Anti-Gun Violence Initiative

A lesson to help 5th graders explore the issue of gun violence.

In this lesson, T&W teaching artist David Surface uses photographic images related to different aspects of gun violence to inspire 5th-grade students to create monologues or “persona poems” expressing a variety of viewpoints and perspectives surrounding the issue of gun violence.

Lesson Overview

Genre(s) taught: Poetry, prose, monologues

Grade(s) taught: 5th

Download: Anti-Gun Violence Initiative: Speaking for Others

Lesson Objective:
The objective in this lesson is to provide students with a specific set of guidelines or tools that will allow them to “speak for” or “speak through” the photographic image of their choice, using sensory and emotional information.

Common Core State Standards:
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.3 Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details and well-structured event sequences.

Guiding Questions:
How can we know what’s going on inside another person? How can we use our own experience to understand someone else’s? 


Ritual: Students review a set of photographic images, discuss, ask questions, etc

Introduction/warm-up activity 

  1. Students are shown a selection of gun-related images. Here are a few examples to jump start your own selection: photo of child with gun, gun violence in schools.  Select approximately 20-50 photos so that students have the experience of seeing a broad range of the ways in which people are affected by gun violence.
  2. Invite students to select one image and participate in creating a group persona poem as a warm-up for individual writing.
  3. Ask students the questions below and write a group poem on the board to model the writing process.

Main activity 

  1. Students each select one photographic image that they’re particularly drawn to and work in private, creating a monologue or “persona poem” by answering the following questions:
    • What does this person see? What do they hear? What do they smell? What do they feel?
    • What do they want? Why?
    • What do they hate? Why?
    • What are they afraid of? Why?
    • What do they dream? Why?

Students are encouraged to formulate their own questions and add them to the written piece. 


Students share their persona poems aloud and discuss the feelings and questions they evoke.


20-50 photographic images on 8.5 x 11 paper, giant Post-It pad, ink markers, paper, pens, and pencils


Persona Poem

Multi-Modal Approaches to Learning:

In addition to using visual imagery, we also used recorded music, not only in rehearsal for the culminating performance, but also as a means of getting the students to focus and connect to the mood and emotions in their writing.