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Teacher to Teacher: Writing a Plan for a Focus Lesson Using Found Poetry

By Lynne R. Dorfman

How can you tempt your students to take the writing plunge in the beginning of the year? I have always found that poetry is the great equalizer for student writers. Especially, the found poem helps writers gain confidence in creating something quite wonderful. Mentor texts for found poems are everywhere: newspaper articles, street signs, graffiti, speeches, letters, novels, picture books, or even other poems. Like a collage art form, the writer simply takes existing texts and refashions them as a poem. In its purest form, a found poem retains the exact words of the original text with a few omissions or additions. The writer creates a poem, making conscious decisions about line breaks and the order of the ideas.

Found poetry accomplishes several goals for readers and writers. First of all, it clearly gives students a chance to read like a writer – to find the best in prose (what often sounds like poetry). It asks readers to reread many times in order to write an effective poem; thus, deepening comprehension of text. Found poetry helps all children to be successful. It will help you get what all teachers want – 100% engagement. Found poetry is easily differentiated by text choices. In addition, it is easy to build in opportunities for collaboration. 

I encourage student writers to make other decisions, too, such as substituting for a synonym to create an alliterative phrase or repeating a key idea to help frame the poem. Found poems offer opportunities to perform the poem individually or in small groups. Often, I ask students to partner to write a found poem from an editorial, travel or feature article, or even a sports article in the newspaper. In my example below, I took one of my notebook entries and created a found poem.

About Birds and Early Morning Dog Walks (a notebook entry)

Birds come into the world singing. They sing when they’re little chicks crowded in the nest. They sing at daybreak – almost as if they are welcoming the new day. I think they are so happy to see the sun rise in the eastern skies that they have to sing about it. It sounds like a church choir, singing in unison. The world is their cathedral. Every morning I look forward to that and eagerly await their morning hymn.

“A Morning Hymn” (Found Poem )

Birds come into the world singing…
Singing at daybreak,
Welcoming the new day.
They face the east and
Fill the sky with song,
Singing in unison
Like a church choir,
The world: their cathedral.
Eagerly I await their morning hymn.
Birds come into the world singing.

I have used many picture books with students to give them a chance to collaborate in small groups and perform the poetry to other classes. Some favorites include Bat Loves the Night by Nicola Davies, Owl Moon by Jane Yolen, Yard Sale by Eve Bunting, Twilight Comes Twice by and Hello, Harvest Moon by Ralph Fletcher, and Happy Like Soccer by Maribeth Boelts. The following plan for a week of found poetry builds around a picture book, Snow comes to the farm by Nathaniel Tripp.

Focus Lesson I: Strategy for Looking for Poems in Children’s Books (“Found Poems”)

Day 1

  • Reread excerpt from Snow comes to the farm by Nathaniel Tripp silently and aloud
  • Students examine lines and phrases they have underlined that “speak to them” (no more than five)
  • Teacher models by showing one of her choices on overhead/board and explaining reason(s) for her choice
  • Students choose their favorite line and discuss why they have chosen it (author strategy)
  • Quaker rendition to create a class “found poem”

Day 2

  • Minilesson on effective repetition with poetry handout
  • Reread Snow comes to the farm and choose one line to use in collaborative poem
  • In response groups, use lines and phrases to create a poem (possible use of effective repetition here)
  • A “wildcard line – phrase, word, or sentence – can be added to a group’s poem if necessary – the group reaches consensus about what to add
  • Practice to “perform” or share in whole group
  • Hand motions, movements, and sounds can be used to enhance the intended meaning of the poem

Focus Lesson II: Strategy for Looking for Poems in Notebook Material: (“Found Poems”)

Day 3

  • Look for entries that have vivid images in them – words that sound like poetry (Can also use your portfolio and look through published pieces).
  • Use my notebook entry on how to groom a horse to show how to do this and explain it (Model from personal experience).
  • Be sure to emphasize that this is not an entry where I was trying to write something poetic – I just found poetry material in it.
  • Maybe mention one of your own entries or one of your student’s entries as an example of a good place to start looking for found poems.
  • Ask my students to spend some of their writing time looking to see what they’ve got in their entries that might be used for poetry drafts.

