THIS IS JUST TO SAY... Boost Writer Confidence and Social Emotional Learning with Apology Poems

As teachers, we encourage our students to come up with fresh, original ideas.  But sometimes imitation is the scaffolding students need to boost their writing confidence.  In his book Steal Like an Artist, Austin Kleon explains the value of "stealing" ideas, by which he means embracing influence and learning from others. 


When I teach poetry,  I often have students imitate the form of existing poems. This "scaffolding" takes some of the pressure off.  Students don't have to worry about how to format their poem and instead can focus on putting their best ideas on the page.

A poem that works particularly well for imitation is THIS IS JUST TO SAY by William Carlos Williams. Although brief, this poem is packed with specific, tangible images and layers of meaning. 

This Is Just To Say 

I have eaten 
the plums 
that were in 
the icebox 

and which you 
were probably 
for breakfast 

Forgive me 
they were delicious 
so sweet
and so cold


I'm not the first to come up with the idea of imitating this famous apology poem. Children's poet and Newbery Honor winner Joyce Sidman uses Williams' poem as the springboard for her poetry picture book, This is Just to Say: Poems of Apology and Grief. In this book, a diverse community of children and adults writes poems back and forth to convey apology, forgiveness, and acceptance. 

I love using Sidman's book as a poetry mentor text. Not only does it show students how imitation can lead to inspiration, but it's a great text for social emotional learning and creating a  classroom culture of kindness. The book can spark conversations about how mistakes can help us grow, what makes an apology feel sincere, and why forgiveness can lead to healing.  

After reading and discussing Williams' poem, I share the poems in Sidman's book, which form their own compelling story when read together. We discuss the themes of apology, forgiveness, and acceptance. Then I invite students to write their own apology poems, imitating the form of Williams' poem but coming up with their own ideas.  I hand out an APOLOGY POEM TEMPLATE to each student. I created this template to make it easier for students to follow Williams' format. (You can download my template for free to use with your students HERE.)

apology poem template
When I first introduced the idea of writing poems that imitate the format of William Carlos Williams' poem, one student looked at me warily and said "Isn't that plagiarism?" (This student had recently learned about plagiarism during a research essay unit.) We discussed how imitating a poem's structure but using your own words is not plagiarism. Still, it's important to acknowledge the original artist.  Joyce Sidman does this in her book and so do my students with their own poems. 

Here are some examples of the apology poems my students created...

Apology Poem Example 1 Apology Poem Example 2

Try writing apology poems with your students. Imitation may be just the scaffolding your students need to boost their confidence as poets AND help the understand how apologizing is an important part of being kind. 

About Michelle Schaub

Michelle Schaub is a language arts teacher and award-winning children's poet. She is the author of the picture book poetry collections Fresh-Picked Poetry: A Day at the Farmers’ Market  and Finding Treasure: A Collection of Collections. She is also the author of two picture books in verse, Dream Big, Little Scientists and Kindness is a Kite String: The Uplifting Power of Empathy. Her poems appear in several anthologies, including  Great Morning! Poems for School Leaders to Read Aloud.  Michelle loves visiting schools and speaking at conferences on the power of poetry to boost literacy. Find out more at:


  1. I absolutely love the students' "imitations" (and of course, love WCW's original poem). Thank you for sharing these ideas and the children's poetry!

    1. Thanks for your enthusiasm, Carol! Kids really have fun coming up with clever apologies!

  2. Wonderful examples! Love the strategy!


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