How to Write a Respect Poem

by Bruce Lansky

I've been subliminally seeing respect posters at schools I visit, but it didn't quite dawn on me that respect was an important school theme until I received a T-shirt as a gift after performing at a Boston-area school. All the T-shirt said was "Chelsea Respect." (Chelsea, I vaguely recall, was the name of the school.)

So here I am running around Libbs Lake near my home in Minnetonka, Minnesota, wearing a T-shirt preaching respect. Now I get it. Respect is a big deal in schools-probably because so many parents don't teach their kids what it means to be respectful.

Now that I finally get it, how about a respect poem you can write with your students to drive the concept home? Ideally, it should be easy to write, so the message, rather than the writing technique, makes a big impression. So how about a simple list of what it means to be respectful?

Remember that list poems seem to work best when they are written with a parallel structure (each line follows the same pattern).

How I Show

Respect I show respect for my parents by thanking them when they help me.
I show respect for my teachers by not yakking with my friends when they are teaching.
I show respect for my friends by not making fun of them.
I show respect for myself by doing the best job I can at school.

It's the kind of thing I've seen on school posters. So if respect is big in your school, why not use words written by your students rather than words written by some poster company?

For variations, you can have a poem that lists lots of different ways a kid can show respect at school.

How I Show Respect at School

I show respect for the bus driver by...
I show respect for my teacher by…
I show respect for the cafeteria monitor by...
I show respect for my fellow students by...
I show respect for the janitor by...

If you feel really creative, you can always play Aretha Franklin's great song, "Respect," and then see if your class can rewrite it with school-related lyrics.

But I'll save that idea for another lesson.

-Bruce Lansky

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