First off, I fully acknowledge that I did not come up with the idea of blackout poetry. A few years ago I read many posts about ELA teachers utilizing it (I think I originally saw it on Pinterest and then clicked through to teachers’ blogs to read the details) and I thought it was a great idea. I also fully acknowledge there are many different ways to incorporate this in class, but for this being my students’ first exposure to it, I went the main point/historical context route. This was going to be a refreshing way for my kids to demonstrate an understanding of a document while incorporating visual creativity. I just needed the right opportunity to try it out.
When I got to WW2 with my juniors, I decided to stop putting this off. After we completed an academic analysis of FDRs Day of Infamy speech, I introduced the concept of blackout poetry, showed them examples from ELA classes (since those were the examples I had found at the time) and then they made their own.
I explained to my kids that they would literally “black out” most of the text of the speech and leave just a few words/phrases here and there so that if someone only read what was visible, they would still understand the main point of the text. The main restriction I gave them was that there shouldn’t be more than 4-5 words/phrases visible on each line if possible, and to strive for only 1-3. I also told them to think of a visual representation for the text to incorporate in and around the speech.
Since this was the first time I was utilizing this strategy, I gave my students flexibility in their visual representation choice such as causes, effects, the event itself, a feature of it, implications, geography, people involved, nations involved, etc—one student created the American and Japanese flags at the top left and bottom right with the USS Arizona diagonally in between them, but I was unable to get a picture it.
Since I had extra time (and small classes), I was able to group my kids into 3 and 4 to read their visible text to each other. They then discussed why they chose to leave those words/phrases visible and they compared and contrasted the groups’ excerpts. It was so interesting to hear each student’s thought process and then to hear them discuss the similarities and differences between each others blacked out texts (especially when they saw how many different ways there were to convey the same overall message).
The following year when I did this, I did it similarly first semester with an academic analysis first of Lincoln’s Spot Resolution followed by blackout poetry, and then second semester I had them first read excerpts of Carnegie’s Gospel of Wealth followed by blackout poetry, and then we concluded with an academic analysis assignment. This turned out to be one of my favorite activities with my kids those two years. For my particular students, it was a perfect balance of academics, creativity, and discussion.
If you try blackout poetry this year, I am sure it will be a great activity that your kids will want to do again!
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