Day 4 & 5

  • Students use newspapers, independent reading books, poetry books, magazines, and notebooks to write more found poetry: revise, edit, share, perform

Lynne R. Dorfman profile

Lynne R. Dorfman is a Co-director of the PA Writing & Literature Project. She has written several books for Stenhouse Publishers with Rose Cappelli including Poetry Mentor Texts: Making Reading and Writing Connections, K-8. Lynne is currently working on a book about formative assessment with Diane Dougherty. She loves reading YA novels and spending time with her family (including her Corgis, Rhonda and Merri) and friends.

6 Comments Post a comment
  1. Samantha Jagernauth #

    Hello. My name is Samantha Jagernauth and I am a graduate student at West Chester University. I really enjoyed your ideas about using found poems in the classroom. I feel that one of the biggest obstacles for young writers is intimidation or difficulty getting started. However, with found poetry the student can feel that the poem has already written itself while also appreciating the creativity it takes to craft a poem from another piece of writing. Engaging a piece of familiar literature is a good way to getting started writing poetry and can allow the student to write in a relatively stress free environment. I truly enjoyed your innovative idea!

    Like

    September 20, 2015
  2. Trish DiFilippo #

    Lynne,
    I have heard you in person explain about Found Poetry and was excited to see this print version of the lesson plan steps taken to do it with a class. I immediately noticed how much oral language opportunity there is throughout the construction of the class poem. Consensus building, justification for lines chosen, even a performance all contribute to high quality language output while creating a Found poem. This activity does does double and triple duty in the classroom touching on all language domains. As an ESL teacher, I can use an activity like this to teach grammar points, vocabulary, editing, etc. all while gaining higher ground on Bloom’s Taxonomy too. Thank you – great language objectives in Found Poetry.

    Like

    September 20, 2015
  3. Madelyn Dorville #

    Lynne,

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading about your suggestions for using Found poetry in the classroom. Found poetry is a new idea for me as I have just written my first Found poem in the past week. What a fun experience it was! Normally, poetry isn’t something I enjoy writing. I normally feel so much pressure when writing poetry. Lifting lines from another piece of writing relieved some of the pressure I felt when writing. I can see how this type of poetry can make students feel at ease. I believe all of my fourth graders would be successful at creating their own Found poetry. I also love your idea of using all different types of text. In particular, I look forward to using some of your picture book suggestions. I use mentor texts when introducing many of my strategies throughout the year and my students always enjoy reading them.

    I noticed you wrote in your lesson plan that you suggest students add and revise when they lift the lines from the text. Is it still considered Found poetry when the words/phrases have been altered?

    As my students read several different types of text this school year, I hope to be able to have my students write Found poems. This such a fun strategy!

    Like

    September 19, 2015
  4. Samantha Smith #

    Hello! I am a graduate student at West Chester University! One of the things that really made sense to me here was the way that you advocate found poetry as a form of text engagement. Not only are students engaging with whatever text they choose to use as a mentor text, but they are also engaging in text production. In my experience, students often view poetry as the highest form of text production, something that is on another level from what they believe they are able to do and produce. Found poetry makes poetry as a genre attainable and realistic. Secondly, I love the encouragement of play that is present in this post; play can be something that gets phased out in high school years, so I’m always looking for activities that encourage it! This post generated some really interesting activity ideas for me!

    Like

    September 10, 2015
  5. Martin Hopson #

    I’m Marty, and I’m a secondary ed. lit major at West Chester University. I think that this post shows a valuable side of found poetry and it’s worth in the classroom setting. This assignment allows students to be writers and to feel like writers by using “real” texts. From there they can springboard into making their own material. The lesson also expresses that poetic language can stem from any writer. The emphasis on performance, creativity, and repetition must make this lesson series an excellent introduction to creative writing. Thank you for your post.

    Like

    September 7, 2015
  6. Erin Yentz #

    My name is Erin and I am a West Chester University of Pennsylvania student. I am majoring in Secondary Special Education and English. As I prepare to graduate I am always looking for new ideas to get my future students excited about curriculum. I feel this blog offers a great activity to begin a poetry unit. Poetry is my favorite genre of writing, and an outlet I greatly enjoy. Therefore, when I teach poetry I would love my students to be just as excited as I am. I am enthusiastic about the idea of found poetry; it is a nice introductory creative writing outlet before producing their own original pieces. When I was in high school my teacher had us do this found poetry assignment, and I discovered it to be a great exercise to be involved with the writing process. I appreciate how you provided a week lesson plan in order to prepare students for this exercise and allow them to have their own creative freedom. Thank you.

    Like

    September 4, 2015

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