Blackout Poetry: Worth Waiting For

Jill Weber teaches US History at Cheney Middle School and high schoolers in the Teaching Career Pathway. Today she shares how she incorporates the Blackout Poetry literacy and writing activity into her instruction.


Sometimes great ideas come to us, and we’re so excited to try them, BUT the pace of the year come crashing in on us and we have to put those ideas on hold. I’ve had this idea on hold the the last three years, and we are FINALLY getting to it. Blackout Poetry.

Blackout Poetry is using text that has been printed (books, newspapers, magazines, etc…) and manipulating the text to convey a new poetic meaning. By selecting words from the text and then blacking out the remaining words.

Take a minute to Google it and check out the images. So cool!

I first ran across using this in the social studies classroom when I read this blog post by Paul Bogush. He had used it to finish up a unit on the Lowell Mill Girls. I loved the idea and thought it would be perfect to end our slavery unit.

My plan was to find cheap books and use those for the poems, but I lucked out. We were renovating areas in our school and when it was time for the library to go under construction, the librarian went through and purged some old books that were rarely (if ever) checked out. She was going to get rid of them, and I snatched them up. They’ve been sitting in boxes in my room for 3 years waiting to be transformed into poetry.

To be honest, I was a little nervous about trying this. This isn’t any ordinary task. This is deep thinking and challenging. The same things I love about that, also make me worried about my ability to teach HOW to do it. When this happens, instead of throwing the idea away, I go to my favorite resource . . . YouTube.

If kids can learn how to make slime, braid their hair, or get to the next level on their X-Box game, they can use a video to learn how to do something in class.

I searched for “blackout poem how-to” videos and found a couple that were good. I threw together a slide presentation which has:

  • the definition of blackout poetry
  • a quick task for kids to see what the finished product can look like,
  • the videos
  • requirements for their poems
  • the grading rubric

Want that presentation?  Click here! 

The day I explained it, my 8th graders looked at me like I was crazy. But once they started tearing through the books, finding their pages, and selecting words for their poems, they got it. This was cool!

Challenging, rigorous, rewarding, and COOL.

Here are a few examples of slavery blackout poems.

Broken – By: Harrison

 

The Race to Freedom – By: Brooklyn

 

Last Hope – By Madilyn

 

Monstrous Beast – By Lillian

I LOVE this project. I love how engaged my students were. It was S-I-L-E-N-T in my classroom when we worked on this. Not because they were bored, because they were focused. One of my favorite quotes . . .

This is literally the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

That might have been an exaggeration, but I loved that even though he thought it was hard, he was engaged with the content and the project.

About glennw

I work as a social studies specialist at ESSDACK, an educational service center in Hutchinson, Kansas. Before coming to ESSDACK, I taught middle school US History and higher ed social science classes.

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