Introducing middle school students to poetry led to a series of amazing lessons, not only for my middle school students, but also myself.
Artistic, visually and creatively engaging– a display of blackout poems interests students & introduces poetry in a fun & interesting way.
The student who created this blackout poem, which she titled “The Embrace”, used a page from an old Nancy Drew novel — “The Mystery of the 99 Steps”.
Fiona later shared with the class a few things she learned during our brainstorming session,
“While I was picking out words for my poem I noticed that most of them were negative. And I thought the author chose those words, like malicious, on purpose in order to build suspense during this part of the book.
— Fiona, 7th grade
As a first year teacher I dreaded teaching poetry. I totally rocked at teaching informational text, fiction, short stories, essays, even novels. My students were moving right along, meeting their goals and making progress.
THEN … we got to poetry.Teaching students the steps to annotate (or take notes) while reading a poem gives them a sense of control.
They are less confused by the difficult vocabulary and figurative language in some poems if they have a clear plan for how to break up the poem and analyze the pieces — like a puzzle!
My own understanding of poetry was mediocre at best. I barely grasped the difference between a narrator and a speaker. How was I going to teach six classes of 7th graders to analyze form, mood, tone, and theme in a poem!?!
So, as the saying goes, fake it til’ ya make it… and start googling “poetry lessons”!
Six years and thousands of lesson plans later, poetry is my favorite material to teach to my middle-schoolers. I get to see a completely different side of my students as they learn to read, analyze, critique, and finally compose poetry.
Some blackout poems are simple works of art, while others can be used as vocabulary practice. Students circle words they don’t recognize and then define them with a partner. Their artwork usually represents the definition of one of the words they analyzed.
It is a fun, exciting, and enlightening process. By the end, students tell me that poetry is their “FAV”! As a language arts teacher, no four words could make me happier.
Exposing students to a completely foreign skill in a fun and engaging way is a great way to spark student interest.
Every year I introduce poetry to students with a lesson on BLACKOUT POETRY! Blackout poems are a fun, simple, and creative way to expose students to poetry. How you adapt the lesson depends on the skill you’re covering. The options for how to incorporate blackout, or found poetry, are endless but the result is always the same — an engaged classroom and a concrete example of poetry basics you and your students can utilize throughout the year.If students’ initial exposure to a new skill is a positive engagement, rather than disappointing or confusing, you will have their attention and their interest when you introduce examples that aren’t so fun and exciting.
Display student poems in the hallway or on the walls of your classroom. The kids enjoy reading each other’s work and the poems serve as a unique visual reference.
Wall display of my students’ blackout poems in the hallway. Throughout our poetry unit, the display served as a creative visual reference that captured students’ attention as they transitioned between classes.
One good thing about blackout poetry is it’s flexibility. Lessons can be adapted to teach a variety of concepts — expanding to skills beyond just poetry and content areas other than language arts.
You can adapt lessons for blackout poetry to teach multiple skills in many content areas.
Using Blackout Poetry to Teach ELA Skills
1. Review reading genres by comparing & contrasting different types of text. Students choose a page from a nonfiction text (newspaper article, biography, etc.) and a page from a work of fiction (novel, short story, etc. Students read and analyze both texts and create a blackout poem with each. Students note the differences and similarities they find in word choice, structure, mood, tone, etc.
2. Analyze word choice to determine mood and tone. As they read a page of text, students find 10-20 words and use a chart to categorize them as positive, negative, or neutral. Have students identify which category has the most words.
Analyzing word choice can be as simple as identifying the literary genre of the the original text based on students’ analysis of word choice. Skills can be complicated as well, for example analyzing the mood (the way a text makes the reader feel) and tone (the author’s attitude about the topic. Skills like mood and tone are usually really difficult for students, especially if the text has higher-level vocabulary. Check out the handout below for some helpful activities you can use in your lessons!
Students write their blackout poem on a separate sheet of paper to make it easy for others to read, but more importantly practice forming a structured poem with words in the original text.
Because poems are so different in structure to other texts students have read, the form & structure are difficult for students to grasp at first. This student chose a page from an old Nancy Drew novel for her poem “The Bully”. Using the author’s words, she chose bullying as her theme — a meaningful subject in middle school.
3. Introduce topic and theme.
4. Analyze the difference between a narrator in fiction and speaker in poetry.
5. Examine the author’s use of point of view — how to analyze pronouns (you, us, them) to determine the POV in a text.
6. Analyze author’s style — does he/she use complicated, flowery language (think Nathaniel Hawthorne) or is the style more simple and to-the-point?
Blackout poetry is a great tool to have in your collection. You will enjoy teaching it, writing it, reading your students’ examples, and discovering the interesting ways you can use it to facilitate learning in your classroom. More importantly, your students will love it and learn the basic poetry skills they will build on for years to come.
There are many great examples of Blackout Poetry on Pinterest, Google, and TPT. Here are some interesting examples I found on a Google search. The more examples your kids see, the better!
Showing your students an example, or modeling how to create a blackout poem will help them get started.