A close up of a student writing on a piece of paper.
Teaching Strategy

Found Poems

Students compose poems using only words, phrases, or quotations from a text that they find meaningful.

Published:

At a Glance

Teaching Strategy

Language

English — US

Subject

  • English & Language Arts
  • History
  • Social Studies

Grade

6–12

Overview

About This Teaching Strategy

A “found poem” is one that is created using only words, phrases, or quotations that have been selected and rearranged from another text. To create found poems, students must choose language that is particularly meaningful or interesting to them and organize the language around a theme or message. Writing found poems is a structured way to have students review material and synthesize their learning.

 

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Lesson Plans

Steps for Implementation

Ask students to review a text, or multiple texts, related to the unit of study, including work on the walls of the classroom, journal entries, primary source documents, and the text itself. As students look over these texts, have them record words, phrases, or quotations that are particularly interesting or meaningful. We recommend that they identify between 15 and 20 different words or phrases so that they have plenty of ideas from which to choose when composing their poems.

Now students identify a theme and message that represents some or all of the language they have selected. A theme is a broad concept such as “obedience” or “loyalty.” A message is a specific idea they would like to express about this theme. For example, “decision making” is a theme. A message about decision making expressed by humanitarian Carl Wilkens is, “Every situation is an opportunity and every opportunity demands a decision.” Often it is helpful for students to do this step with a partner. Students can trade lists and describe the themes or main ideas they see in their partner’s list.

Found poems only use words that have been collected from other sources. So, once students have selected a theme and a message, they may need to review their materials again to collect additional language.

Students are now ready to arrange the language they have selected to create their poems. One approach to this task is to have students write all of the words and phrases on slips of paper, so that they can move the slips around until they are satisfied with their poem. Let students know that they cannot add their own words when creating a found poem (not even articles or prepositions), but they can repeat words or phrases as often as they like. Also, when composing found poems, students do not need to use all of the words or phrases they have previously selected.

Students can read their poems aloud to the class. Alternatively, students can read the poems silently. First, have students pass their poems to the left once. Have students read the poem they’ve received, write a comment (students should sign their name to their comment), and then pass the poem again to the left for another comment. Depending on how much time you have, you might allow for three or four passes, or you might have time for students to comment on all of the poems created by their classmates.

This activity can end with a final discussion based on what the poems reveal about the material students have just studied. Prompts you might use to structure this discussion include: What strikes you about these poems? What do they have in common? How are they different? What surprised you when reading them?

Variations

The instructions above assume that students are writing their own poems, but the same process can be used for small or large groups of students who create found poems together. You can have each student select one line for the found poem, or you can have the group determine the words and phrases that will be used but allow each student to create his/her own arrangement of this language.

While composing the found poems helps students review and synthesize what they have learned from a unit, the poem itself does not always reveal the thinking that has gone into creating this work. For that information, you can ask students to write a statement explaining their poem. Questions students can answer in this statement include: What is the message of your poem? What “evidence” can be found in your poem that supports this message? Why is this message important to you?

Students can publish their poems, in a print format or on the web, as a way to share them with an outside audience.

Another way to have students share their poems is in a poetry reading. This could be an evening activity where the students from other classes, parents, and teachers are invited to attend. The audience should be invited to ask students questions about their poems.

Learn how to implement the Found Poems teaching strategy in an online learning environment. This strategy helps students review material and synthesize their learning by creating a found poem.

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The found poems teaching strategy can be used to engage students in an online class discussion about a single text or a group of texts. This teaching strategy helps students to review material and synthesize their learning by creating a found poem. These poems use only words, phrases, or quotations that have been selected and rearranged from another text.

The found poems teaching strategy is best completed asynchronously within a defined time period, such as one or two days. It is also possible to complete some discussion steps in real time, synchronously with students.

Planning and facilitating student discussion when not physically present together can be challenging. So it's important to consider these questions before doing a found poems activity online with your students.

What collaborative digital tools do I want to use to facilitate found poems online? What is the defined time period I want to set for completing the activity? How am I going to deliver instructions to students for completing the activity? And how do I want to facilitate the sharing and discussion of student poems?

Before introducing the activity to students, identify the collaborative digital tool students will use to post their found poems. Padlet and Google Docs are examples of tools you can use for this activity. Also, identify how you will share the text students will work with to create their poems. For example, a shared Google folder.

Begin by asking students to review texts, such as journal entries or primary source documents. As students look over these texts, have them record words, phrases, or quotations they find meaningful. Students can take their notes either digitally or on paper. Both options work well for creating and sharing a found poem in an online environment.

Once students have a collection of words, phrases, and quotations, have them identify a theme and a message that reflects some or all of the language they have selected.

A theme is a broad concept, such as obedience, while a message is a specific idea they would like to express about this theme. It can be helpful for students to do this step with a partner. Consider having students work asynchronously in pairs using Google Docs. Students can also work with partners synchronously by scheduling time for a phone conversation or a Google Hangout meeting.

Before students begin arranging the language they collected, they may need to review their materials again for additional language. While students can repeat words or phrases as often as they like, found poems only use words that have been collected from other sources.

After students write their poems, have them silently read and then engage in an asynchronous discussion of others' poems. Consider having each student read three to four other poems, and write one comment for each poem they read. You could also have students share and discuss their poems synchronously. Consider having a few students read their poems aloud, and then facilitate a conversation using a chat function or having students unmute to respond.

To bring this activity to a close, have students reflect in their journals about what the poems reveal about the material they have just studied. A few prompts you might want to offer students include-- What strikes you about these poems? What do they have in common? How are they different? And what surprised you in reading them?

Taking found poems online provides an opportunity for students to review texts and synthesize their learning. It also creates a visual record of students thinking, that you and your students can refer back to at any time.

Let us know how you are using the found poems teaching strategy with your students. Share your ideas and ask questions in Facing History's Digital Lounge.

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