Praise Poetry

The Sankofa Bird is an African mythical
bird that inspires us to look at the past,
lest we forget it. In these poems, we are
to look at our personal and collective
histories to make connections to the
present and our future.

What is a Praise Poem?
To praise means to express admiration, give homage and to proclaim the positive attributes of someone.  Praise poetry can be found in many cultures, but the form we are working with is from the West African tradition of oral poetry. These poems are created so that the young people in the tribe know who they are, who their ancestors are, why they are loved, and what special gifts they bring to the tribe and the world.

In Africa, praise poetry has served as a form of oral documentation. Professional poets carry and recall the narratives detailing the history of the people, the great leaders, and their outstanding achievement. It is not unusual for African praise poetry to be performed accompanied by musical instruments. These poems began typically as oral poems that were either sung or chanted.

In writing praise poems, we will make astute astute observations about our surroundings, our past, and our present as they pertain personally to us. Creating our praise poems will also allow us to further develop our writers’ voices.

Writing Process: Creating Praise Poems

If so desired, we may begin with some collaborative writing warm-ups or some praise poetry warm-ups before we begin writing our praise poems.

Step 1: Dimensions of Praise Poems
As poets, each of you will utilize the following information in your praise poem:

You will be balancing your descriptions of yourself with some concrete examples of what you look like and how you act on the outside, with more abstract ideas about how you feel on the inside.

Step 2: Share a Few Examples of Praise Poems
Read a few praise poem samples. Note how the poets incorporated the six dimensions of praise poems. Share your insights with a partner.

Step 3: Research Family of Origins
Talk with your families and do some research to learn more about your heritage. Then brainstorm ways that your heritage may be represented poetically.

Step 4: Brainstorm
Write words in a brainstorm box using the following prompts for praise poems.

Brainstorm Box for Praise Poems Example










Step 5: Create Poems

Respond to the prompts freely, not necessarily in the order they are listed in step 1. If you are stuck, you may start the poem with “I Am…,” and then free-write, coming back to check to see if your poem includes all of the six items.

Step 6: Revise Poems
Revise your poem, eliminating anything that does not add to the poem—cut to the bone. Add or change anything else that will strengthen your poem. You might also include more “heritage” information at this point.

Step 7: Share
Share your poems with a partner or a small group. Please provide positive feedback to others, such as “I like it when you said, ‘I am daughter of the dust.’”

Performing Lines from Praise Poems to Create a Group Poem

Why Perform Poetry?
First and foremost, because it is fun! Performing poetry is also important because we are learning when we do not realize that they are learning. This interactive method allows us to embody the poem fully from head to toe. We are actually absorbing the subtleties of the poem while learning the meaning, mood, and tone of the poem. This method incorporates and empowers all of us, but especially those of us who are kinesthetic learners. As each of you performs poetry, remember the Four P’s of Performance—Project, Plant, Purpose, Personalize.

Performing Lines from Praise Poems to Create a Group Poem

Step 1: Pick a Line
Pick one line from your praise poem to contribute to a group poem.

Step 2: Apply the Four P’s of Performance to the Line
Practice your line by projecting, planting, personalizing, and moving purposefully.

Step 3: Whole Class Performs “The Truth” By Ted Joans as a Warm-Up
To practice applying the Four P’s of Performance, we will perform this poem with conviction.

Lines   Gestures
If you should see a man Salute by placing your right hand over eye.
walking down a crowded street Simulate walking by pumping arms (4 times).
talking out loud to himself Raise your hands to the sky (4 times).
don’t run in the opposite direction Have students pivot to the left (pump arms).
but, run towards him Have students pivot to the right (pump arms).
for he Let arms down in front fanned out.
is a poet Put your right hand over your heart.
you have nothing to fear Let arms cross down in front.
from the poet Place your right hand over your heart again.
but the truth. Put your right hand in the air.

Step 4: Each Student Performs

One at a time, each of you will step forward to perform your line.

Step 5: Repeat the Last 3 Lines of the Poem as an Ending
For a satisfying ending, all of us will repeat the last three lines and gestures of the poem.

Step 6: Whole Class Performs the Group Praise Poem
Once we have rehearsed and performed “The Truth” by Ted Joans, we will rehearse and perform the group praise poem.  Each of you perform your chosen line and gestures from Steps 1 and 2 above so that as a group, we will perform a group praise poem.


Sankova image from