Found poems are created through the careful selection and organization of words and phrases from existing text. Writing found poems provides a structured way for students to review material and synthesize their learning.
Step one: Create a List of Words, Phrases, and Quotations.
Ask students to review any text 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 15-20 different words or phrases so that they have plenty of ideas from which to choose when composing their poem.
Step two: Determine a Theme and Message.
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.
Step three: Select Additional Language.
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.
Step four: Compose your Poem.
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 your 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.
Step five: Share
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, 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.
Step five: Discuss
This activity can end with a final discussion about what the prompts 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?
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