National Poetry Month: Book Spine Poetry Lessons

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I love found poetry.  It is so interesting to think about how words, phrases, and sentences that already exist in the world can be remixed into something new.  We recently spent some time creating blackout poetry, and now students have been coming to the library to create book spine poems.  Each year that we try this type of found poetry, I’m finding that we get a little bit better and add some new strategies for crafting a book spine poem.

This year I decided to do some storytelling to share with students how I crafted my own book spine poem.  Rather than give a list of tasks to do, I told my story and let that guide our instructions for how to make a book spine poem.

“When I made my book spine poem, I just wandered around and picked a shelf in the library.  I spent time at the shelf scanning every title and looking for a title that spoke to me in some way.  The first book that jumped out to me was In My Mothers’ House.  I continued creeping along that same section of the library looking for a title that seemed to go with the one that I had already found.  I didn’t really know if I had found my first line of the poem or just a piece of the poem, but when I came across The Wonderful Happens, it seemed like magic.  Both of those titles just sounded like the beginning of the poem to me.  Now I had a focus.  I needed to find more books that told more about In My Mothers’ House.  I didn’t really worry about order.  I just wanted books that sounded like a good fit.  Once I found 3-4 more, I went to a table and started arranging them and reading them aloud.  I tried many different ways to see what sounded right.  I even had a book that just didn’t seem to fit, so I decided to put that one back on the cart at the front of the library.  When my poem felt just right, I knew I was reading to record myself reading it.”

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By telling this story, I really felt like student had a good sense of what to do, but we did still rephrase the steps together.

1.  Choose a place to start.

2.  Look for books that speak to you and only take the ones that you think you will use.

3.  Continue choosing books that connect to one another

4.  Arrange them in a way that sounds right and put the extras on the cart at the front of the library.

5.  Record yourself reading your poem and return your books to the cart at the front of the library.

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Students got to work.  Most of them jumped right in, but a few had trouble starting.  I found a few students who just wandered around without knowing how to start, so I encouraged them to stop wandering and start reading titles.  Some were very focused on content which made it a bit harder to craft a poem.  They wanted a book about X instead of thinking about a book’s actual title.  I tried to explain that the content of the book really didn’t matter. All that mattered was the title.  It took some time for that to click with some students.  I didn’t want to tell students not to use the computer, but we did nudge students to really try looking at the shelves rather than try to find something on the computer.  Most students who tried the computer strategy ended up abandoning it anyway because it added too much time and frustration to the process.

As students recorded their poems, they came to me at a table.  I had an iPad cord plugged into my computer, so we just connected and uploaded straight to Youtube and put the videos into a class playlist of poetry.

You can enjoy their work in each of these playlists.

2015 Poem In Your Pocket (Part 2)

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Our live poetry cafe continued today with 11 more sessions.  Again, we broadcast each reading through Google Hangouts and encouraged people to Tweet about our poetry using the hashtag #barrowpoems.  You can read about yesterday here.

I always love the surprises that come up from students: a student reading from a computer, a student who barely speaks who reads an incredibly descriptive poem, a student giving his teacher a standing ovation, a student who shared a poem in Chinese and then English, students encouraging their friends with a “you can do it”, a student sharing a poem about his home country, a student reading a poem for another student who was too shy to come up, and  a student handing me her poem to carry in my pocket.

Today I added a little sign to help with our traffic in and out of the library for checkout.

The energy of our students sharing poetry is simply amazing and inspiring.  Check out all these pictures of the students in action.

Our Twitter wall was very popular with students during the two days:

A few tweets from today:

Watch all of today’s archives:

2015 Poem In Your Pocket Day (Part 1)

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Each year, Poem In Your Pocket Day morphs into something just a little bit new.  It’s always a day to come to the library and share poems into our open microphone, but we like to mix things up a bit each year.  This year, I put out soft seating instead of tables.  It allowed students to be a bit closer to the speaker and hopefully felt a bit more cozy.

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In the past, I’ve used Adobe Connect to broadcast our day.  While it is a great tool, it has some drawbacks.  I love that it is one room that our online guests can stay in all day long and I can communicate with them via chat.  However, I don’t love the way the archive is created.  I have to setup and name each recording right as I’m starting the recording.  It doesn’t take long, but it’s one more step I have to do.  Also, once all of the archives are done, I have to go in, change them to public, and copy the link to share in order for people to view them.

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This year, I decided to try Google Hangouts on Air.  We use this every day for our morning broadcast, so I’m very familiar with using it.  Ahead of our event, I setup a Google Hangout on Air for each session on our schedule.  Then, I opened each hangout and copied the Youtube link where the video would stream live.  I embedded these videos on one big Google site so that they were easily accessible in one spot.

Click to visit our Google Site

As each group came in, I opened the hangout, tested the sound, and pressed start.  Our guests could watch online, but as soon as I pressed stop the video was instantly archived on that same Google site.  It saved me the hassle of having to go back and find all of the videos in order to share them.  While it’s not huge, any amount of time I can save is valuable to me.

