Where I am from

Copyright: Jennifer MacKenzie-Hutchison. All rights reserved.

Last week, I read over my students’ poems and was reminded how much I love my job. As teachers, we need to savour these pleasures and summon them during the more tedious moments. My students, mostly from Asia, are in a year-long EAP foundation program at Ryerson University. I asked them to write a poem based on “Where I Am From,” by George Ella Lyon.

The scholastic objective was to get my students to explore their identities, but my personal objective was to learn more about their families, their ambitions, their countries…their lives. In class, we went through the author’s life, stanza by stanza. We examined the details, the imagery, and the metaphors. Then my students went home and wrote their own versions.

I wasn’t sure what to expect. After all, the assignment didn’t count for anything. Despite what we tell ourselves, it’s hard to motivate our students without the almighty grade. And yet, to my surprise, they delivered (most of them, anyway!).

Some of the verses were downright breathtaking. Could it be that second-language learners can generate creative, almost quaint turns of phrase that native speakers wouldn’t dream of uttering in the concise vernacular of modern day? Maybe.

Here are some samples of my students’ work:

                “I’m from the kapok’s blossom…it looks red and tastes like happiness.”

                “I’m from shrimp dumplings, Osmanthus cake, and fried radish patties.”

                 “I’m from these memorable moments that swing and seesaw from that lost innocence.”

                “I’m from summer, from the carbon monoxide that fills the air and the rains that fall frequently.”

                “I’m from rock, paper, scissors; from hide and seek and paper folding; from hopscotch in the playground.”

                “I’m from the northeast, from the Manchurian tiger.”

                “I’m from luxuriant aquatic products…from limited resources and polluted nature.”

                “I’m from the setting sun in the afternoon…from the tall fence, watching children,

                same as me; we look at each other, dreaming the future,

                where are we gonna be?”

Have you used poetry in your classroom? How did it go? George Ella Lyon’s poem makes for a great activity in more ways than one. If you use this model in the classroom, please let us know how it went.


Lyon, George Ella. nd. Where I’m from. Retrieved from http://www.georgeellalyon.com/where.html


7 thoughts on “Where I am from”

  1. I have done a class on “concrete poetry “ with my CLB 3/4 ESL class. The visual element was integral for this low intermediate class. It allowed for repetition of individual words and phrases plus illustrative graphics.

    It was fun and we shared the work on the bulletin board.

    1. Good to know! Thanks, Madelaine. Having some illustrative graphics is a good idea 🙂


  2. All of it is my favourite, but this line is my most favourite:

    “I’m from these memorable moments that swing and seesaw from that lost innocence.”

    Thank you for sharing something successful from your classroom experience that is unrelated to grades.

  3. Thanks for such an interesting and thought provoking write up. I loved: “I’m from summer, from the carbon monoxide that fills the air and the rains that fall frequently.”
    Took me back to my childhood days and the joys of making paper boats and making them float in the puddles of water with my friends. Such simple pleasures seem to have left today’s generation who is too busy indoors with many gadgets of technology…

    1. Hi Anjum,

      Thanks for your comment. Good point about simple pleasures. I’m glad the students captured some in this exercise.

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