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Check in with Students using Blackout Poetry

Screens sure have been handy lately. Can you imagine how much harder this would all be without them?

But at the same time, I think it’s helpful for us to search for meaningful ways to help our students get off them. For many kids engaged in e-learning right now, the day looks like six or seven hours hunched over their computers, watching and typing.

We want to connect with them, of course, and to share ideas. Often that takes the form of a video, a hyperdoc, a virtual tour, a news article to read and discuss with classmates in a virtual meeting of some kind.

But sometimes it would be nice to give them something to do away from the glow of their portal to the outside world. Something they could do out in the yard, in the sun, or relaxed at their kitchen table with a smoothie and some art supplies. Something that connects them to their inside world.

One-pagers of all sorts come to mind. Reading real books, book they might love, would be nice. Maybe creating sketchnotes about their experiences during this strange time in history.

Or maybe you might invite them to create some blackout poetry this week. About life right now. About how they’re feeling. What they’re noticing. This activity could not only get them off their screens and using their creativity, but also give you a chance to check in with how they’re doing.

It wouldn’t be hard. They could grab a page of text from anywhere – a magazine, a newspaper, an old book, even a printed online article. Maybe a form letter inviting their parents to sign up for a new credit card.

Then they could circle words that feel meaningful to them right now. String together a few. Read what they have. Make additions with more circles. Erase some circles.

Build a poem about how they’re feeling. What they’re noticing. What gives them hope.

Draw in some illustrations where there are no circled words. Begin to black out the words they don’t need.

Color. Think. Relax.

Maybe write the final poem in the margin somewhere. If there’s room.

At this point they can snap a photo to share with you or with the class. Or you can invite them to grab a thumbtack and put their poem up on a bulletin board in their building. Or maybe you can just suggest they tape it to their wall to remind them of the power of art when things are hard.

For me, making blackout poetry this week was meditative and helpful. Talking about what I had made with my son made me feel hopeful and helped me share how powerful I believe art can be when things are hard.

I’ve been asked to lead a virtual poetry workshop for the students at my school soon, and I’m thinking we will do this together.

You can find the directions for this activity as a free download right here. 

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I'm Betsy

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