A blackout poem is a piece of poetry where the text and text form a sort of visual poem. I was drawn in to blackout poetry by one image and decided to explore the concept and learn more about it. I was intrigued by how it was displayed and the creativity involved.
I have some fantastic writers in my class and I wanted to explore poetry with them, but do it in a way they had never experienced. My class were unfamiliar with blackout poetry and so I took the opportunity to experience something that was both new to me and my students.
I have created this handy Six Steps to Blackout Poetry guide and a downloadable resource is available below. I began with a mini lesson on poetry which was really a discussion to figure out what my students prior knowledge, their thoughts and opinions and if there was anything I needed to specifically teach before beginning the topic. I started off by asking each student to write down what poetry meant to them on a post-it. Most students responded that they weren’t too interested in poetry or types of poems they were familiar with. We unpacked and sorted the responses into positive and negative opinions of poetry. My plan was to ask this question again at the end of the topic and see if their thoughts and opinions would change.
From this mini lesson, I was happy with how much my students knew about poetry and we could move on to something new. I asked my students if they had heard of blackout poetry and none of them had. I have to say, as a teacher, this is the best response as it means each student will learn new skills and they can work together throughout the topic which is important for collaborative skills, in my opinion. I showed my students some imagery of blackout poems and they were really intrigued and had so many questions.
I decided to start my next mini lesson by demonstrating the steps of blackout poetry. I choose a page from a classic Roald Dahl story, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator as I knew most students would be familiar with it and enlarged it to A3 before gathering my students together in our shared space.
Step 1: SCAN – Scan the text in full and record the first word that comes to mind after reading it.
We discussed the importance of this word as it would now be known an anchor word and would become the title of the poem. It should connect with the text and could potentially influence the illustration as the final step.
Step 2: IDENTIFY- Reread the full text and using a pencil, circle any words that relate to the anchor word.
At this stage, you don’t circle connecting words such as; a, and, the, etc. You might not use all of the words connected to the anchor word in the final draft in your poem but, it is better to circle more and then remove the ones you don’t need. Record the list of words on a blank piece of paper- I used my whiteboard for teaching purposes.
Step 3: REFINE – Read the words that you have recorded and begin to cross out any words you don’t want to use, you can always add them back in if needs be.
The great thing about blackout poetry is that the poem can be quite abstract, it does not have to rhyme, it does not need any particular amount of lines and that’s why it is great for students who “think” they cannot write poetry. The final words in the poem must be in order, they cannot be moved around. The main “rule” is that you cannot cross out letters and rejoin two words up, such as ‘ask us’ and cross out the ‘u’ to make the word ‘asks’. You don’t have to use a full word, should you record the word ‘crashing’, you can cross out ‘ing’ to use ‘crash’….hopefully that makes sense!
Challenge students to identify opportunities to include poetic devices such as; the power of three, alliteration, onomatopoeia, similes, rhyme, etc.
Step 4: CONNECT- It’s time to find those connecting words you need.
What I love about this step is being able to manipulate words, should you need the word ‘in’, you can use a word such as ‘tiny’ and cross out the letters ‘t’ and ‘y’. It is fun to manipulate words in this way and see smaller words in large words.
Step 5: OUTLINE- Define your chosen words in the text.
Using a marker/texta to outline each of the chosen words in your poem. Don’t forget to leave a little white space if possible so it is easy to see the order of the words as you read it.
Step 6: ILLUSTRATE- Create an illustration to represent your poem.
Surprisingly, this can be quite tricky! Some students struggled to sketch an image around the words in their poem and needed some help to come up with an idea. A good place to start is by asking them if their anchor word might give them idea, or a line in their poem etc. Colour in everything, except the words required for the poem. The final illustration might be made up of a single colour, multiple colours or patterns. Be creative!
And, that’s really it! They are the steps to blackout poetry and I hope you and your students are blown away by their own and each others creations. When it came to my students working on this independently, they completed two pieces. The first piece was a piece of text of their choosing and the second was a piece of text that I chose. I was equally impressed by both pieces of work.
How did the students respond to the topic?
- As I mentioned, each student completed two pieces of blackout poetry. While some students are stronger writers than others, it didn’t matter for this task. Each poem was different, as was the imagery so there was no room for comparison with the work of others
- This task was particularly accessible to EAL students as the focus was on the language, rather than the structure and poetic devices. For one student in particular, it was one of few pieces of work shared with peers and I cannot describe my happiness in this moment. To see her giggling and laughing about how funny and silly she thought her poem was…magical!
- As mentioned, when we finished the topic, I wanted to ask my students what they thought of poetry and why. As you can imagine, their thinking had changed and there were responses such as; “I used to think I couldn’t write poetry, but, now I can”, “Poetry is actually really fun”, “Next time my dog eats pages from one of my books, I’m going to use the other pages to make blackout poetry instead of throwing it out”.
Got time to extend the topic?
I completely made this part up and decided to do reverse blackout poetry. I did this around NAIDOC Week and the theme for the year was ‘Always Was, Always Will Be’. We discussed our happy places, the things we were grateful for and the meaning of the phrase.
I then asked my students to paint an A4 piece to represent their thinking. Following this, they wrote their own poem, any length and style. Finally, they cut the lines or individual words out and pasted them on their painting. And there you have it, reverse blackout poetry.
Download your free copy here
Thank you so much for reading this post. If you decide to use this in your classroom, please feel free to come back and leave some feedback, share your ideas or the blackout poetry completed by your students.