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

The Classic “I Am” Poem Structure features three stanzas, each ending with the words “I am”. Though usually used with younger students, the poem is also effective when given to high school students and college freshmen. The poem encourages introspection and acts as an inventory of personal beliefs.

Students can respond independently or in groups, depending upon whether or not you are using the exercise as a brainstorming technique or as an ice breaker. Hand your students a fill-in-the-blank style handout or write the outline on the board.

I am (two special characteristics)
I wonder (something you are actually curious about)
I hear (an imaginary sound)
I see (an imaginary sight)
I want (an actual desire)
I am (the first line of the poem restated)

I pretend (something you actually pretend to do)
I feel (a feeling about something imaginary)
I touch (an imaginary touch)
I worry (something that really bothers you)
I cry (something that makes you very sad)
I am (the first line of the poem repeated)

I understand (something you know is true)
I say (something you believe in)
I dream (something you actually dream about)
I try (something you really make an effort about)
I hope (something you actually hope for)
I am (the first line of the poem repeated)

This poem tends to the personal. Shy students may feel uncomfortable reading their poem out loud. Write one yourself and read it to the class. After you have established a community of trust, request volunteers.

Students aged thirteen years and above may find this exercise corny and stupid. They probably also view the poem as beneath their maturity level since they may have written one in third grade. However, don’t feel threatened. Try this out: Transform the name of the poem into:

I Am Not

I am not (two special characteristics)
I never wonder (something you are actually curious about)
I don’t hear (an imaginary sound)
I won’t see (an imaginary sight)

Take the exercise to a more complex level by adding the conjunction “but” to the end of the statement so that the sentence reads: I am not (two special characteristics) but I am (two special characteristics).

Personal inventory exercises act as triggering points for personal essays. College composition students can choose a line from the poem, one that resonates with them, and use it as the kernel for an in-depth personal essay.

Variations of the I am poem are suited for ice breaker activities. College age students use music, sports, movies and television programs as ways to identify their individuality. Change some lines to reflect this. I hear becomes I listen to. I see becomes I watch. These small word changes allows students an opportunity to share their entertainment interests with their peers. They get to list the bands they listen to or  the movies they watch.