Blackout Poem Assignment

There's a certain zen quality to creating traditional blackout poems...that is until in your Sharpie induced brain fog, you accidently mark over a word you needed then have to start all over. ;)

The zen before the breakdown, ha 

I love assigning blackout poems when we read challenging texts. I feel that it gives students a fun and effective way of finding main points, revealing author's craft, and highlighting deeper meanings of passages. For example, here is a passage from "To Build a Fire" by Jack London :

 The assignment that you see one of my students doing above was to find the central theme of the story by creating a blackout poem. Here are some digital examples of the outcome of this assignment:

(A student example printed out) 

Since I use blackout poetry in a less free-style and non-fluff way, I want my students to be able to revise their work and close read without fear of messing up their final product. Digital blackout poems to the rescue!!! Blackout poems without the Sharpie high, ink-stained fingers, and unintentional mistakes, whoop! 

How to Create a Blackout Poem Using Google Slides: 

Step one: Open a new Google Slide 

Step 2: Right click and cut out all of the text boxes 

Step 3: Go to File>Page Setup 

Step 4: Click the drop down menu then select "custom." You will want your slide to be 8.5x11 if you wish for it to be printer paper size (***Note: when printing be sure to click "scale to fit" so that the edges aren't cut off) 

Step 5: Go get the text you want to use for your blackout poem. You will be copying and pasting this into your slide. 

Step 6: Paste it into your slide. You will need to play around with the text box, font, and font size to get it to where it fills up the entire page (***Note, make sure your font is single spaced before you get too precise with your text. See next picture for how to do this). If you find that you are in between font sizes on the scale, simply type in a number to make it the exact size you need. Notice that I needed size 20 font even though that wasn't an option in the drop down menu.  

Step 7: Duplicate your slide so that you have creative choices (background colors, font colors, etc) 

Step 8: To make the background black (or a different color). Go to Background >Color>Select Color. Be sure to change your font color to where it's readable! For example, the black background will need white font.  

Step 9: Now to the fun part!! Depending on which slide you are working on, change either the text color or the highlighting color to black out the words. For example, if you are using the white background, you will select the words you want to disappear and go to highlight then click black. 

Step 10: To add a little more artistic quality to it, you might choose to add in an image. 

 If you do want to add art, be sure to add the letters PNGafter the term! This will give you a transparent background so that it doesn't mess up the look of your poem 

White background example:

I have included this activity in my Digital Unit Plan for "To Build  Fire" if you want to check it out! I'm in the process of digitalizing my entire catalog of lessons, so be sure to follow me while you are there for future Google and Microsoft lesson plans! :) 

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Are you in a Microsoft classroom? You can also create these digital poems in PowerPoint and OneNote! I have a separate post with these directions! 

There’s something positively thrilling about carrying a pristine bundle of brand new books into your classroom library, introducing them for the first time to wide-eyed students, then seeing this exuberance repeated multiple times — hopefully over many years — on the faces of countless students as they read a great book for the first time. Despite gallant efforts of classroom teachers to prolong their existence, there comes a point in the life of every classroom library book when it is finally time to say goodbye. Where do good books go to live out their final days? If you’re like me, discarding a once valued member of our classroom into the trash is simply not an option. Once their covers are torn, entire chapters are missing, and who-knows-what is stuck between the pages, create blackout poems to repurpose and honor the memory of old, worn-out books.


Blackout Poems

Stacy Antoville, an amazing middle school art teacher in New York City, first introduced me to blackout poetry. The words for blackout poems are already written on the page, but it’s up to the blackout poet to bring new meaning and life to these words. 

Blackout poems can be created using the pages of old books or even articles cut from yesterday’s newspaper. Using the pages of an existing text, blackout poets isolate then piece together single words or short phrases from these texts to create lyrical masterpieces. Blackout poems, as I’m sure you can imagine, run the gamut from absurd to sublime because all of the words are already there on the page, but the randomness is all part of the fun! Some pages of text, admittedly, work better than others. Although it might not be Wordsworth each time, I truly believe a poem lives within the words and lines of any page, and I encourage my students to uncover it.      

Creating a blackout poem involves steps that are all about deconstruction then reconstruction. 

Step 1: Scan the page first before reading it completely. Keep an eye out for an anchor word as you scan. An anchor word is one word on the page that stands out to you because it is packed and loaded with meaning and significance.  Starting with an anchor word is important because it helps you to imagine possible themes and topics for your poem. 

Step 2: Now read the page of text in its entirety. Use a pencil to lightly circle any words that connect to the anchor word and resonate with you. Resonant words might be expressive or evocative, but for whatever reason, these are the words on the page that stick with you. Avoid circling more than three words in a row.

Step 3: List all of the circled words on a separate piece of paper. List the words in the order that they appear on the page of text from top to bottom, left to right. The words you use for the final poem will remain in this order so it doesn’t confuse the reader. 

Step 4: Select words, without changing their order on the list, and piece them together to create the lines of a poem. You can eliminate parts of words, especially any endings, if it helps to keep the meaning of the poem clear. Try different possibilities for your poem before selecting the lines for your final poem. If you are stuck during this step, return back to the original page of text. The right word you are searching for could be there waiting for you.

Step 5: Return to the page of text and circle only the words you selected for the final poem.  Remember to also erase the circles around any words you will not be using.

Step 6: Add an illustration or design to the page of text that connects to your poem. Be very careful not to draw over the circled words you selected for your final poem!

Photos courtesy of Stacy Antoville

As you can see, blackout poetry is a great way to infuse visual art into poetry in order to creatively enhance a poem's meaning. If you’re looking for additional ways to highlight the art of poetry during National Poetry Month, the latest issue of Scholastic Teacher magazine includes additional ideas and strategies.

For other inventive ideas on what to do with your too-far-gone-to-be-read material, check out fellow blogger Meghan Everette's "Reusing Books: Endless Purposes for Discards."

For another art-paired-with-poetry project, take a look at this Pantoum Parade project printable from Scholastic Printables. For a limited time they are making the printable free for Top Teaching readers so enjoy!


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