What is an i am Poem and how can it be used in the Classroom

An “I am” poem thinks, therefore it is. And that’s all there is to it.

Okay, not really, but this type of poem is just about as simple as that. It’s not a quatrain or a series of rhyming couplets in iambic tetrameter. Nor is it necessary to use alliteration, assonance or metaphor.

An “I am” poem simply requires some introspection and a vocabulary. Let’s first take a look at the format of this type of poem, commonly used in elementary school classrooms, and then we will discuss how the use of this type of poem can be helpful for all kinds of people.

*Format
An “I am” poem consists of three verses. Each verse is six statements about the writer of the poem. The first two words of each statement are supplied by the poem, as part of the template of the poem. The rest of each statement comes from the mind and heart of the writer. Here are the prompts provided by the poem, in the order they usually come in:

I am (two characteristics of the writer)
I wonder (something the writer sincerely wonders, or is curious, about)
I hear (any imaginary sound)
I see (any imagined sight)
I want (something that the writer actually desires)
I am (restate the first line)

I pretend (something the writer actually pretends)
I feel (an emotion or feeling about something imagined)
I touch (something the writer imagines touching)
I worry (something that truly concerns the writer)
I cry (something that actually makes the writer sad)
I am (restate the first line again)

I understand (something the writer knows is true)
I say (something the writer believes (might not be true))
I dream (something the writer truly dreams about)
I try (something that the writer actually tries to do)
I hope (something that is actually hoped for)
I am (restate the first line again)

Given the proper time and effort, writing an “I am” poem can be a wonderfully introspective exercise.

*How it can be used
“I am” poems can be a useful exercise in the classroom in many ways. Again, these poems are more likely to be seen used in elementary school classrooms, but it is not too unusual to see high school English language arts teachers use them. Here are some activities that “I am” poems are useful for:

1. For the teacher to get to know the students. Many teachers understand the importance of knowing each individual student and thus each student’s needs. Having the students take class time to compose an “I am” poem impresses the gravity of the exercise on the students, and can help the teacher quickly become familiar with what is important to his or her charges.

2. Students can feel a tighter bond and more unity. If students are asked to read their “I am” poems to the class, in a non-threatening environment, unity will often result. Students will see who their peers are on a deeper level. Of course, there is the danger that some students will simply write things to provoke a reaction. If that is the case, it should be accepted and not dwelled on.

3. “I am” poems can also be used to help students begin to identify things that are important to them. Students can be asked to try to focus on issues that affect their world as they write their “I am” poems. The results of this exercise could be used by students to help them get started on personal essays, current events papers and even argumentative essays.

4. “I am” poems can be a useful, informal needs analysis. As teachers read through the poems, they will see issues of spelling, vocabulary and language. This knowledge can inform the teacher’s decisions about what to cover in class.

There are certainly other ways that “I am” poems can be used in the classroom, but these four are probably the most common and useful. What is more, they are in keeping with the spirit of the “I am” poem, without imposing too many guidelines on the students. If nothing else, writing an “I am” poem and sharing it with close friends is a wonderful way for students to learn about emotional intimacy and relationships.