Throughout my teaching career, I’ve found poetry to be one of those topics that many students fear. Perhaps they worry about exposing their inner thoughts and feelings, or perhaps it’s just the fear of learning a new genre, but I assure them that poetry can be a fun and fulfilling experience.
Still skeptical, they enter the classroom to see station signs set up on the tables and various materials at each. As they settle in, I explain that we will be rotating through “Found Poetry Stations” and begin describing the rationale and method of traditional Found Poetry.
Found Poetry can be dated back to the 1920’s when the Dada art movement was emerging, followed by surrealism, creating a style that emphasized the unconscious, chance, and juxtaposition – elements that lent themselves well to the concept of Found Poetry in its use of taking pre-existing text, literary or not, and using it as the source of a new poetic work.
Though one of the first and most common forms of Found Poetry remains the “cut-up” method of cutting words or phrases from other sources such as newspapers and magazines and rearranging these to create a new poem, there have been many other forms of Found Poetry throughout the last hundred years, and new media and technology continue to advance this style even today.
For students that are fearful, nervous, or just uninterested in writing poetry, there are many ways that Found Poetry can reach even the most reluctant writer. For starters, the nature of Found Poetry is that it is “found,” meaning students are not required to come up with every line of their poem, which is great for struggling writers, similar to using sentence stems. Secondly, with much of their poem containing elements from other sources, students can avoid the assumption that the poem is about them or their feelings, as many teens may prefer to keep their inner monologue private from their teacher and classmates. Lastly, harkening back to the Dada and Surrealism artists, Found Poetry has an element of chance, intrigue and mystery, which will appeal to students’ sense of creativity and whimsy.
Here are my favourite types of Found Poetry to include in my classroom stations, guaranteed to win over your most resistant poetry fan.
As mentioned above, the cut-up style of Found Poetry is a classic. Students love flipping through magazines looking for words that catch their eye. Plus, who doesn’t love creating a poem that looks like a ransom note?
This method of Found Poetry requires students to black out sections of a source text, only leaving the words that will make up their poem. Students can even get artistic with their poem by creating an image or design in the blacked out parts. If you have old books that you don’t mind students using the pages from, it can create a cool piece to display, but I usually print out pages of classic novels from the Internet and provide these instead.
If you see an English teacher in the paint section of a hardware store, chances are they are not planning on painting a room any time soon, but rather collecting paint chips for their students. Paint Chip poetry can occur in many ways, usually with the names of each paint colour on the chip being used in each line of a poem. Students can also use the paint chips to find a title for a poem as well. If you don’t have time to collect actual paint chips, there are many examples you can find in a Google Image search and either print off or display on the board.
In this style of poetry, you can either provide students with clean garbage such as cans, bottles, or packaging that will be recycled, or you can have students find their own garbage in the recycling bins. Instruct students to find a word on each piece of garbage and incorporate these words into each line of their poem, literally creating a treasure from someone else’s trash.
Magnet poetry requires a sense of imagination but tends to not be too stressful as it reminds students of moving magnets around on the fridge at home. I have a magnet poetry board permanently set up in my classroom, but if you don’t have a set of magnetic words, don’t fret, your students can create their poems on the Magnetic Poetry website.
For this kind of Found Poem, I provide students with stacks of novels and instruct them to choose one and randomly open to a page and point to a sentence. This becomes the first line of their poem. Then students choose another line from another book and this becomes the last line of their poem. Students will connect their first and last “found” lines together by writing as many lines in the middle as you ask for. The fun of this kind of poetry is seeing how two seemingly different topics can come together in the same poem.
For Book Spine poetry, students will need access to lots of books, so if you don’t have much of a classroom library, you may need to venture to your school’s library. Students simply take books and stack them in an order so that the book titles on the spine become a poem. Once students are happy with their stack, you can take a picture before returning the books to their shelves.
With social media poetry, I instruct students to look at the main page of one of their social medias (Facebook or Twitter work well as they have a lot of text, but Instagram could also work by searching in the captions). Students take twenty to twenty five of the first words they see and write them down. Then the words need to be rearranged into a poem. It’s interesting to read these poems and notice how the feel of them still seems like a Facebook rant.
If you’ve tried any of these methods of Found Poetry before I’d love to hear your variations on them, and if you haven’t tried these, let me know which ones you’ll incorporate. Comment below or join the conversation on Instagram!
Happy Poetry Month!