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The Best Part of Me: Positive Self-Image Poetry

By Genia Connell on March 28, 2013
  • Grades: 1–2, 3–5, 6–8

I first wrote about this poetry project for Scholastic nearly ten years ago, and in that time, it has become more important than ever to help children have positive self-images of their bodies and abilities. From roadside billboards to magazines at the grocery checkout, children are constantly exposed to digitally altered images of models and athletes. Research shows that these types of images can negatively influence a child's body image by age six, which I can readily believe because I have, at times, heard my 3rd graders discussing "wanting to lose weight."

The inspiration for this project came from Wendy Ewald’s book The Best Part of Me. For this book, she asked 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade students, “What is the best part of you?” She took photographs of the part each child chose with black and white film. Next, using methodology that later evolved into her Literacy Through Photography writing project, she had the students write descriptive poems about their favorite part.

This week I’ll share with you how I got my students to unabashedly choose a part of themselves they loved, then write an expressive poem about it.

 

Getting Started

With all of my students gathered on the carpet around me last week, I pulled out a hand mirror and just started staring at myself, smiling. Finally, amid some giggles, one of my little girls asked why I was doing that. I set down the mirror, looked out at the class, and said, “I’m looking at my nose because I absolutely love it! Don’t you just love my nose?” After some more nervous giggles, they agreed with me, most likely just to appease their teacher, who seemed to have definitely lost it. At that point I adamantly declared, “I think my nose is definitely the best part of me.

On the chart paper stationed right next to my chair, I began listing reasons why I liked my nose — it’s sharp and pointy; it looks like my mom’s nose so it reminds me of her; I can smell delicious brownies and apple pie with it; it holds up my glasses, and so on.

Next, I asked my boys and girls if there was any part of themselves that they absolutely loved. Initially, the students hesitated, perhaps fearful that they would be perceived as bragging. Once the first person said what she liked about herself and why, the others all became more than eager to share.

 

Introducing the Book

 

I told my students how one photographer went to a school and asked students to tell her what the best part of them was, and then she made a book of their answers.

Next, I read several poems from the book, discussing how simplistic the photos were and how focused the children’s writing was.

Afterwards, I told my students to think about what part of themselves they would like to write about and have a picture taken of the next day.

 

Photographing the Students

Following Wendy Ewald’s philosophy, I gave the students a great deal of autonomy when it came to photographing their self-described best parts.

I let them choose where they wanted their photograph to be taken and what type of pose they wanted. A few students even acted as the photographers, taking photos for their friends.

 

After all the pictures were taken, I printed them in black and white from my classroom computer.

 

Children, like many adults, can feel uncomfortable seeing parts of themelves larger than life in a photograph. I allowed students to approve their photo before I printed it, or they could get a retake taken by me.

 

Writing the Poem

 

After receiving their pictures to use as inspiration, we went back to the corner and our chart paper to begin drafting our poems. The only guidelines I gave the students, writing these bulleted points out on the chart paper, was:

  • describe what your best part looks like — size, color, shape, texture
  • tell what your best part allows you to do that you enjoy
  • state the words, the best part of me, somewhere in your poem

After our brief discussion, the students went off with their writer’s notebooks to pen their poems. While students asked classmates to look over their poem, I didn’t intervene in order to keep each student’s work as pure and authentic as those published in Ewald’s book.  

 

Publishing

My students had a choice of either printing their poems by hand as they were in the book or using the computer.

Once students completed their poems, they glued both their photo and poem onto construction paper, ready to be hung in the hall.

 

 

I created a banner using the color image from each student as the border. They loved searching for their photo on the banner and trying to identify which “part” belonged to whom.

 

Use Books You Already Have

The great thing about this project is that you do not have to use the book The Best Part of Me if it's not a part of your library. You could easily read a book of your choosing and steer the conversation towards feeling good about yourself and appreciating who you are. There are many books available that focus on self-esteem. I've suggested a few possibilities below. Click on each book for more information. 

 

Maybe Next Time . . .

I thought it would be a really great idea to upload the pictures and poems into a digital book. I didn’t quite get that done this year, but definitely an idea in the back of my mind for next time. 

 
I would love to hear from you in the comments section below. Let me know what great books or projects you use for creating positive self-images and self-esteem in your classroom. 

Comments (16)

Love your "Best part of me ice breaker! Will definitely use it in our childrens ministry:)))

I conducted a parallel lesson/activity with my 100 6th grade ELA students. Following this example provided the inspiration for a poetry related/center oriented week of poetry writing a positive self-esteem development. The only twist I put on this lesson/idea was to require them to write 4 different types of poems about their "best" feature. Haiku, Cinquain, Limerick, and Acrostic. We worked through the 6-traits of writing and finished with a notebook filled with their photos and poems.

Brilliant! Doing it this week! Thanks so much for sharing!

So glad to know about the book! I did a poem like this with my class, having them metaphors and similes in the poems. My bulletin board of the poems had the pictures projecting out from the board, so that coming one way you see the students' faces and coming from the other direction, you see just the best part of them body part. It's a little hard to describe, but it looked great and the kids loved writing about themselves.

I agree with Alycia, you are so inspiring! I am anxious to read your postings as soon as they come out. I will be using your fresh ideas as soon as break is over. I love your humor with your children. I will have to go and look at your nose!The photographs are so special. Thanks for sharing your wonderful ideas. Can't imagine how long it takes for your
planning and articles.

Thanks so much for your kind words! I know I love reading all of these teacher blogs for the great ideas, so I'm so happy to share a few of mine with others!

Thanks Alycia! That means a ton coming from you. I definitely want to see your pictures when you do this! My class is so used to my goofiness they just play along!

I'll have to show you what your "ice balloon" inspired me to do. http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/top-teaching/2013/01/asking-questions-scientist-ice-balloon-exploration One of my favorite experiments I've done all year!

I love this lesson and I will use it soon!!!

Thanks, Lois! Would love to hear how it goes with your class!

I am finishing up a lesson/seminar activity based on Bullying. This will be a great transitional culminating activity to celebrate Poetry Month before we start a Holocaust related activity using this month's SCOPE magazine and centers wherein the students will role play through typical Holocaust "selection" activities.

Hi Pam, thanks for your comment. I can definitely see how this would be a great transitional activity. As a side note on the bullying, when I was first putting these up, a fourth grader made a rude comment about one of the photos. Immediately his classmates pounced on him, with one telling him, "Dude, not cool." He immediately backtracked and tried to cover by twisting his words into a compliment. I think most kids can really respect how personal these photos are. I hope your spring projects go well!

Thank you for sharing this. I will definitely do this activity with my kids. I too am a third grade teacher. Self esteem issues are always surfacing in the classroom. As soon as we get back to class I will do this activity. Be blessed.

Thanks, Peggy. I hope your kids enjoy this project as much as mine did!

Another great one, Genia - my fifth graders love this project. The photograph makes it more of a keepsake.

Thanks, Jennifer! You're right, the kids and parents both treasure the photos afterwards.

Genia, I am DEFINITELY doing this writing project with my students this spring, (and I plan on making a photo-book of their photos and poems too - great suggestion.) Thanks for constantly inspiring me, and making my lesson planning a whole lot easier. (And your description of the lesson intro had me laughing out loud. I can totally imagine your students' faces as you expounded about your nose. Fabulous hook!)

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