Blackout Poetry for the Win!

Okay, so I hardly ever post lesson plans/resources. There is a cornucopia of reasons for why I don’t, including:

1) Writing about lesson plans/resources is not fun for me. Maybe this makes me a bad teacher? Oops.
2) I often come up with my lesson plans the week (and sometimes even the morning) that I’m doing them.  Again, maybe this makes me a bad teacher. But because of the disparities in ability level of the population that I teach and the fact that I have close to forty 8th graders in my classes, it’s hard for me to plan ahead when I don’t know until I teach something whether or not they will be able to master it one day or whether it’ll take a week.
3) My lesson plans are very rarely phenomenal. 
4) There’s just way too many other things I’d write about, like students long-jumping over piles of barf or the bizarre things I catch myself saying out loud on a daily basis.

But once in a blue moon, there’s something we do in class that makes me want to bust through the doors of the teachers’ lounge, saloon-style, and shout at the top of my lungs, “ALL OF YOU MUST DO THIS!!!”

Thursday was one of those days.

We had some leftover time on Thursday, and earlier in the week I had discovered some class library books that had been ruined in my move across campus this summer. Some had been torn in half, others had a huge chunk of the middle missing. Obviously, I couldn’t throw them away (that’s breaking one of the 10 Commandments of Reading), so I decided to tear out all the pages and assign my students some blackout poetry.

The idea comes from this website, Newspaper Blackout, recommended to me by a Love, Teach reader. Basically this guy takes a permanent marker and redacts newspaper articles to create poetry.  So we did, too! I showed my students from examples, talked them through how to not get Sharpie on their desks/heads/faces/tongues, and let them loose with the pages I’d torn out.

IT WAS THE COOLEST. Take a gander.

Doesn’t this remind you of that famous line in Vonnegut’s God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater? No? Just me? Oh, well. Still cool.

“She took a deep breath and felt all the love whisper to her.” Excuse me while I cry ALL THE TEARS

“Less than pleased is all you are.”

This is just a handful of the amazing stuff my kids made. It is really cool to see what they turn out, and you’ll find yourself in really neat conversations with students about their work. Do it this week, ELA teachers! You’ll be surprazed (that’s my portmanteau for “surprised” and “amazed.” You’re welcome.)


  1. Beth

    Love it! I did it last year with photocopies, but never thought of using too-well-loved books. (P.S. If they do get Sharpie on the desk, color over it completely with Expo marker. It will erase right off!)

  2. Anonymous

    This works in foreign language as well and is a really great way to increase proficiency. I am going to do this with my French IV students this year, and they will have to explain (in French) why they made the choices they did. I'm really excited!!

  3. Kaleena's Kaleidoscope

    Aw I love this! I'm an ESL teacher in Korea (also at an inner city middle school–imagine your job, only with kids that have no idea what you're saying. woof.) but this might actually be a good activity for my kids as well. Gonna give it a whirl! 🙂

  4. Ingrid

    What lovely work! No one but another teacher would realize just how happy a great lesson can make you…And when the students amaze you with their original work, WOW! Great job, Teach!

  5. Anonymous

    Such a great idea. We are reading Catching Fire and I have several copies that have given up. Blackout Poetry is WAY better than tossing them into the recycling bin.

  6. Anonymous

    LOVE this. Love your blog that I just discovered – I will be a teacher all too soon and your blog helps me form a sense of what its really like out there. I have 6 picture frames that have been hanging on my walls empty (actually they all have the same picture of a little girl that came in the frame) for 6 months. I think I might finally fill them with these poems! Way cool art! Thanks!

  7. Potato

    Whoah. Awesome idea. So awesome I had to try it myself, but unfortunately none of my attempted poems came out quite so beautifully. Oh well, thanks for the awesome activity to counteract a boring afternoon.

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