This year, to make up for the chat feature being taken away, we decided to use Twitter to talk about our poems.  We encourage our online guests and future viewers of our content to tweet using the hashtag #barrowpoems I used Tweet Beam to display the tweet on our projection board for students to see.  It was fun to see how this populated throughout the day and how much students smiled when they saw a tweet mentioning their poem.  Teachers even pulled out their phones and helped document the day through pictures, videos, and comments on Twitter.

Also, here’s a little look at what it’s like to be in the room.

This event always amazes me because pretty much every student in the school gets up in front of an audience and speaks.  It’s a small amount of speaking, but I love seeing students get used to speaking to an audience and seeing what that feels like.  This is a very positive and supportive atmosphere, so most students leave the reading feeling validated for their work.

I encourage you to listen to some of our archives and continue to tweet about #barrowpoems

Continue watching us live on April 10th!


Kicking Off Poetry Lessons for Poetry Month: Blackout Poetry

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I love to do poetry throughout the year, but April always brings an increase in poetry lessons since it is National Poetry Month.  It’s also the month that we have Poem In Your Pocket Day across 2 days at our school.

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Our 2nd grade has been busy with poetry in these first few days of the month.  They’ve already explored list poetry and now they are trying a kind of poetry called “blackout poetry”.  This poetry was invented by Austin Kleon when he had a case of writer’s block and started using the New York Times to help him write his poetry.  You can see a time lapse video of Austin’s process, which we showed to each class before we started.

Blackout poetry is a kind of found poetry because it uses words that were created by someone else.  You put boxes around the words that you want to use in the poem and then blackout everything else.  You can find your text in so many different places:  instruction manuals, pages from books, newspapers, junkmail, old tests,……the list could go on and on.

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Two classes at a time came to the library for this lesson.  We started by looking at the video as well as some examples of blackout poems online.  Then, we talked a bit about what we noticed about the process.  Austin Kleon put boxes around words that he thought he might use.  He tried to find words that seemed to go together.  We noticed that there were times where he was sitting and thinking without marking anything on the page.  We also noticed that he blacked out some of the words that he originally thought he would use.

We encouraged students to try out this same process at tables.  Since 2nd grade is working on animal and plant life cycles and habitats, we selected a few pages from a variety of animal and plant books and made multiple copies of them.  Students sat at a page that looked interesting to them.  The teachers and circulated to assist students as needed.

Most students jumped right in, but a few needed some help getting started.  One of the things that I did to help students was just to talk out loud about what I would do if I was writing the poem.  I said words that seemed to have a connection with one another and then scanned the page for more words that fit with those words (and so on).  Most of the time this nudged students to start.

As students finished selecting their words, they used crayons, color pencils, regular pencils, and markers to blackout their page.  Then, they practiced reading their poems.  Some shared with one another.

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Other students decided to use our poetry Flipgrid to record their poems.

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Click the picture to visit our poems!

Many of these students will carry these poems in their pockets on Poem In Your Pocket Day.  I love seeing how students break down the text to create a new meaning.

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Get Ready for Poem In Your Pocket Day 2015

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Poem in Your Pocket Day has grown to be one of our favorite days of the year.  Each year, we’ve found new ways to celebrate this day.  We write poetry to prepare.  We hold a poetry contest.  We encourage every person in our school to carry a poem in your pocket.

The thing about Poem in Your Pocket that people look forward to the most is our poetry cafe in the library.  I decorate the library with tables, tablecloths, lights, and poetry.  There’s a fancy microphone and a poet’s stool.  Every class in the school comes the library across 2 days to share poems into the open microphone.  This year’s poetry cafe will be on Thursday and Friday April 9th and 10th.

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For the past few years, we’ve used Adobe Connect to broadcast and archive our poetry readings for the world to see.  This year, we are once again trying something new.  We’re still broadcasting, but now we are using Google Hangouts.  Each class has a Google Hangout setup.  I’ve made one Google Site that contains all of the links to the hangout feeds.  At each scheduled time, the hangout will go live for an audience to view.

This year, we are encouraging our viewing audience to use Twitter to talk about our poetry.  Comments for classes or individual students can be tweets using the hashtag #barrowpoems  I’ll have a Twitter feed up on our board so that our students can see what people are saying about their poems.

I encourage you to tune in and watch on April 9th & 10th.  Please share this event with everyone you know.  It is sure to be a great 2 days of poetry!

Here’s what you need to know:

When:  8:00AM-2:30PM eastern on April 9th and 10th

Where:  Google Hangouts.  All links can be found at

View the complete schedule here.

Tweet about the event and the poems using hashtag #barrowpoems


Exploring Civil Rights through Blackout and Magnetic Poetry

IMG_30815th grade has a massive social studies curriculum.  It spans from the civil war all the way up to the present.  One of the things that they have been doing for the past 2 years that I love is using Christopher Paul Curtis’s books to tie in to the curriculum.  They start with Elijah of Buxton, move to Bud Not Buddy, and finish with the Watsons Go to Birmingham 1963.


