Lessons That Honor Identity: The Best Part of Me

I started doing this lesson after a meeting of the Daffodil Council of the Washington Organization of Reading Development at my local Borders (may it rest in peace). Our guest speaker was the amazing Nancy Johnson, a professor at Western Washington University and part of the Newbery Committee that selected Avi’s Crispin. (Side note: She hosts the annual Children’s Literature Conference in Bellingham, Washington, with diverse, high caliber authors every year. For more information, visit www.wwuclc.com). After her talk, I immediately went out and bought The Best Part of Me.

The Best Part of Me: Children Talk About Their Bodies in Pictures and Words by Wendy Ewald is a collection of black and white photographs of children juxtaposed with entries in the children’s own handwriting. Each child responded to the question “What is the best part of you?” with a paragraph or poem about a body part. It is a unique opportunity for students to reflect on their heritage, build their self-esteem, and celebrate their individuality.

In my classroom, I begin the lesson by reading the book aloud to the class. We have a discussion about poetry. They notice that some of the poems rhyme and others do not. We talk about rhythm and line breaks. I model for them:

My Fingernails

Beautifully shaped,

Tinted in sparkly pink or metallic purple,

Click-clack, click-clack as I type on the keyboard,

Perfect for opening children’s bananas,

Ideal itch scratchers,

My fingernails are both useful and a thing of beauty.

With the book as a springboard, I send kids off to write their own poems. We go through the process of revising, editing, and publishing. Finally, I place the students in small groups and give each a digital camera (thank you, grant money!). They take turns photographing their featured body parts. The finished products make a beautiful classroom book or bulletin board.

I’ll leave you with a few of my favorite student samples:

My Eyes

My mom says that I have my dad’s eyes

They turn from blue to green

Big eyelashes

Shy blinking

They see very well

They close at night when I’m scared

I can see my dogs with them

I love my eyes

 

My Hair

My hair is long

but I’m a boy so don’t judge me

I want to stay warm when it’s cold

and if that is wrong tell me and my hair.