Lesson Two - From Silencing and Stuffing to Expressing and Honoring

You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.

– Anne Lamott

CREATIVE ACTIVITY - “I Could Tell You...” Poem

Lesson Intention:

We’re all taught that some feelings are “good” and some are “bad.” We learn rules and roles about how to manage emotion in our families, schools, and community. Because of the often unspoken norms that are reinforced in our culture, many of us were taught to stuff and silence emotions such as fear and anger that are often seen as negative. Gender norms, in particular, reinforce rules around displaying emotion. This is true in some contexts more than others. Athletics, for example, is a world where certain emotions are often not invited or expressed. As a high school athlete, Kevin is a good example of someone who perhaps felt the expectation to be “strong” or “tough”, not only physically but emotionally as well. This message requires boys and men to avoid displaying emotions of sadness or anxiety. In a similar way, many girls and young women have been taught to be “people pleasers” – to always be flexible and kind and understanding. Family roles are another reason why emotions get stuffed and silenced. The roles each family member plays impact the way we learn to manage our emotions. For example, some children take on a role as the family “hero” or “protector” and are expected to appear happy even if they feel sad. Together, rules and roles reinforce this idea that feelings need to be controlled and regulated, rather than expressed and honored. Today’s lesson models the importance of expressing emotions in healthy ways.

Social Emotional Learning Goals:

· Recognize that most people are not encouraged to express their emotions.

· Understand the way traditional rules and roles have influenced which emotions students feel comfortable expressing.

Materials for Lesson:

In Preparation for Lesson:

Prior to teaching this lesson, watch the guest artist video and write your own “I could tell you…” poem that you will share with your students.

Have paper and pens or personal electronic devices (i.e. laptops, tablets, and Chromebooks) available for writing time.

Lesson Plan:

Display the ‘welcome slide’ from the Lesson 2 PowerPoint as you begin.

*Slide 1

As discussed in the teaching training, remember to make the suggested language below authentic to yourself and meaningful for your students.


Launching the Lesson:

Make a connection to the letter writing activity from the previous lesson which focused on becoming aware of emotions and honoring them instead of pushing them away. Introduce the idea that culture often teaches people to avoid or minimize emotions.

* Slide 2

Example of What You Could Say:

“In our last lesson, we wrote letters that probably brought some emotions up to the surface that you might not have shared with very many people. I know my letter was about something I haven’t really shared before (reference what you wrote about). Today we are going to explore the reason why we don’t often talk about emotion in our culture. I’m going to share a video of an artist who explains the way rules and roles impacted his emotional life.”

Play Guest Artist Video:

*Slide 3

Play the guest artist video for students. In this video, the guest artist describes the way rules and roles have impacted his ability to express emotion. He describes the way these rules and roles communicated to him that some feelings needed to be silenced while some emotions were welcomed. He shares an example and a story that shows the way these rules kept him from sharing some of his emotions with others. The guest artist describes the way writing poetry has helped him with expressing emotion. He reads his “I could tell you…” poem.

Reflection on Guest Artist Video:

Share a personal connection about the way rules and roles have impacted your freedom to express emotion. An example of a family role could be fulfilling the role of the ‘peacemaker’ in your family and feeling the need to rush in during a time of conflict to try to make everyone laugh and feel better.

Examples of What You Could Say:

“This video brought up a few things for me that I would also  like to share. Family roles impacted what I learned about how I was allowed to express or not express emotion. For example….”

Introducing the Warm-up Activity:

In a freewrite, invite students to reflect upon and share the way rules and roles in their own lives have impacted how they express emotion. This freewrite acts as a warm-up for the creative activity of the ‘I could tell you…’ poem.

Examples of What You Could Say:

  • “Did anyone else make a personal connection to the guest artist as he shared his story? I also shared an example about the role I played in my family and I wonder if it sparked a connection for you, too.  And remember it is not just about family roles, it’s also about the rules in our culture and the influence that this has on us as well. Let’s write for a few minutes about how rules and roles have impacted the way we may express or hide emotions. Write about whatever comes to mind.”


