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

The concept of the “I am” poem is a simple one yet its impact on a classroom can be, simply put, enormous.

A common template for the “I am” poem looks like this:

I AM

I am (two special characteristics you have)
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 repeated)

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)

The extent to which the poem reveals the depth of each individual is greatly determined by the age and mind set of each student. However, at bare minimum the exercise of completing an “I am” poem within the first week of school will provide for a teacher and classmates an introduction. It also provides each student with a personal vocabulary to make their introduction. Sometimes nothing is harder than breaking that social ice.

As a teacher I used “I am” poems as journal assignments. I introduced the concept in the first week of school in order to allow the students to portray themselves as they wished to be seen. Each school year is one of reinvention of self for a student and perhaps they did not want to be who they were known to be at the end of the year previous. Here was a simple way to say to everyone around them, “I am this.” and thereby also say ” I am no longer that.”

I would then periodically assign them to write a new “I am” poem at strategic points throughout the year. I never received the same “I am” poem from the same student. In this way I allowed them to take a moment and really think about the personal paths they were each on without asking them those questions which put up so many walls; how are you feeling? what are you thinking? You know…those questions they do not know the answers to themselves.

As a teacher I also occasionally assigned the poems as a form of punishment. I know, that sounds like a horrible decision for a teacher to make. However, you know as well as I that sometimes when a student breaks a rule or makes a poor choice they honestly believe they don’t know why they did it. By asking them to complete an “I am” poem about that moment they can often come into contact with motivators that were pushing them that they had not consciously acknowledged. Knowledge is power and nothing is more powerful than knowing who you are.

When the year was over and the students had written five or six “I am” poems I would bind them into a small book and return them with the final report card to the student. They then had a record of their personal development from their perspective over the course of that year; an invaluable record.