Teaching Writing

Locus Pocus!: Place-Based Poetry Prompts for Writing Outside

“See, the one thing good memories and bad memories have in common is that they both stay with you. I guess that’s why I’ve never known how I feel about this place.”
― Angie Thomas, On the Come Up

Place-based poems are just that, poems based on a particular place. Sometimes the poems celebrate the place, sometimes they investigate it, and sometimes they tell its secrets.

In the two videos below, a writer, educator, and three park rangers ask you to consider Place– the stories, histories, memories, and feelings of a particular place that you know or that is in your community and you are curious about. Each video provides a prompt, and we suggest that you express those prompts in the form of poetry to see how focusing on the images, sounds, and feelings of a place might tell its truest story.

Writing “Sparks”

Spark from Golden Gate National Recreation Center – Imagine a park or other place in your community has a time traveling portal that you can fly through, then write about the different things you see and do in other years.

Content focus: Imagining a place in different time periods by traveling through a magic time portal.
Age-level recommendations: Beginning to advanced writers
Time: Video length = 3:47

The Park Rangers at the Golden Gate National Recreation Center take you through an imaginary time-traveling portal to show you what the park was like in different time periods. They ask you to imagine flying through your own portal in a park or other place in your community and write about the experience, and for this lesson, we suggest that you write your portal flight in the form of a poem!

Spark from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln – An audience, 3 images and a piece of advice: Inspiration from Don Welch’s Advice from a Provincial

Content focus: A place-conscious poetry exercise.
Age-level recommendations: Intermediate to advanced writers
Time: Audio length = 4:48

Dr. Robert Brooke describes that place-conscious education is about the practice of drawing on local natural and cultural resources to ground education in order to make it relevant to learners. Central in this work he emphasizes the dual strands of celebrating and critiquing local place. Begin your own place-conscious writing with this exercise from Robert using a Don Welch poem.


Spark from Oklahoma State University – Consider the real history of your town; search for old photos and, in a journal, collage them with more recent photos and write about the differences.

Content focus: Uncovering the true history of a place
Age-level recommendations: Note that this spark, due to its difficult subject matter, is intended for more mature student writers. Content warning: Extreme racial violence depicted through primary and secondary documents depicting historical events.
Time: Video length = 8:45

Shelley Martin-Young attended and taught in the Oklahoma Schools for over forty years before she learned about the Tulsa Race Massacre that had occurred there in 1921. She was so disturbed by both this new knowledge and the hidden history that she now encourages young writers to pull back the layers to see what their towns or communities were like before they got there. Searching for old photographs and comparing them to recent ones is a great way to get the true story of a place, and we recommend that for this lesson you write about that truth in the form of a poem.

A handout is also available – Knowing Your History: Place, Photography and Poetry.

More about Place-based Poetry

Below are related resources gathered to further support inquiry and exploration of this topic. If you have additional resources to recommend, please share them online via the hashtag #writeout

Place-Conscious Education with the Nebraska Writing Project: This series is designed by and features the work of leading place-conscious teachers of writing and their students and draws upon 25+ years of site-based experience of the Nebraska Writing Project.

Creating Place-based Poems: POV lesson plan for 9-12 graders; In this lesson, students will walk step-by-step through the process of creating place-based poems. They will first practice identifying sights, sounds and other sensory details presented in a video clip about a unique cemetery in Mexico. Students will also investigate how this cemetery inspired the content of two poems by Mexican poet Dolores Dorantes. Students will then list key details about familiar locations in their own community and write place-based poems of their own.

Related resources

The Tulsa Race Massacre, Wikipedia

Tulsa Race Massacre – What You Didn’t Learn In History Class, PBS

Talking About Racism and Racialized Violence with Kids: Teacher resources from the Center from the Racial Justice In Education

This post is part of the Poetry-powered Prompts for Writing Outside collection.