or along the fields
and hill-sides,
The feeling of health, the full-noon trill, the song of me rising from
bed and meeting the sun…..

Do I contradict myself?
Very well, I contradict myself.
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

I would have this on chart paper, do a shared reading with the class. I would talk about certain vocabulary, especially respiration, boughs, trill, contradict, and multitudes.  Ask them what they notice, which parts they like, which images speak to them. A lot of students don’t have any practice with poetry, so their first noticings will be “I know that word,” or “I see a question mark” or something similarly literal and mundane and aimed at showing off something they’ve learned about English conventions. This is fine. The most wide-ranging text-self connections are also acceptable as long as they have some identifiable tie to the text. If you’ve covered poetry topics, or you know the students have covered poetry in a previous year, you can ask them to identify figurative language, but otherwise, you can just ask them to identify some of the things the writer was doing (waking up, breathing, doing something outside, in a barn, etc.). It’s not essential that they have any deep grasp of the poem today, it’s enough to expose them to it and let them dip their toes in.

After some exploratory conversation, and maybe a think-pair-share to have them discuss what they noticed/took away from the poem, I would zoom in and focus on the last mini-stanza:

Do I contradict myself?
Very well, I contradict myself.
(I am large, I contain multitudes)

There are two very important vocabulary words here that are necessary for understanding the full scope of the unit. The word contradiction might seem above the heads of, say, kindergarteners, but you can approximate an understanding by saying it’s sort of like being full of opposites, or practicing opposite day. If you haven’t discussed opposites yet, you can definitely incorporate a study of opposites into this unit (see The Foot Book, below). Students can practice making contradictory statements to each other if you like. (I hate broccoli. Except on days when I like it.) (I like to play with my friends. Except when I want to be alone.) You can make a list of ways that we can contradict ourselves, and talk about how it’s okay to contradict yourself sometimes, it’s part of being human.

The other word is multitudes. Define the word for them – many, many things, many people, crowds. Ask: how can one person contain multitudes? What do you think Walt Whitman meant by that? They may not have any insightful answers for you yet, although they surprise me sometimes, but that’s also fine. Tell them that we’re going to be, as the poem says, celebrating ourselves – learning about ourselves, exploring ourselves, finding out ways that we contradict ourselves, and naming the ways in which we contain multitudes – how we have a multi-faceted self. Again, I would do this as young as K – they love a good $10 word.

Then I would have them make the cover for an All-About-Me accordian book. I might also have them construct the rest of the book with blank pages, or I might have them add the pages as we go, mostly depending on the group, my time frame, etc. You could allow them to put anything on the cover, anything that describes them, anything that tells something about them, or you can make it more specific and insist that they do a self-portrait. If they do a self-portrait, or a collection of items that tell something about themselves, you can already start talking about how your face contains multitudes of things – eyes, a nose, a lip, cheeks, eyebrows and eyelashes (which themselves contain multitudes of hair), or if they illustrated with things they like, you can talk about how they have multitudes of preferences/favorites within them.

After introducing the unit in this way, you can include as many or as few of the following expansions as you wish. Each expansion should add at least one more page to your All About Me accordian book.

A Multitude of Parts – Exploring the Physical Self

20150825_093925

Using Eric Carle’s From Head to Toe, or The Magic School Bus Inside The Human Body by Joanna Cole, or your favorite other book about the human body, list out (and possibly explore through motions) all the many parts of the human body, inside and/or outside, depending on your students’ level and interest.

You can diagram the whole body, the face only, various internal systems. You can give the students an outline to fill in, recommended with the little bitties, or you can have them create their own through drawing or collage.

Do I Contradict Myself? A Multitude of Opposites.

20150825_093931

Using Dr. Seuss’s The Foot Book, or your other favorite opposite book, have students explore the many opposites in their bodies and in their minds. Long hairs on head, but short in eyebrows, straight forearm but round ribs, soft mouth but hard skull, sometimes happy but sometimes sad, sometimes liking broccoli but sometimes not, etc.

You can have students list these in their books in sentence form, or in a grid, illustrate them or not.

I Contain Multitudes of People/Love.

20150825_093938

Who do we carry with us in our hearts? We all came from somewhere, we are all cared for by someone (be sensitive to any students in foster care or bad home situations – cast a very wide net when using terms so that friends and odd relatives and adoptive families and even caring teachers can count, so that everyone can think of someone that cares for them.) Let students reflect on who has cared for them, who has influenced them, who they carry in their hearts.

For the little little ones, I wouldn’t hesitate to use The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn.  A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams might also work, or your favorite story to introduce a family unit, or if you can’t think of one, there’s a good long list here.