The civil rights movement is where they have been spending a lot of time recently, so the teacher emailed me to see what we might do in the library to focus on this time period in her language arts class. The standards they are working on are:

SS5H8 The student will describe the importance of key people, events, and developments between 1950-1975.

b. Explain the key events and people of the Civil Rights movement; include Brown v. Board of Education (1954), the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the March on Washington, Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act, and civil rights activities of Thurgood Marshall, Rosa Parks, and Martin Luther King, Jr.


Since it’s poetry month, I wanted to pull poetry into our time together, and I knew that 5th graders would be able to handle some complex text and concepts.


Just like with 3rd grade, we read Freedom Summer by Deborah Wiles, but their background information was much deeper than what 3rd graders knew.  They had connections and stories to share about the riots and peaceful marches that took place during the civil rights movement.  It was the perfect opportunity for me to also pull in Revolution by Deborah Wiles.  This book doesn’t publish until May 27th, but I have an advance reader’s copy from the Texas Library Association Conference.  I was able to show them some of the speeches, music, advertisements, etc from the time period to accompany the picture book, Freedom Summer. 


For poetry, the 5th graders created 2 kinds of found poetry.  They used the Word Mover app on the iPad to create magnetic poetry.  The app has a word bank that is words from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech.  They also used pages from Freedom Summer and a couple of pages from Revolution to create blackout poetry.

Searching for Poetry in Prose

This time for blackout poetry, we used the New York Times interactive site to create blackout poetry together.  The site makes it very easy to select & deselect words from articles to create 15-word blackout poems.  We did an example together on the board.  The teacher also helped demonstrate how to mark words on their own paper by putting boxes around words in the NY Times article on the board.

We found that a good first step for students in making blackout poetry is to read or skim the page and then put boxes around words or phrases that stand out.  Once you are sure of the words you want in your poem, then you blackout the rest of the page.  Modeling this on the board was important today.  We had very few students in 3 classes who needed to start over.


I randomly gave students pages  from the books and they started the process.  For the most part, it was a very quiet process.  Students methodically chose their words and then quietly shared their work at their tables.  A few students paired up to help each other decide on words and phrases.

As students finished their blackout poems, they grabbed an iPad and created their Word Mover poems.  Just like with 2nd grade, most students arranged their words into solid sentences rather than shaping them up like a poem.  If time allowed, I conference with students and they went back into their poem to shape it into line breaks.



Almost every poem was a reflective synthesis of student understanding about events of the civil rights movement and freedom summer.  Some students had some humorous twists to their poems, but most were solemn, serious, and reflective.

Take a look at their gallery.  Just like Revolution immerses us in the time period through story, music, advertisements, speeches, and other documentary pieces, the student poetry immersed us in the positive and negative feelings of the civil rights movement and freedom summer through multiple perspectives.
























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Using Freedom Summer to Create Blackout Poetry

blackout poetry (14)In third grade, students learn about civil rights through the standard:

SS3H2 The student will discuss the lives of Americans who expanded people’s
rights and freedoms in a democracy.

Students specifically learn about Mary McLeod Bethune, Frederick Douglas, and Thurgood Marshall.  When these students get to 5th grade, they will spend a larger amount of time studying the civil rights movement, but I thought this would be a good time to explore some text that connected with their current understanding of civil rights.

Students spent a small amount of time sharing what they currently understand about segregation and civil rights.  They brought up things like drinking from separate fountains, riding in the back of the bus, and holding boycotts of the transportation system.

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Then, we read Freedom Summer by Deborah Wiles.  Students immediately noticed the connections to their own understanding of segregation as the 2 main characters could not do the same things together.  They were shocked when they got to the part in the story where the two boys couldn’t go to the pool because it was closed and filled in with asphalt.  The students used words like unfair, lunatics, and furious when describing their feelings and the idea of closing things rather than follow the law.

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After discussing the book, I showed them how some artists and poets use text that they find in the world and turn it into something new.  Austin Kleon, in Austin Texas, is one of these writers and artists.  We looked at a few of his poems called “blackout poems”.  He takes pages from newspapers or other texts and blacks out all of the words on the page except for the words in the poem.

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I gave the students one of three pages from Freedom Summer.  They spent time looking for words that stood out to them as a possible poem.  When they decided on the words of their poem, they circled them or drew boxes around them with a black marker.  Next, they used that same marker to blackout the rest of the words on the page.

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It was interesting to see how students interpreted the exact same page in a different way.

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We had students share their poems at the end, and it gave us a new understanding of what stood out on the page and in the story for students.  It was as if the poem helped us to look more closely at the meaning that we might all take from the text.  As usual, this was more difficult for some students than others, but we noticed that this kind of poetry did take away the barrier of spelling or deciding what to write.  We could instead focus on the meaning of the words on the page and use those words to interpret the story as a poem.

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Here are a few of the poems that students created.

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