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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.