The diamante final exam: a lesson worth remembering

I taught middle school early in my career, at the beginning of the movement to “mainstream” students receiving special education services, moving them from a self-contained classroom environment into the general classroom population.

Jeff was a sixth grader in one of the classes I team-taught with the Special Ed department chair.  Try as we might, we couldn’t get Jeff to participate in class assignments.  We couldn’t get him to pick up a pencil, much less the curriculum-required blue or black ink pen.

We couldn’t get him to dictate a story or a response to a question.  We tried modification after modification, parent conferences, team conferences.

We worked hard to get a computer so that he could use a word processor. Even bribery (yes, it’s in the teacher bag-o’-tricks).  Nothing.

He wasn’t a bad student, or a bad kid. He just didn’t want to do anything – seemingly because we wanted him to.  We sensed he was probably fairly bright, but we were locked into a “Do it. / I Won’t” cycle that had probably been a pattern for him for years. (Apparently there had been a BIG power struggle – not just for Jeff but also for many of his peers  — with their fifth grade teacher over writing in cursive. )

We could tell by watching him that he was taking things in and had some thoughts about it all.  He just was not going to share and we couldn’t find a way to make it worth his while to do so.

I  experienced many moments of feeling like an abject failure, and if it hadn’t been for the highly skilled, seasoned professional with whom I worked, I might have arrived at that conclusion early on and given up on both Jeff and  on myself.

Although she felt the same frustration, my co-teacher had been through many similar challenges, so we didn’t give up on him. We did come to accept that we weren’t going to get much, if anything from him, but still we tried, hoping that some day something would click, even if we weren’t there when it happened.

Traditional diamante template from

The final unit of the year included figurative writing and formulaic poetry forms.  There had also been a year-long cross-curricular initiative in learning the eight basic parts of speech.

I combined these in one “take home” element of the final exam:  students were to prepare a self-descriptive “diamante,”  a form poem so named for its diamond shape.

For assessment purposes, the final exam diamante differed from the traditional form in that it had to include a metaphor, a simile, three verbs, and a summarizing statement of fact, all describing the writer.  To achieve the diamond shape, the diamante began with the writer’s first name on line one and ended with the writer’s last name on the final line.

Exam day came, and Jeff showed up without a pen or pencil, much less a diamante.  He sat through the entire session with the Scantron (“the bubble sheet”) in front of him.  I don’t recall whether he even bothered to write his name.

He turned in a sheet with a few random bubbles filled in, left the room, and that was the end of our time together.  There wasn’t much for my co-teacher and me to do or say about it. That was that.

Then, at the end of the day, I found a crumpled up piece of paper tossed on my desk at the back of the room.  I opened it to find this diamante, which I have kept ever since in a little frame on whatever desk where I find myself.

Although I’ve altered the names for privacy’s sake, it is written in ink and was signed…in cursive. . . by someone who taught me a lesson worth remembering:

You never really know what’s going on with a person and people will surprise you in the nicest ways.



Diamante links:

Read. Write. Think. (An interactive diamante generator).

University of Oregon


A traditional diamante begins and ends with nouns that are opposites.  The poem can be used in two ways, either comparing and contrasting two different subjects, or naming synonyms and antonyms for another subject.

The subject is named in one word in the first line. The second line consists of two adjectives describing the subject, and the third line contains three verbs ending in the suffix -ing which are related to the subject. A fourth line then has four nouns, again related to the subject, but only the first two words are related the first subject. The other two words describe the opposite subject the lines then are put in reverse, leading to and relating to either a second subject or a synonym for the first.


37 thoughts on “The diamante final exam: a lesson worth remembering

  1. Main streaming was very problematic at times so I won’t cite particulars as you know them. But one thing I did find remarkable is that if i did not know I would not find many of these kids negatively “special” in any way. They did well and fit in fine for the most part. Which leads to another discussion. I think its called the DSM, the categories of diagnoses into which subjects are placed for alleged abnormalities and identifiable mental disabilities or neuroses. Up to just the last two decades there were a few dozen. Now there are about 350 ! So in reality every one of us could be tagged for something and I think much tagging of many kids is inappropriate in tracking school kids. I have found that in a room full of 15 years olds the variance in maturity and skill development can be as great as a half dozen years or more ! Yet in just two or three years later the major part will be at appropriate levels for chronological and mental age congruence. They are mislabeled. Creates jobs in the education industry.


  2. See? Your instincts that he was fairly bright were right on! You must have been a good teacher, Hipster. I know you had your reasons for leaving the profession, but I can’t help feeling just a wee bit sorry for those young minds who didn’t get the benefit of your wisdom and patience. I wanted to be a teacher, too, but I know I wouldn’t have been that patient!


  3. That was amazing amazing amazing. My nephew is in a special class (missing chromosome). If he were to be mainstreamed he would simply be too disruptive. That boy is SMART. He’s eight. Hands-down the best reader of my Noah and my older nephew at that age. These children with their kinks, who are called “special” really truly ARE special. You just don’t always get to see it right away. Beautiful post.


    • More to your point…there is or was a somewhat controversial movement toward GTLD, Gifted & Talented Learning Disabled, that advocated for students like your nephew. I believe, and this goes back to what Carl said, too, that we are all differently abled and life is all about appreciating the differences.


  4. I had an experience today that I think relates to all this. I was at an event that was taking place in an empty field, in the hot sun. The fire department showed up with water – for the people, not to put out a fire. Their supply ran out pretty quickly, and one boy – maybe eight, maybe ten – went over to the cooler and found it empty. I watched him go back twice more, so I walked over to him and said, “Here. Take the lid off your empty bottle and I’ll give you some of my water.”

    He took the lid off, I poured some water in his bottle, he said, “Hey, thanks!” and wandered off. That’s when I realized every adult within ten feet was staring at me. Finally, one woman said, “He’s autistic. He doesn’t talk.” “Well,” I said, “he just thanked me for the water.”

    That boy certainly surprised some people today. Maybe they’ll discover he has a lot more to say, if they just listen.


  5. This is on a different track (no pun intended), but one of my favorite classes to teach is Intro To Film, because it draws in students who’ve always hated school, and disengaged, and there’s always some who get energized because it’s a subject that interests them, and suddenly they enjoy learning for the first time. Hugely rewarding.


  6. Hippie — I’m SO glad you reposted this, as I never saw it. It’s beautiful. Simple, elegant, and speaks to the very heart of why teachers teach. I am so happy for you to have received this poem, and so touched that you hung onto it. What a difference you made in that boy’s life, even if as you said you couldn’t see it. Sometimes having a friend is all we need.



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