Lesson Two - From Silencing and Stuffing to Expressing and Honoring

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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

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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. Certain gender norms and stereotypes, in particular, reinforce rules around displaying emotion. As just one example, some boys and men are often taught to avoid displaying emotions of sadness or anxiety. Some girls receive the message that they should always be flexible and understanding. Norms within certain context, like athletics, also impact whether or not people feel comfortable expressing emotion. Athletics, for example, is a world where certain emotions are 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. 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.
  • Understand the importance of honoring your emotions. 

Materials for Lesson:

In Preparation for Lesson:

Prior to teaching this lesson, review all of the guest artist videos, and choose one guest artist video that will resonate with your students. You will play this guest artist video in addition to the video where Kevin speaks with a colleague about gender rules and roles. Also, 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.

Featured Video:

Kevin and Leon describe the way gender rules and roles have impacted their ability to express emotion.

Additional Videos:

Hussain Manawer reads a poem about his mom and offers advice to students on how to write their own “I Could Tell You” poems.

Jacquay reads her poem about struggling with mental health challenges since she was young.

Lizardo Reyes Jr. reads a poem about his late father who struggled with alcoholism.

Kennedy shares her poem about ‘the weight’ she has carried in her life including the anxiety she experienced during the pandemic and how much it helps her to know she isn’t alone in this experience.

Jaslene shares a poem she wrote to honor her mom’s memory after her mom passed away.

Adam shares his poem about the experience of being vulnerable in his poetry and reflects on the way reading poetry helps him feel less alone.

Charles Benitez shares a poem he wrote about his connection with his mom who passed away after her battle with cancer.

Peyton shares a poem she wrote about the way a mass shooting impacted her life, and how difficult it was to support others when she was feeling so much fear. 

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 Kevin speaking to a colleague about the way gender roles and rules impacted their comfort with expressing emotion as they were growing up.”

Play Video Number One:

Play the video of Kevin’s conversation with his colleague, Leon. In this video, Kevin and Leon describe the way gender rules and roles have impacted their ability to express emotion. 

Reflection on Video Number One:

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.

Example 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….”

Introduce Video Two/Guest Artist Video:

  • Introduce the guest artist video to offer students an example of the poem they will write as the creative activity. There are multiple videos to choose from. Select the video that you feel would best resonate with your students. 


Example of What You Could Say:

“Now we are going 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 this next video, a 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.” 


Play Video Two/Guest Artist Video:

The guest artist models the creative activity by sharing a poem about a challenging life experience.

Before you play the guest artist video, remember to give students a description of the video content, so that they can decide if they would like to view the video. The video descriptions are listed above each video. Prior to playing the video, you will remind students- “Stories hold potential for various forms of connection to the lives of those who hear them. This story may connect deeply to others who have had a similar experience. In this video,  (read the one sentence description that is above the video). At this moment, you may welcome that connection or you may wish to make a different choice to delay or opt out.” 

Introduce the Creative Activity:

  • Share your example poem with the class.


Example 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 was a bit nervous to write a poem myself, but watching this video inspired me to try to be more vulnerable than I normally would. I would like to share what I wrote with you.” (Read your poem.)

  • 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.


Example of What You Could Say:

“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 guest did in the video.  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 write with you and create another poem. 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 3

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.”


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 in The Atlantic.
  2. Black feminist and cultural critic Bell Hooks has written two books that speak to the key learning goals for this lesson. Teachers and students who want to explore this topic in greater depth might be interested in reading: We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity and The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity and Love.
  3. 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.
  4. In her book Exploring Masculinities: Identity, Inequality, Continuity and Change  C. J. Pascoe takes a closer look at the way cultural expectations of masculinity  impact emotional regulation.
  5. In the same way that boys and men receive messages about how they should or should not express emotions, women are also impacted by cultural messaging.  If students want to read more about this, they can explore  resources that speak to women’s emotions. They may be interested in reading recently published book on the myth of the strong Black woman: Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen: The Emotional Lives of Black Women.  There is also ample research on the way gender stereotypes perpetuate myths related to emotional expression. This article provides a helpful introduction to this topic: Men are just as emotional as women: New research debunks gender stereotypes.