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”)
- 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”
- 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”)
- 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 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.