Creating “Self-portrait” Poems & Visual Representations

It’s week 5 of the school year and we’re progressing along pretty smoothly in my classroom, all things considered. I’ve learned everyone’s name and gotten to know a bit of their personalities. Classroom jobs are up and running (some better than others), and students are settling into the routines of our class.

We’ve been studying different texts that address people’s names as part of our opening identity unit. Usually I have students write their own name stories as the assessment for this unit, but I had a sudden burst of inspiration (unusual over these past few years!) and decided to change it up last week. We’ve watched and read some poems, particularly spoken word, so I thought it would be fun for students to write their own poems. In my English classes, we opened the year with a poetry unit, and one of the sub-genres we teach is “Portrait Poems.” I decided to adapt that idea, and the brainstorming sheet I already had for it, and have my Heritage Spanish students write “Self-portrait Poems”.

The idea of the poem was to paint a picture of their lives with words. We’ve been looking at craft moves like imagery, metaphor and simile in the texts we read, so it felt natural to apply those techniques in a poem of their own. I modeled the brainstorming process and shared my poem with students, and then they were off to brainstorm and write their own poems. The finished product was graded as our first standard of the school year.

Inspired by the idea of a written “self-portrait”, I had another creative burst and thought, what if we also made a visual “self-portrait” representing the parts of our lives we detailed in our poems? With my teaching partner, we came up with two options: drawing by hand or creating a visual on Canva.com. We both created examples to go with our poems on Canva. While several students started out drawing by hand, in the end, everyone decided to create their self-portrait on Canva. (Side note: If you’re not using Canva yet, you should definitely check it out! As educators, we essentially get the premium access for free, and when students join your class through the link, they also get access to all the good stuff 100% free. I use it all the time to make classroom posters, graphics like the ones for my Autores del día for el mes de la herencia, and student projects.)

Check out my example (left) and my colleague’s below:

Once students completed both parts of this project, we printed them and hung them side-by-side in the halls. I created a simple worksheet to guide students through reading the poems and studying the student-created art that went with them. This helped them stay on task and limited the noise we made in the halls.

Want to try it? Here are some helpful resources:

  • Brainstorming doc (with my example at the bottom); credit to Louder Than a Bomb for creating the original Portrait Poem brainstorming idea that this is modified from.
  • Slides from class Poem & Art creation + Gallery walk
  • Poetry & Art Gallery assignment
  • Single-point rubric for the poem (I told students that should have at least 2 of the 3 literary devices we practiced: simile, metaphor, sensory details)
  • Some student art samples below:

If you decide to do this in your classes, I’d love to hear how it goes! My students and I had a lot of fun with this project, and I’m so glad I decided to switch it up last-minute!

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