Figure 1 – my annotated example of the text.

For many middle schoolers, writing poetry is a daunting task.  For some, they believe poetry is a sing-songy way to write nonsense for little children.  For some, they believe poetry is a cryptic way to write confusing ideas that no one will ever understand.

For most of them, when asked to write their own poetry, they simply do not know where to begin.

Exposure to many poets and styles of poetry is helpful in breaking down the stereotypes that students bring with them when studying poetry, however, mentor texts are not always enough to build up confidence or breakdown resistance from the most struggling students.  Sometimes, if the students still find the writing to be juvenile or confusing, their resistance to writing poetry will persist.

A fun exercise to use at the beginning of the year, or at the beginning of a poetry unit, is having students create found poetry from a well-known piece of literature.

In the case of this example, I chose a page, at random, from Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird.  (I chose this book because a)  the language in the book lends itself well to many poetic devices,  b) most of my students will read the novel next year as part of the 8th grade curriculum, and c) I simply love the book.)

I started by showing students my copy of the text and how I lightly underlined words that “spoke to me”, sounded poetic, or just seemed interesting.  Then, I modeled how I went back through my annotations to try to fit the words, in the order that they already appeared in the text, into phrases that would be come my own poetry.  I circled the words and phrase that I wanted to use, erasing all other marks.  (See figure 1.)

Next, I read my found poem aloud to students:

Free of it
Men collapsed, followed by a flurry of groups
We found out next day it had
Slid across the street
The smoking black hole
Did not want to talk
I found myself clutching my shoulders
I turned for an answer
Away from everybody

They liked the poem and found it interesting that while it “sounded” like a poem, it came from the page of the novel.  Once they seemed to get the hang of what I was asking them to do, they tried it on their own.  For the students who still needed more clarification, more convincing, or just a little more time, we completed one more example together.

This time, rather than modeling the example on a paper copy projected via a document camera, I used a whiteboard application on my iPad and projected the via the AppleTV.  (The intention behind changing modalities was simply to vary the way the concepts were presented; I hoped this would help engage students who might not have responded to the first example.  See Figure 2.)

Figure 2 – second example using a whiteboard app, iPad, and AppleTV


Once students were all engaged in “finding” their own poems from the text, you could hear a pin drop in the room.  They, even the most resistant to poetry, were writing poems!  The students were also all eager to share what they had written with the class.  It was fun for them to see how they each created something very different, even though they were using the exact same page of text.

We explored a number of ways to publish the poems, and here are a few examples:

Figure 3 – Jacky’s illustrated poem directly on the photocopy of the original text.

Figure 4 – Oliver’s cleanly typed, and simply illustrated poem

Figure 5 – Brittany’s poem in her writer’s notebook – art journaling style.

Later in our poetry unit, I could see that the confidence gained from this exercise was directly transferred to other types of poetry students wrote.  It is an exercise that I plan to continue using in the future.

What did YOU do in school today?


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