Blackout poetry is a great way to inspire creativity. I recommend it for kids and the classroom, but people of all ages can enjoy blackout poetry.
This activity helps children develop creativity, language, and critical thinking skills.
Even though I am a retired teacher, I try to stay up to date with education trends because I enjoy the process of learning and teaching. Nothing excites a teacher more than a new idea that REALLY works.
There are so many education websites to learn from and personal education blogs are some of my favorites. It has recently come to my attention that language arts teachers are using this classroom activity with their kids.
It looks fun so let’s take a closer look at this type of poem. I’ll even share my blackout poetry examples and ideas to help get you started.
Blackout Poetry – A Brief History
Austin Kleon deserves credit for popularizing the idea of using a newspaper to make poetry. However in his book titled, “Steal Like an Artist” he explains how it happened.
When he posted his poetry/art publicly he was accused of copying other artists in the past who did similar work. Tom Phillips is the most recent “word” artist identified but when Kleon did further research he found that wordsmiths have been doing similar things for 250 years.
The oldest records he found were of Caleb Whiteford who was a neighbor of Benjamin Franklin. Caleb liked to scramble the newspaper words and read them in his local pub.
How Blackout Poetry Works
For an artist or writer there is nothing more daunting than a blank page. If it’s bad for adults just think of how it must feel for a student.
I can still feel the frustration when after presenting a great lesson, the kids refused to put pencil to paper, afraid to make a mistake.
And that is another problem. When they do write and make mistakes, kids will erase until there are holes in the paper. That’s why blackout poetry is an excellent activity. What a relief they must feel when all they have to do is look at what’s already on the page and choose the words they like.
So the way it works is as follows:
- Using an old book, magazine, mail ad, or any recycled print, select a page.
- After selecting a page, read through it and circle a few words you like (or that stand out)
- Write the words down on another piece of paper to organize the thoughts
- Attempt to follow sentence structure (although that isn’t even always necessary) and find connecting words that will link the keywords.
- After identifying the words you want to keep, delete all the other ones by using a black marker.
- Now you have a poem.
- From then on you can decorate the page as you wish – create a piece of art.
Materials Needed For Blackout Poetry
As you may have deduced, blackout poetry doesn’t take much in the way of materials. Because you are able to add as much or as little as you wish.
It is not expensive because it only requires a pen and a recyclable newspaper or photo copy of anything already printed. While newspapers aren’t as common as they used to be they can be found along with old magazines or ads.
Libraries usually have materials they are getting rid of or are willing to sell for a donation. Most of the directions I read suggest Sharpie pens because they are dark and permanent.
But don’t limit yourself to those. Artwork instead of black works beautifully. Use paints, felt pens, highlighter, even collage (for more artwork try rainbow writing for young students).
Materials Needed For Blackout Poetry
- Newspaper, Magazine, Menu, Old Book etc.
- Black marker
- Pencil or pen
- Colored markers, crayons, pencils
- Glue (not required)
- Construction paper (not required)
Notes Regarding Children
- If you are doing this activity with children it’s important to have materials they can read. You may want to use magazines with a lot of pictures.
- If you’re a teacher, you know that “Sharpies” contain permanent ink in addition to having a smell that alerts you to dangerous fumes. Try to find pens that are okay for kids. Crayola or other child-friendly products may be your best bet.
My Guide For Blackout Poetry (Examples)
I could hardly get through the research for this article without wanting to stop and try it so now is my chance. I will take you through the key steps to creating blackout poetry. Use my blackout poetry examples and step-by-step approach (if you’re doing this activity for your substitute teacher, check out my helpful sub plans).
Step 1: Find your media
For my first attempt at blackout poetry, I decided to try three different pieces of writing.
- A hymn
- A book about flamingos
- A recipe magazine
I made copies of the three types so I didn’t have to ruin my books.
I love hymns so just for fun, I thought I would try to blackout a hymn and end up with a poem. I love flamingos and I found a page that included a picture.
My third and final option was a cookie description from a recipe magazine.
Step 2: Read Over The Document
I read through each sample hoping to get an idea of the topic and words that stood out. It was strange thinking I was going to have to delete most of what I was reading.