I Contain Multitudes of Attitudes (or Personas)

20150825_093945
The scene on the left is inspired by an actual event from my childhood. We’ve since made it up.🙂

Using Miss Nelson Is Missing by Harry Allard and James Marshall, or Big Bad Wolf Is Good by Simon Puttock, or any other book that allows you to see two sides to a single character, explore the ways that people can be different on different days, either by choice (like Miss Nelson) or by circumstance (maybe something bad happened and they’re sad that day), and people can also choose to make big changes and decide to be different going forward (as in the case of Big Bad Wolf Is Good). List out character traits and/or feeling words that the students can choose from to describe themselves. It’s ok to pick more than one, and it’s okay if they contradict each other. They should do a separate self portrait for each trait/feeling, making sure that the trait/feeling is specifically illustrated in the picture.

I Contain Multitudes of Ideas and Dreams

20150825_093951

Using Ally-Saurus and the First Day of School by Richard Torrey, or The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat, or Dr. Seuss’s Oh The Places You’ll Go, or any other book that addresses imagination, hopes and dreams, let students share some of their imagination with the class. You can do a think-pair-share with a really specific question, like, from Ally-Saurus, “If you could wake up tomorrow as a dinosaur, an astronaut, a princess, or a pirate, which would you choose, and why?”, or, from Beekle, “If you had an imaginary friend, what would he or she look like, and what would you do together?”, or the always popular, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Etc.

Have students illustrate and write about at least one of the things they shared with their partner and add it to their book.

To Construct the Book:

Each page, assuming you used standard copy paper and want relatively large-ish pages (as opposed to very tall narrow pages or some other special shape), should be folded hamburger-style. All writing and illustrating (all student work) should be done on the sides that would be the outside cover if it were a book. So if the page is sitting like a tent (as opposed to a V), you can see the work. The V side should be blank.

20150825_094118

You can use blank V-pages to bind the book, and thus have all the written pages on the same side, or you can alternate written pages as long as the glue stick only touches the blank sides. Benefits of the first: easy to see book layout, harder to mess up. You can also use the blank sides for extended writing or illustration, a good option with older students. Benefits of the second: cheaper (less paper), more environmentally friendly.

Once you glue them all together (I recommend glue sticks so it lays flatter), they look something like this:

20150825_094622

To add a front cover, first add a blank V-page:

20150825_094716

Glue it to the first page of text/illustration, then glue the cover to the far side, like so:

20150825_095602

Folded and closed, the book looks like this:

20150825_095848

Of course, if you have a favorite method of book-making, use that instead! For many projects, I just punch holes in standard-size pages and tie them with gift wrap ribbon or yarn, whatever I have laying around.

Wrapping Up – Reflection and Synthesis (More Poetry!)

Revisit Walt Whitman’s poem from the first day, however much of it you used:

I celebrate myself, and sing myself,….
My respiration and inspiration, the beating of my heart, the pass-
ing of blood and air through my lungs,
The sniff of green leaves and dry leaves, and of the shore and
dark-color’d sea-rocks, and of hay in the barn,
The sound of the belch’d words of my voice loos’d to the eddies
of the wind,
A few light kisses, a few embraces, a reaching around of arms,
The play of shine and shade on the trees as the supple boughs
wag,
The delight alone or in the rush of the streets, or along the fields
and hill-sides,
The feeling of health, the full-noon trill, the song of me rising from
bed and meeting the sun…..

Do I contradict myself?
Very well, I contradict myself.
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Ask students if they discovered anything new about what it means to contain multitudes, and/or to contradict oneself. Tell students that they will be using their reflections from the unit (they can use their All About Me book as source material) to write their own Song of Myself. There are a few poetic models and sentence stems you could choose to use for this:

For the little bitties, I like “My Name Is” by Pauline Clarke. You can model different kinds of endings based on the different pages of your book:
My name is bendy elbows.
My name is Happy/Sad
My name is Three Older Brothers
My name is Pirate Treasure.
Etc.

“My name is” is a usually-achievable sentence stem for K and early 1, and they only have to sound out one or two words at the end.

For students with more writing skills, I like “I’m from…” as in, Where I’m From by George Ella Lyon. Again, you could require them to write at least one line for every segment of the unit, or you could let them free-write.

I’m from a bike accident that left permanent scars on my knees.
I’m from dressing extra pretty on days I feel sad.
I’m from dirty fingernails from gardening with grandma.
Etc.

I also like this stem by a poet named Natalie Taylor:
I have wanted…
I have seen…
I have known….
I have come….

You can publish the wrap-up poems separately, or add them as the last page of your books. Have you done this unit, or something similar? What would you do differently? I’d love to hear in the comments!


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