Using dialogue poems to compare, contrast, highlight perspective

montana-hsMartha Kohl works at the Montana Historical Society as an Education Specialist and publishes an awesome site with great teaching ideas called Teaching Montana History. Like most blogs that focus on state or local history, you can always find strategies and ideas that can cross over to other content and areas.

A recent Martha article titled “Writing Dialogue Poems to Compare Points of View” is like that. The idea of using poetry to connect emotion with content can be powerful and something social studies teachers should try more often. In her article, Martha shares an idea that she read over at Tarr’s Toolbox. And it is such a great idea, we asked to cross-post it here. Thanks, both Martha and Russel – you guys rock!


Tarr’s Toolbox (one of my favorite blogs) had a post recently on writing dialogue poems to compare points of view.

He pointed to this poem, which, according to a lesson plan posted by the Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition, was written by working-class Chilean woman in 1973, shortly after Chile’s socialist president, Salvador Allende, was overthrown. A US missionary translated the work and brought it with her when she was forced to leave Chile.

I’m copying the poem below–because it is only by reading it that it becomes clear how this works. As Russell Tarr explains, the format is great for comparing and contrasting “the perspectives of the same event or situation from the point of view of different parties involved. Students can read existing poems, or write their own, to examine the main controversies and viewpoints surrounding particular topics.”

I can think of lots of Montana history topics that students could do this for. Can you? If you have your students write perspective poems, send me one of your favorites. I’d love to read it!

Here’s the model, written about the 1973 Chilean coup:

I am a woman.

I am a woman.

I am a woman born of a woman whose man owned a factory.

I am a woman born of a woman whose man laboured in a factory.

I am a woman whose man wore silk suits, who constantly watched his weight.

I am a woman whose man wore tattered clothing, whose heart was constantly strangled by hunger.

I am a woman who watched two babies grow into beautiful children.

I am a woman who watched two babies die because there was no milk.

I am a woman who watched twins grow into popular college students with summers abroad.

I am a woman who watched three children grow, but with bellies stretched from no food.

But then there was a man;

But then there was a man;

And he talked about the peasants getting richer by my family getting poorer.

And he told me of days that would be better, and he made the days better.

We had to eat rice.

We had rice.

We had to eat beans!

We had beans.

My children were no longer given summer visas to Europe.

My children no longer cried themselves to sleep.

And I felt like a peasant.

And I felt like a woman.

A peasant with a dull, hard, unexciting life.

Like a woman with a life that sometimes allowed a song.

And I saw a man.

And I saw a man.

And together we began to plot with the hope of the return to freedom.

I saw his heart begin to beat with hope of freedom, at last.

Someday, the return to freedom.

Someday freedom.

And then,

But then,

One day,

One day,

There were planes overhead and guns firing close by.

There were planes overhead and guns firing in the distance.

I gathered my children and went home.

I gathered my children and ran.

And the guns moved farther and farther away.

But the guns moved closer and closer.

And then, they announced that freedom had been restored!

And then they came, young boys really.

They came into my home along with my man.

They came and found my man.

Those men whose money was almost gone —

They found all of the men whose lives were almost their own.

And we all had drinks to celebrate.

And they shot them all.

The most wonderful martinis.

They shot my man.

And then they asked us to dance.

And then they came for me.


For me, the woman.

And my sisters.

For my sisters.

And then they took us,

Men they took us,

They took us to dinner at a small, private club.

They stripped from us the dignity we had gained.

And they treated us to beef.

And then they raped us.

It was one course after another.

One after another they came after us.

We nearly burst we were so full.

Lunging, plunging – sisters bleeding, sisters dying.

It was magnificent to be free again!

It was hardly a relief to have survived.

The beans have almost disappeared now.

The beans have disappeared.

The rice – I’ve replaced it with chicken or steak.

The rice, I cannot find it.

And the parties continue night after night to make up for all the time wasted.

And my silent tears are joined once more by the midnight cries of my children.

And I feel like a woman again.

They say, I am a woman.

Based on Martha’s example, I started brainstorming a bit more about how you might use this great idea.

While it is possible to track down other examples of this type of poetry but I think having students create their own dialogue poems would be even more impactful. After research and discussion, perhaps have two students work together to write both sides of the poem. Students could also choose to work alone. Maybe split your class into two groups that work together and then jigsaw one kid from each group to work together. Whole group could also work.

Possible topics?

  • A Cherokee leaving Georgia and a white gold seeker could provide different perspectives on the forced removal of Native Americans from the southeast  United States.
  • A sheriff selling a foreclosed home in Dust Bowl era Kansas and the farmer could alternate lines.
  • A member of the group marching across the bridge at Selma and a member of the deputized posse giving their perspectives on voting rights in the 1960s.
  • A supporter of the Electoral College and someone who opposes the idea. (Maybe in 1787. Or 2000. Or 2017.)
  • European explorers and those being “discovered.”
  • Gandhi during his Salt March and a British soldier.
  • Maybe not even people. How about small states vs large states at the Constitutional Convention? Or different economic theories? Different types of maps? Different types of governments?

Teaching Tolerance has a nice example here. And ReadWriteThink has an extended lesson for upper elementary kids that you can adapt that incorporates what they call a Two Voice Poem. You can find some nice resources including a planning sheet and a draft sheet. I also like their peer review sheet to use as students present their poetry.

In his original post, Russel’s also shared a few examples:

  • A Muslim and a Christian giving their perspectives on the causes, events and consequences of the Crusades;
  • King Henry VIII and Thomas More explaining how and why they moved from being friends to enemies (Becket and Henry II would work here too);
  • A Hiroshima bomb victim and a U.S. Air Force pilot flying the plane that dropped the bomb;
  • A German and a British citizen describing the events that led to the outbreak of World War One;
  • An American and a Soviet observer describing the events that led to the development of the Cold War;
  • Richard Pipes and Sheila Fitzpatrick presenting their opposing views about the nature of the Bolshevik Revolution;
  • Hugh Trevor-Roper and AJP Taylor presenting their opposing views about whether Hitler was planner or a gambler in foreign affairs.

About Glenn Wiebe

I work as a social studies specialist at ESSDACK, an educational service center in Hutchinson, Kansas. Before coming to ESSDACK, I taught middle school US History and higher ed social science classes.

1 thought on “Using dialogue poems to compare, contrast, highlight perspective

Leave a Reply