The words needs to sink in a bit before any action. For a classroom, it would be good to have the children read their article and share what they read with a classmate.
Step 3: Go Back Through The Document
After reading and thinking about what I read, I was ready to put pen to paper. I started circling words that looked important or unusual or key to the topic.
I tried not to plan the poem, instead I wanted to identify key words. I recommend using pencil because you might change your mind regarding the choice of words.
All the preliminary work should be done in pencil because once you “blackout” the page pencil marks won’t be seen.
Step 4: Write Down Your Circled Words
On a separate piece of paper write down your words. Try to make sense of the words (for clarity) and also write down connecting words that will link the key words together.
I used another piece of blank paper to write down the words I’d circled and then tried to make some sense. Finding connecting words, usually verbs, was key to making any sense at all.
But then I had to remind myself that this whole idea didn’t have to make sense. Many peoms are interpretive and lack formal structure.
I went through the final piece and put dark squares or circles around the words I’d chosen.
Step 5: Blackout The Unused Text (or another color)
Once you’re confident with your choice of words you can begin to blackout the rest. Remember this step in permanent if you’re using a Shaprie.
My flamingo piece was a celebration of flamingos. Since they are usually in large groups, I circled all the flamingo words.
The cookie page is a little silly and I probably should have covered more of the white but I wanted to try two colors. I think I needed to be more careful since it’s hard to read some of the words.
Finally, the hymn is the most “arty” since I add the crosses. I’m not sure I would use a music page again but perhaps next time I’ll think of a better way to color it in.
Step 6: Add Your Own Artwork To Support The Blackout Poem
After finishing blacking out the document, feel free to add any type of supporting art to the page. You can used colored pens and pencils or glue construction paper to the document.
Turn the poem into a piece of art visually and it should complement the poem. The final product could hang on the classroom wall or be sent home to share with parents.
5 Reasons Blackout Poetry Is Great For The Classroom
There are several reasons I like blackout poetry. It requires few materials and can be created with discarded material. With blackout poetry, there is no right or wrong answer – teach children the steps in making the poem and see what ideas they come up with!
Below are my top for reasons to do this activity.
1. Recycles Material
Recycling is a great thing to do and if it takes place in the classroom even better. Kids like making new things out of old.
You can literally find material for this activity in the garbage can. Or ask students to bring their own material from home (an old newspaper or magazine).
2. Cost Effective
Teachers usually have a difficult time getting art supplies. If the project only requires pens and paper it’s practically free.
When I was teaching, it wasn’t uncommon to spend quite a bit of my own money on things I wanted in my classroom. I know many teachers do likewise so it’s always great to find an idea that doesn’t involve a budget.
Another cost effective activity are free typing games for kids!
Creativity is certainly challenged with this activity and that’s why it is great for children. It’s also great for adults!
All art assignments should really involve a challenge or puzzle of some kind. In this case, it even turns one material into something else.
It transforms a newspaper into art and helps kids see additional possibilities. It’s always a good thing when there is “no wrong answer”.
Even though this can be done individually blackout poetry is also good with teams or couples. A teacher might introduce the project to the whole class the first time through, doing it together on the whiteboard.
A teacher could follow his/her example up by assigning group work, then finally let them try individually.
In the final step let them include artwork as well.
Of course all poetry should be shared. Reading it to the class is just one way to share a final product.
Displaying it on the classroom wall is another. Class websites are a modern way to share with others.
Teachers should always find a way to “publish” the work of their students.
Nothing travels faster than a good idea for kids that has lots of positive results. In this article I hoped to share what blackout poetry is, and I shared my blackout poetry examples.
I provided a list of materials that are required and methods and techniques for teaching the activity.
I began with a background of the activity because it is always helpful to learn why it was started, especially when teaching it to kids who want to know the who, what, where, when, and why of something.
Next, I tried the project myself using three different types of writing. I had reasonable success but since it was a fun thing to do, I might try again later and improve my technique.
I hope reading about blackout poetry ideas inspires you to try your hand at it. I bet you’ll have fun teaching it as well.