‘a secret/ Recipe passed down…’: Portrait Poems

Students read Instructions to the Artist by Billy Collins before crafting their own portrait-inspired poems.

Lesson Note: According to findings by the leading researcher on the power of writing and journaling for healing purposes, James Pennebaker, Ph.D., of the University of Texas at Austin, ‘…expressive writing occurs on multiple levels–cognitive, emotional, social, and biological–making a single explanatory theory unlikely. However, there is little doubt that writing has positive consequences.’

Ms. Hooper, 6th Grade



Emin V.

Make the background of this painting

Either a 14th-16th century European castle

Or an ancient Roman city.

I do not care what it looks like as long as it’s one of these two.

Oh wait, I forgot.

Make the sun in the middle of the sky so it’ll be noon in the painting

Make the sky very, very sunny.

But not too much, I still want some cumulus clouds in the sky at the top-right corner.

The canvas should be colossal and titanic.

As big as an Ice Age mammoth.

You know what? Add a baby mammoth sleeping next to me.

Mammoths are very fascinating. I want one in my painting.

Make my hair as brown as Belgian chocolate that was made using a secret

Recipe passed down by chocolate makers since 1549.

Would you also be a pal and do the same with my eyes?

Thank you in advance.

We’re almost done with all the instructions and directions.

I just want you to make me hold a shield with my coat-of-arms.


And last but not least, may I have a velvet smoking jacket in your painting?




Gabriel B.

I’m Hungry

My eyes are as tired as a Malaysian mongoose. 

The cold night breeze brushes against my neck.

My background is empty, just like my stomach.

The size of the canvas shall be as big as a redwood tree,

Touching the sky.

Make my mouth as moist as the ocean.

My teeth will be as green as a Turkish chameleon,

Gliding through the trees.


Ms. Walsh, 6th Grade

Make shrek

by Henry O.

 My instructions for you to make my self-portrait are to forget everything I look like. Just make shrek with a beautiful chill face.

Just make shrek with brown eyes and an epic mustache. 

Just make shrek breakdancing with a dinosaur in front of another Shrek. It represents me. It represents my mind.

 Just make Shrek.


A Piece of Art

By Madison S.-R.

Think of the planets 

That float around space.

Those round planets should 

Represent my head.

My eyes should be 

a nice dark brown color

That almost looks as black as night

But you can still see the tint of brown 

Like a piece of gold in a dark cave

The canvas should be big enough 

To see the world around me.

With the background filled with warm colors

That can make you feel warm inside yourself.


Instruction To The Artist

By Mariana R.

Make my face as round as a ball or a moon in the sky

The background should be colorful and creative like

a galaxy full of beautiful stars

My eyes should be as brown as a tree

Make the size of the canvas As big as a grass field


Ms. Collins, 6th Grade

My perfect canvas,

By Abraham C.

My perfect canvas has a head as round and gray

as the moon

on a dark night. 


My portrait


Kayden W.

My portrait should be accurate and creative

Make my head as round as a

Sweet donut.

My facial features should include whatever

You see of me,

But make sure the nose, eyes, ears,

Mouth, cheeks, and eyebrows are


My body should be 

as tall as a giraffe’s neck

With large limbs.

For the background,

Make a big city filled 

With cars and a train zipping

Around, or just make anything

That comes to your 6-year-old mind.

Also, the buildings

Should be as high as 

Mt. Everest

With a width to match.

The accessories could

Be anything you want,

But at least keep a hat on.



“Writing poetry makes me feel like I can see myself, like I can see my reflection, but not in a mirror, in the world. I write and I know I can be reflected.”
-Oscar S.

“Writing poetry makes me feel free.”
-Buenda D.

“Writing poetry is like your best friend.”
-Jessica M.