Lesson Plan: Creating Place-based Poems

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In this lesson, students will walk step-by-step through the process of creating place-based poems. They will first practice identifying sights, sounds and other sensory details presented in a video clip about a unique cemetery in Mexico. Students will also investigate how this cemetery inspired the content of two poems by Mexican poet Dolores Dorantes. Students will then list key details about familiar locations in their own community and write place-based poems of their own.

The video clip used in this lesson (in Spanish with English subtitles) is from the film El Velador (The Night Watchman), a documentary that features a guard who watches over the extravagant mausoleums of some of Mexico's most notorious drug lords. The film contains little dialogue. Instead, it presents the sights and sounds experienced by those who work at or visit the cemetery, making it an ideal tool for teaching about place-based poetry.

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By the end of this lesson, students will:

  • List details presented in a video about a specific location.
  • Analyze two place-based poems.
  • Name sensory details and feelings related to familiar locations in their own community.
  • Create drawings of the local places they have selected.
  • Write poems that describe key features of their chosen locations.




Language Arts, World History, International Studies, Current Events, Geography, Social Studies



One or two 50-minute class periods


Clip: "Los Jardines del Humaya Cemetery" (length: 7:23)
The clip begins at 1:07 with a shot that shows a row of concrete burial boxes. It ends at 8:30 with the words "...against the impending electrical storm."

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1. Display a map showing the location of Culiacán, a city in the Mexican state of Sinaloa. Tell students that a cemetery in Culiacán called Los Jardines del Humaya is the final resting place for many drug traffickers and notorious drug lords. Their memories are preserved in expensive and elaborate mausoleums, as well as on memorial tarps that display images of those buried there.

2. Give each student a copy of Handout 1. Explain that the class is going to watch a brief segment of the documentary El Velador (The Night Watchman) to experience what Los Jardines del Humaya is like. Students should listen to and watch the video carefully so that they can record on their handouts as many details about the cemetery as possible. Tell the class that the clip begins as the sun is setting and the cemetery's night watchman comes on duty. Then, show the video.

3. Ask a few students to share some of the details that they noticed in the film. Did some students see and hear things that others missed? What could account for any different points of view? How does focusing on the details of a place influence how we think about it?

4. Give each student a copy of Handout 2 and have them work in pairs to read and analyze the two Dolores Dorantes poems inspired by Los Jardines del Humaya cemetery.

5. Next, ask students to choose familiar places in their own community to serve as the subjects of their own poems. Possibilities include home kitchens, sports fields, traffic intersections, places of worship and places in nature.

6. Have students work individually to complete Handout 3. On the handout they will be listing sensory details and feelings about their chosen places, drawing pictures of these locations and then using these resources as references to inform their drafts of place-based poems. To write this type of poem in a freeform prose format, each student can write five sentences that give an inventory of his or her place's most prominent features. They can then review their drafts several times and edit as needed to improve sentence fluency and flow, as well as to ensure that the words in their poems are descriptive and specific enough to create the imagery they want. For additional strategies for writing prose poems, please see the Resources section of this lesson plan.


1. Create additional poems about the cemetery shown in El Velador (The Night Watchman). Have students reference their charts from Handout 1 to write place-based poems rich with details about Los Jardines del Humaya cemetery. Consider using POV's Photo Slideshow for the film to inspire or illustrate student compositions.

2. Explore the various roles that music plays in society. Ask students to read the Excerpt: A Man and His Tuba. Have them identify different ways that people referenced in the text are affected by the same music (e.g., some mourn and cry, others are happy and entertained). Ask students to discuss how they would respond to the author's questions about how the same music can function in very different circumstances. Have students also describe music that is a part of their everyday lives. Would they want this same music played at their own funerals? Why or why not? Have them capture their thinking in response essays.

3. Investigate possible motivations and messages behind the creation of the documentary El Velador (The Night Watchman). After students have watched the video clip for this lesson, have them read the related Filmmaker Statement by Natalia Almada and discuss the Media Literacy Questions for Analyzing POV Films. Why does Almada say she created the documentary? What personal connections does Almada have with the region of Mexico where the film was shot? How might her point of view influence the production of the film? How might the film draw attention to the violence in Sinaloa? Have students discuss these issues in small groups and then work as a team to brainstorm strategies for how students can use media to raise awareness about issues in their own community. They may wish to draw additional inspiration from the student media projects showcased on the What Kids Can Do website.

4. Explore other POV films by Natalia Almada. Video, background information and classroom activities are provided online for each film.

  • Al Otro Lado: To the Other Side follows Magdiel, an aspiring corrido composer from the drug capital of Mexico, as he faces two choices: whether or not to traffic drugs and whether or not to cross the border illegally into the United States.
  • El General brings to life audio recordings about Almada's great-grandfather Plutarco Elías Calles, a revolutionary general who became president of Mexico in 1924.

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This report includes information on drug trafficking in Sinaloa, the Mexican state where Los Jardines del Humaya is located.

How to Write a Prose Poem
This article provides a brief history of prose poems and provides suggestions on how to write them.

The Prose Poem Form
This reference gives an overview of prose poems, as well as techniques for how to write them.

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Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts

SL, 9-10, 11-12.1 Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups and teacher-led) with diverse partners on [grade-appropriate] topics, text and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

W. 9-10, 11-12.2. Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas, concepts and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization and analysis of content.

W. 9-10, 11-12.4. Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization and style are appropriate to task, purpose and audience.

W. 9-10, 11-12.5. Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting or trying a new approach, focusing on addressing what is most significant for a specific purpose and audience.

WHST. 9-10, 11-12.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization and style are appropriate to task, purpose and audience.

Content Knowledge: (http://www.mcrel.org/standards-benchmarks/) a compilation of content standards and benchmarks for K-12 curriculum by McRel (Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning).

Behavioral Studies, Standard 1: Understands that group and cultural influences contribute to human development, identity and behavior.

Geography, Standard 10: Understands the nature and complexity of Earth's cultural mosaics.

Geography, Standard 13: Understands the forces of cooperation and conflict that shape the divisions of Earth's surface.

Language Arts, Standard 1: Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process.

Language Arts, Standard 9: Uses viewing skills and strategies to understand and interpret visual media.

World History, Standard 44: Understands the search for community, stability and peace in an interdependent world.

World History, Standard 45: Understands major global trends since World War II.


Cari Ladd, M.Ed., is an educational writer with a background in secondary education and media development. Previously, she served as PBS Interactive's director of education, overseeing the development of curricular resources tied to PBS programs, the PBS TeacherSource website (now PBS Teachers) and online teacher professional development services. She has also taught in Maryland and Northern Virginia.