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52: The Easy Guide to Blackout Poetry

It’s a quest, isn’t it? Trying to help students see the point of poetry. Giving them reasons to love it.

I like to give students lots of easy ways to connect to poetry before I start bringing out the poetic canon. It’s like teaching kids to enjoy cooking by having them make fudge brownies with you, not braised Swiss chard.

I’ve written before about the power of using Poetry Slam (or jam) to get students to buy into poetry. But if you’re doing a poetry unit and you want a quick hook, a writing assignment to help students start enjoying poetry in just half an hour, it’s time to try blackout poetry.

To see blackout poetry in one of its simplest, quickest forms, check out these poems by Austin Kleon, a writer and artist who invented newspaper blackout poetry.

So today, let’s dive into how blackout poetry works in the classroom (you can sign up for a free download of these instructions in handout form for your students in a minute).

You can listen below, or on iTunesBlubrry, or Stitcher.


Start by finding some pages with words on them. These can come from magazines, newspapers, or very old falling-apart books that you are ready to let go. Let students come up and grab a page.

Then give them these instructions…

1. Skim your page of words. Don’t read carefully, as the point is just to grab an idea from the words, not take them in. Find a word, phrase, or general theme that you like.

2. Go through and lightly circle the words or phrases you might want to use. Grab a blank piece of paper and write them down in order, then read through them. Cross out the words you don’t want. If you need a few connecting words (like “a”, “the”, “it”, etc.) then dive back in and see if you can find them between the words you want to connect. You often can.

3. Go back through your poem and boldly box the words you are keeping with pen, sharpie, dark pencil, etc. Erase any circles around words you don’t want.

4. Read through your final poem. Sketch in a few images or symbols on your page that relate to the theme of your poem. Now it’s time to start blackening. Using a sharpie, pen, or pencil, black out everything that is NOT a word in your poem or one of your own sketches.

(This is a nice time to play some music, a podcast, or a Ted Talk, so everyone can relax and enjoy this part of the process with a little entertainment.)

5. Write out your final poem to display next to your blackout poetry. Add punctuation if you wish.

The show begins. 
Water swirled
lighting up drifting glow.
I watched its glimmer
flicker out. 
A trail of sparkles set out at sunset. 

6. Finally, share your poetry!


These make for a great display. Now, as promised, I’ve got a blackout poetry present for you. Just sign up below for me to send you this assignment, complete with examples for each step just like in this post.

sources consulted and cited: 
DePasquale, John. “Blackout Poetry.” https://www.scholastic.com/teachers/blog-posts/john-depasquale/blackout-poetry/. 10/28/18.
Kleon, Austin. “Newspaper Blackout Poems.” https://austinkleon.com. 10/28/18.

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I'm Betsy

I’ll help you find the creative ELA strategies that will light up your classroom. Get ready for joyful teaching!





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