What is blackout poetry? How can you use it?

To start with, it’s poetry that your students will love creating.

This guide will show you exactly how to teach blackout poetry — and why you should!

You know those books on your shelf that are falling to pieces? Grab ’em! You’re going to love using them for blackout poems!

Get ready to have fun.

Let’s get started!

(Be sure to watch me create one at the end of this post!)

Teach blackout poetry to reinforce literary elements like theme, diction, tone, figurative language, and word choice.  Fun and creative!

What is blackout poetry?

In 2005, Austin Kleon started creating a daily “blackout” poem using the newspaper (you can read more about his process here). He posted his poems online, and the idea took off!

To create one of your own, first choose any text (including the newspaper). Then, scan it for words and phrases that create a poem. Finally, black out (with a Sharpie or other marker) all the other words.

You poem jumps out of the text from there. Simple as that.

The great thing is that your students will be looking at language, word choice, imagery, mood, and theme as they create their poems!

And, it’s a BLAST!

What is found poetry?

Blackout poetry is a type of “found” poetry.

Found poetry is simply poems that occur in random, unexpected ways.

A found poem could be the way a list is written; it could be a scrap of a letter or simply cut out words glued together.

Blackout poetry is “found” poetry because a poem is discovered (found) among the words on a page.

What will my students learn from blackout poetry?

Like eating veggies “hidden” in V8 juice, blackout poetry is a fun, creative way for students to apply and synthesize:

  • word choice
  • theme
  • imagery
  • tone
  • diction
  • mood

While it looks like all fun and games, students will need to determine a theme by carefully selecting words — and not just choosing a random list of words.

Here’s how you teach blackout poetry:

Time needed: 2 days.

Your students will love playing with language, word choice, imagery, mood, and theme as they create blackout poems!

Follow these simple steps.

  1. What is it?

    Before even getting started, it can be helpful for students to see examples of different ways they can create blackout poem.

    You can share these images with them to give them ideas.

  2. Choose a page of text

    Students can use a page from a newspaper, a copied story or informational text, or a page from a book that is falling apart or ready for the recycle bin.

    Try to find different pages for each student. This will make for great sharing and unique finished poems.

  3. Gather the interesting words.

    Have students scan the page looking for words and phrases that jump out at them. They will circle those words lightly in pencil.

  4. Determine what words to keep.

    Students can read through the list of words they’ve circled and begin to see their poem appearing.

    Remind students that we read from top to bottom and left to right, so the words need to be in that order so the reader will understand the poem in the same way the writer wants.

    They may find words that they want to eliminate from their poem, or they may find that they need more. This is why using light pencil is helpful! Erase or add!

  5. Refine word choice.

    Ask students to read their poems aloud to themselves to make sure they make sense. They can also write them out.

    It’s helpful to ask students at this point what theme they are trying to convey. What do they want the reader to understand or feel after having read their poem?

  6. Once students are happy with their poem, they can begin to blackout the page.

    There is so much flexibility in this step! Students can simply blacken the words with a marker, or they can connect them with color. They can paint or illustrate the page — even use collage. (Check out my Pinterest board for examples.)

  7. Or — create an image that fits with the poem.

    After circling the words, you can sketch a design that fits with the theme or images of the poem.

    Teach blackout poetry with this easy idea.

  8. Use a sharpie or pen to outline.

    If you’re going to have your students use watercolor to finish their poems, you want to make sure the marker won’t bleed. I used a Sharpie for mine. Then, erase all the pencil marks.

    Creating a blackout poem is fun.

  9. Add color!

    I used watercolor for mine. Since the paper absorbed the water, it is a bit wrinkly, but I still love the finished product.
    Teach imagery and word choice using blackout poetry

  10. Don’t forget the title

    After reading the poem, be sure students write an original title for it. This will help solidify the theme of the poem.

  11. Share!

    Be sure to share your students’ blackout poems by hanging them on the wall, having a gallery walk, or asking students to present their poems to the class.

    Glue them to black construction paper to make a dramatic display.

    Finally, take time to have students reflect on their poems — what they want the poem to express, how they chose their words, the mood, tone, and diction of their poem.

    Don’t forget to create your own right along with your students!

How am I going to grade it?

Since this is such a creative activity, you may decide to give a completion grade, but I’d encourage you to have your students dig a bit deeper. They can complete a quick self-assessment that asks just a few questions:

  • What is the theme of my poem?
  • What mood am I trying to create?
  • How did I accomplish that?
  • What do I want my reader to feel after reading my poem?
  • What are the strongest images?

You can also create a quick rubric before your students start working on their poems.

Watch me create a blackout poem here:

(I start creating the poem at the 1:28 spot.)

Tips for success

  • Once your students have completed one, they’ll want to create more!
  • Have a supply of texts ready for them to use — this is a fun activity for fast finishers or if you have down time or your schedule get wonky.

Want to extend this?

Keep your students writing poems!

Once they feel successful with blackout poetry, introduce them to other writing poetry forms.

You can find more poetry writing activities here.

Strategies for teaching poetry

Read more poems!

Don’t stop with blackout poetry — here are 12 poems that are perfect for middle school students to practice analyzing and even imitating!

Looking for more ways to teach poetry?

This “Strategies for Teaching Poetry” post is full of helpful ways to make teaching poetry fun and effective.

If you’re a bit intimidated about teaching poetry, this post will give you step-by-step confidence.

Have fun with these blackout poems!

And check out these teaching tools in my shop!

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