For some students, the term poetry can send shivers down their spine, and lead to near deathly illness. Well maybe that is a little bit of an exaggeration, but you get the point, and perhaps this has something to do with the way the concept of poetry is being approached in the classroom, as a stand-alone topic of conventions, rather than a creative part of a broader theme. It is also common for teachers to suck all the creativity and adventure involved in poetry out of it, by resorting to handing the student a poem to read and having the student answer standardized questions based on the teacher’s or test-creator’s interpretation of the poem. This can be problematic, as we can see when we look at the case of the poet that couldn’t answer standardized test questions about her OWN poem, and can also kill a possible emerging love of the art-form.
As a humanities teacher, I see far more value in approaching subjects like English Language Arts and History through a thematic lens rather than dividing up the course into chapters on short stories, novels, essays, drama, poetry and film. How much more exciting and engaging does a thematic unit on ‘The Meaning of Love’ or the ‘Effects of War’ sound than a chapter on Short Stories?
Bio-poetry allows teachers to open a thematic unit with a fun, engaging and non-threatening poetic lesson that introduces concepts and people the student will engage with throughout the unit. It is cross-curricular in nature as it meets both English Language Arts curriculum outcomes as well as the outcomes of other targeted subjects like Social Studies.
To write a bio-poem requires identifying character traits attached to a chosen subject, and gaining a deeper understanding of this person which you will most likely need to do some minor research on to prepare. I often use bio-poetry as an introductory lesson to Social Studies or Modern History, in which I include a list of notable modern historical figures from which students can choose to write about. As part of the scaffolding process, and to build classroom relationships, students often begin by writing a bio-poem about themselves, or interviewing a partner to write a bio-poem about that person first, before moving on to creating a literary piece about their chosen modern historical figure.
***Hint for students: Your poem may rhyme if you choose, but not all poetry rhymes.
STRUCTURE OF A BIO-POEM – The following is how a bio-poem should be structured:
Line 1 – First Name
Line 2 – Three or Four Adjectives Describing The Person
Line 3 – Important Relationship
Line 4 – Two or Three Things The Person Cares About A lot
Line 5 – Three Feelings The Person Experienced
Line 6 – Three Fears the Person Experienced
Line 7 – Accomplishments
Line 8 – Two or Three Things The Person Wants to Experience
Line 9 – The Person’s Home
Line 10 – Last Name
A BRIEF LIST OF MODERN HISTORICAL FIGURES – William Shakespeare, Galileo Galilei, Henry IV of France, Charles I of England, Sir Isaac Newton, John Milton, Napoleon Bonaparte, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Marie Antoinette, William Wordsworth, Martin Luther King Jr., George W. Bush, Ludwig von Beethoven, Malcolm X, Harry Truman, Fidel Castro, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Freidrich Nietzsche, Emily Davison, Sigmund Freud, Karl Marx, Leo Tolstoy, Maximilien de Robespierre, Adam Smith, Samuel de Champlain, Louis Riel, Czar Nicholas I, Adolf Hitler, Winston Churchill, Pierre Trudeau, Ernest Hemingway, Joseph Stalin, Mikhail Gorbachev, Vladimir Putin, Tupac Shakur, Tony Blair, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Sitting Bull, Osama bin Laden, Mao Zedong, Ronald Regan, Che Guevara, Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela, John F. Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe, Salvador Dali, Catherine the Great, Albert Einstein, Mahatma Ghandi, Oliver Cromwell, Vladimir Lenin, Leonardo da Vinci, Louis XIV of France, Theodore Roosevelt, Audrey Hepburn, Anne Frank, Florence Nightingale, Queen Victoria, Henry VIII of England, Abraham Lincoln, Justin Trudeau, Hilary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, Jacques Cartier, Christopher Columbus, John A. MacDonald, Benito Mussolini, Pablo Picasso, Thomas Jefferson, Saddam Hussein, Charles de Gaulle, Charles Darwin, Rosa Parks, Oliver Brown, Abigail Adams
Maggie, Oh Maggie.
Brave, mean, bold and ugly.
A grocer’s daughter.
Public services she wanted to slaughter. Deregulation come Hell or high water.
Resignation, dementia and a fierce love for Ronald.
Fearing the Germans, turbans, and boat people.
First female Prime Minister, lowering taxes and inflation.
Immortality, beauty, sanity and world domination.
Grantham, Lincolnshire, U.K.
U.N.B. Student Teachers (2011)
Wise, strong, mighty, and a warrior.
The son of an esteemed Sioux named ‘Returns-Again.’
Protecting his rights. Defense for his people.
Reputations of fearlessness in battle. He became a leader. Respected for his courage and wisdom.
Invaded lands, support in the ‘ghost dance’ movement, extinction of the buffalo.
He became chief of the Sioux.
Peace, love, no wars.
Little Bighorn River,
Tullea Beaverbones (2017)
He was a rapper, a legacy, a poet.
He loved his mom more than as much as he wrote about it.
He cared about his girl, his mom and speaking truth.
He’s experienced love, hate, and sadly abuse.
Tupac feared losing his mom, girl and dying.
He’s accomplished getting famous, being true, and always trying.
He’s from East Harlem, New York City, where he feels safe and secure.
His last name was and always will be Shakur.
Alissa Strong-Willier (2017)
The Notorious B.I.G.
Virtuous, intelligent, charismatic, and a go-getter.
Son of Voletta Wallace.
His children, the money and the music.
Fright, nervousness, happiness.
Going to prison, music wouldn’t sell, getting caught.
Sold out albums, quit dealing.
Making a positive lifestyle.
Brooklyn, New York.
Macey Auger (2017)
Bald, hairy, tall and artistic.
The third of eight children.
Writing, poems and acting.
Failure, poor, impossible, and blessed.
Afraid of not being wealthy, and not graduating,
Becoming a famous poet, actor and writer,
For he wanted to experience the world.
Jessica Buffalo (2017)
CLICK HERE FOR A DOWNLOADABLE BIO-POEMS EXPLANATION AND WORKSHEET FOR STUDENTS —>>> (Her)His-Story Bio-Poems