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

I’m Jennifer Hutchison and I teach EAP and communications at George Brown College in Toronto. I have also taught courses in sociolinguistics in the English Foundation Program at Toronto Metropolitan University. In my spare time, I write short stories, read, exercise, and bake (the last two are codependent). Teaching English is my passion. I am curious about the world around me and feel fortunate to have that world brought to me every day in the classroom. Nevertheless, I took a circuitous route to discover this passion. After my undergraduate degree in French and translation, I worked as a translator and then veered off into writing and editing, which I did from home while I raised my children (four of them!). In none of these positions (except, possibly, childrearing) was I helping anybody, so I returned to school, launched my ESL career, and have never looked back. I look forward to working with you and sharing experiences and strategies on the Blog!


8 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.

  4. Anna tweeted this and I looked for it on this blog…2019 – seems so long ago….

    What a wonderful poem, – what a wonderful gift to your learners to also give them a taste of English literature – and a chance to taste and USE/assimilate it. REAL REAL REAL language of the heart and mind and soul and mouth to march and glide and dance alongside the practical Employment and Shopping and Visits to the Doctor vocabulary that it seems to me our “ESL” /EAL and LINC is suffocating under. (Not saying all that is not necessary but it is so limited and one dimensional. Sigh ESL didn’t use to be like that). You show respect for their inner needs to feel and and sample and make the beautiful English language their own – theirs to mould in their own ways – an additional voice to express themselves. (Not just a formulaic exercise to capture dead “ artefacts” to satisfy someone’s tick box.)

    Wow! What you achieved – THAT’s language teaching (and learning).

    I have (do) use(d) poetry in the classroom..from nursery rhymes to limericks to haiku (after a field trip to High Park Sakura), cinquain and acrostic forms…..Shel Siverstein..Leonard Cohen, Maya Angelou….Amanda Gorman….et al!

    Your blog post is timely…as Anna pointed out…
    As an immigrant myself I immediately summoned special words from my past that have lain sleeping..and was overcome by memories (in a good, if a bit sad way! Tempus fugit! Eh?)

    My messages as a teacher of the wonderful English language to newcomers..”you are not losing a language – but gaining an additional one” AND “Canada. We All Belong”. I will combine the two thoughts. Maybe we’ll do a Padlet..and maybe we’ll share together on last day of session..ending with an “I’m also/We’re also From Canada” pastiche from all…I’ll experiment.
    LINC 6/7. The most incredible people.
    Canada is so lucky to have them come here…
    Like you…I love my job.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *