Birth Certificate Poem- Poetry “Certification” of community, curriculum and civics connection

With their voices being recorded and a student videographer filming, middle school students,  stand proudly to read aloud poems dealing with the date of their birth, family tales about that day, the events that happened in the world and how today they begin to see their connection as persons and as citizens to all that.  Not only do these presentations get recorded for potential class chromebook community viewing, but the teacher and select student editors will create a You Tube or Vimeo video of how to adapt this project in other middle school classes by editing the audio files, pictures and video snippets of this culmination.

Beyond the poems and their speaking aloud to their peers, they display photos of themselves, their birth certificates, hospital ids, bibs, blankets, family photos, christening and other artifacts as well as baby notices sent online/snail to parents.  The teacher and a team of Chromebook student curators are already envisioning this as a series of slides which they can certainly use for parent expo day or perhaps loop at an upcoming community district meeting where the students will lobby for a larger school budget share.  A large map highlights the varied cities and countries where these births were announced.  Google Earth has been tapped to actually show many of the buildings and streets where the students’ lives started. Each student cites secondary and primary sources that added to their poem.  Is this a poetry middle school exercise or a social/global studies class research or an American 21st century study?  Answer: All of the above!

Want to involve your students in an immediately student owned inquiry into their own or their family or community lives that includes close attention to text, use of poetry genre format, primary and secondary research and making personal political connections?  Here’s how to engage your students.

  1. Use the text of Jacqueline Woodson’s Second Daughter, Second day poem (

from Brown Girl Dreaming (2014) for a template that students can complete with their own information.

If you like you can have the students listen to Jacqueline read her own poem or go on her site to find out about her family and her life or check out her interviews about this award winning book.

***Also allow students the option of creating a template with data from their family members or peers in other classes since for some children with family conflicts or adoption data they do not wish to disclose a personal poem might be upsetting or too intrusive.)

First stanza has the birth certificate mandatory data included: Child’s full name, date of birth, names of both parents (unlike Woodson’s the ages were optional) and city/country of birth. (CCSS crafting poetry genre, blank verse and informational data)

  1. Second stanza included data about what was going on in their parents’ countries when they were born or in the United States politically at the time of their birth. Since many students brought back instead of this contemporary history/current news perspective, stories of how and why they were given their names (which Woodson also includes in separate memoir poems) that became an alternative second stanza content topic for the poem adaptation.  (CCSS Writing – informational data primary and secondary sources-narratives/memoir writing)
  2. Third Stanza=Finally since the adult Woodson uses the stanza to voice her life’s mission of effecting positive change in the world through writing and action, the students were challenged to voice their life missions or goals in their final poetry stanzas. (CCSS Writing- arguments and persuasive writing)

Crafting of the poems which also had to include small attached geographic maps highlighting the neighborhood, US state or native country and parent comments about events that took place during the year the student was born, stretched over a week’s time.  When they were shared a week later, they were a revelation to the students and to me as their teacher.  Even though many of the students had known one another since elementary school, the poems contained revelations.  We learned one student was adopted and proud of being chosen by her adopting family.  Another student had been named finally due to a coin toss. Some students were named after relatives’ girlfriends.  Another student shared that while his real father was listed in his birth certificate, the man he thinks of as his true father took him and his mother as part of his life within the last three years.  Some ESL students revealed as part of their birth certificate poems that they had been separated from their parents due to their parents work opportunities and immigration to the United States for periods of 3-10 years.  Keeping in mind the fact that these ESL intermediate and advanced students were all of 12 to 13 years old, this emerging fact was poignant and highlighted the emotional as well as linguistic/acculturation challenges they were addressing so successfully in school.  As we talked and shared our lives /pasts (teachers and students), the power of Woodson’s format and model demonstrated itself.

While the poems themselves speak to the students’ capacity to critically read, react, respond and integrate elements of author craft in their narrative memoirs, the act of creating them of course involved short geographic and contemporary American/World history research.  Many of the students did primary source interviewing of their family members as well.  As citizens, just as Jackie used her geographic and personal birth data to evolve and to articulate her mission of changing the American political, landscape for the better, so too did the students –both the regular education American born students and the ESL class members begin to think in terms of their lives goals as citizens.

Brown Girl Dreaming is powerful memoir in poetry for middle school and beyond students to read in its entirety.  This poetry template frame positions its student as engaged researchers, interviewers, reflecting citizens and proud family members.  Use of Chromebook capacity for pictures, accessing exact locations and buildings using Google earth, making slides, recording native language birth stories, importing scans of actual passports, archived family photos, uploading videos, and curating class slides/PowerPoint material:  makes these students living poetry of self and society come live and relevant.  How functional and “real” this Birth Certificate is for its student authors as they begin to authorize their own personal memoir stories.  These can inspire the next classes of school students and invited adult community to chromebook capture their own second days and those of their dear ones. What a tremendous emotional and skills rich community, curriculum and conceptual connection these poetry dreams realize!!


Woodson, Jacqueline. (2014). Brown Girl Dreaming. New York: Penguin Books.


Second Daughter, Second Day read aloud

Leslie Beckett


Dr. Rose Reissman,

Academic and Grant Funding Director for Sector 5

About Sector 5,

Sector 5, Inc. (OTCQB: SFIV), is a Proud American Corporation, that sells, manufactures and develops new innovative consumer electronics under Sector 5 and other brands. The Company markets its partnership with Google approved Chromebooks to educational organizations, other B2B and B2C sales channels, with retail sales on Amazon. It is in development of several new products to serve the educational, business and retail markets. Follow the company on and and find further information at For Sector 5’s Forward Looking Statements, click here.



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