Warm-up Activity:

Everyone completes a quick three-minute freewrite about the rules and roles that have impacted the way they express and regulate emotion. You will write during this time too to model the thought and attention you want your students to give to their work.

Transition to Creative Activity:

  • Refer to the guest artist video to introduce the poem as the creative activity.  At this time, also share your own “I Could Tell You…” poem.

    Examples of What You Could Say:

    “We are going to transition now to explore one way that people have found to break out of the family and cultural rules and roles, and learn to express emotion through creative expression. In the video, the guest artist shared a poem that allowed him to talk about something that has been really difficult to put into words. Poetry helped him to tell his story, and to do so without having to share every detail. I was a bit nervous to write a poem myself, if I’m being honest, but I watched this video ahead of time and it inspired me to try to be more vulnerable than I normally would. I would like to share what I wrote with you.”


  • Invite students to think about a story or experience that is important to them and one that holds a lot of emotion. Describe the way the phrase “I could tell you…..” will serve as an anchor for their poem.

    Examples of What You Could Say:

    “The artist in the video shared a method for writing a poem, using the phrase “I could tell you…” as an anchor for his writing. I want you to think of an important memory, something you went through in your life, or are still going through, that was really challenging. It can be anything. Even if it is something you don’t usually talk about in school. Use the phrase “I could tell you…” as your starting point for this poem. Then, tell a story from your life in the same way the artist did in the video. On the handout, you’ll see his example poem. You don’t need to mention every single detail of what happened. Just point to a few aspects of the story – the sights, smells and sounds of that moment. I’m going to do this too. We will write for about 15 minutes. You will get to choose if you want to share what you’ve written. It is completely up to you.”


Creative Activity:

*Slide 4

Students are invited to write a poem that begins with the sentence stem “I could tell you…” This phrase becomes the anchor for the entire poem. If the students get stuck, they can simply go back and write this phrase “I could tell you…” again and see what else comes up for them. The goal of writing the poem is not to create a cohesive final product, but instead, to prioritize the process of connecting to emotions and expressing feelings through the writing. Please plan to offer your students at least 15 minutes to work on this creative activity. If you see that they are still engaged, and you have the time, let them write for 5 minutes longer.

Lesson Closure:

  • Support the class in finding a place to pause in their writing process and come together again as a group. We suggest teachers devote approximately 15 minutes for this writing activity. If none of the students volunteer to share their own work at this time, you can share a small piece of the poem you composed as they wrote (different from the one you prepped ahead of time and have already shared).

    Example of What You Could Say:

    “In about two minutes we will pause in our writing, put our pens and pencils down and come back together again as a group.”

    “Ok. Let’s stop writing. You don’t need to be completely finished with your poem, you can always return to it again later. I wonder how this felt for you. I know it might be difficult to write about the story you just told, and I want to recognize that it can feel scary and risky.  I want to invite you to share a piece of what you’ve written. I know that might feel risky too.

    The story that popped into my mind when it was time to write is not a story I would normally share with everyone, but I want to share a small part of what I just wrote.”


  • Support the class in sharing a part of their own poem.

    Example of What You Could Say:

    “Now that I have shared a part of what I just wrote, does anyone want to share their poem – or even a part of your poem – with the class?”


Supplemental Information:

If you or your students would like to learn more about the ideas in this lesson, additional resources and third party links are included below.

  1. One article that does a particularly good job exploring this topic is: “Today’s Masculinity is Stifling” by Sarah Rich Link in The Atlantic 

  2. Megan Boler’s book Feeling Power: Emotions and Education describes the way emotions are regulated in schools. She argues that unspoken norms are reinforced from the very start of schooling and eventually the rules are self-regulated by the children themselves. Teachers are also impacted by these norms, and they carry many rules about emotional expression from their own schooling into their teaching, continuing this cycle of regulation.

  3. In her book Exploring Masculinities: Identity, Inequality, Continuity and Change C. J. Pascoe takes a closer look at gender as a source of emotional regulation.