Poetry from Prose
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Students compose found and parallel poems based on a descriptive passage they have chosen from a piece of literature they are reading. They first work in small groups to brainstorm words to describe concrete objects and then arrange their words from most descriptive to least descriptive. They then use their knowledge of descriptive text to select a descriptive passage from a book they are reading. They pick out words, phrases and lines from the prose passage then arrange and format the excerpts to compose their own poems. This process of recasting the text they are reading in a different genre helps students become more insightful readers and develop creativity in thinking and writing.
From Theory to Practice
One of the strongest ways to teach students about how poets and poetry works is to encourage them to write their own poetry. As Dunning and Stafford explain, the advantage of found poems is that "you don't start from scratch. All you have to do is find some good language and ‘improve' it" (3). These two teachers note that "poems hide in things you and others say and write. They lie buried in places where language isn't so self-conscious as ‘real poetry' often is. [Writing found poems] is about keeping your ears and eyes alert to the possibilities in ordinary language " (3).
Common Core Standards
This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.
This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.
NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts
- 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
- 2. Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience.
- 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
- 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
Materials and Technology
Prose passage chosen by student or teacher
- Choose a text for students to use as the source for their poems. The text can be a short story or a longer work of fiction. One piece of text should be something the whole class has read; others can be books students have read in literature circles.
- Make copies or an overhead transparency of the Found Poem Instructions, Model Found/Parallel Poems, and Found & Parallel Poem Checklist.
- Test the Word Mover Student Interactive on your computers to familiarize yourself with the tool and ensure that you have the Flash plug-in installed. You can download the plug-in from the technical support page.
- discuss the characteristics of descriptive writing.
- select a descriptive passage in a piece of prose fiction and identify significant words, phrases and sentences in the passage.
- arrange the excerpts into a found poem.
- compose a parallel poem, using the same structure as the found poem.
- Arrange the class in small groups, and give each group a small object from the classroom (e.g., the hall pass, a book from the class library, a knick-knack from the teacher's desk).
- In their groups, ask students to brainstorm a list of words and phrases that describe the object.
- Once the groups have compiled their lists, ask group members to arrange their lists from the most descriptive to the least descriptive words and phrases.
- Once the groups have ranked their words, gather the class together and ask each group to share their object and the three most descriptive words or phrases from their list. Note their responses on the board or chart paper as each group shares.
- After all the groups have shared, review the class list, reading through the entire list.
- Ask students to identify what makes the words and phrases on the list descriptive.
- Many of the words on the list will probably be adjectives, so take a moment to reinforce grammar instruction on the part of speech if appropriate and desired.
- Work toward creating a class definition or guideline for descriptive words. Note the definition or guideline on the board or on chart paper, in a place that students will be able to refer to in later sessions.
- Using a text that the class is familiar with and the class definition, demonstrate how to find a descriptive passage.
- For homework, ask students to identify a descriptive passage in another text that they have read. To facilitate the later activities, encourage students to find an entire page of text that is full of descriptive language.
- Explain that the class is going to use the descriptive passages that they found for homework to compose original poems, called found poems and parallel poems.
- Pass out or display the Model Found/Parallel Poems.
- Read through the passage and the two poems, pausing to explain the poetic form of each of the poems.
- Define found poems for the class as poems that are composed from words and phrases found in another text. Refer to the information about found poems from the Academy of American Poets
- Define parallel poems as original poems that use the same line structures as another poem, but focus on a completely different topic. Some words from the original poem are retained, but some words are replaced with new words.
- Ensure that students understand how the examples on the Model Found/Parallel Poems fit the two poetic formats.
- Pass out copies of the Found & Parallel Poems Checklist, and have students analyze the Model Found/Parallel Poems using the criteria on the checklist.
- Lead students through the process of composing original found poems, using the Found Poem Instructions.
- If students need practice with the format, arrange students in pairs or threes and introduce the Word Mover and allow time for students to practice rearranging the words into found poems.
- Once you have demonstrated the process of writing found poems, arrange the class in small groups. Reading groups or literature circle groups will work for this activity.
- In their groups, have students share the descriptive pages that they identified for homework and choose one of the pages to write a group found poem.
- Using the Found Poem Instructions, have the groups compose their own found poems.
- Remind students to compare their found poems to the criteria on the Found & Parallel Poems Checklist.
- If time allows, have groups share their found poems with the rest of the class. Otherwise, students can share their poems at the beginning of the next session.
- Have students share their found poems if they were unable to share during the previous session.
- Return to the Model Found/Parallel Poems and review the format for parallel poems.
- Note that the words that are underlined in the example poems are included in both the found poem and the parallel poem.
- Arrange students in their groups again, and have the groups compose parallel poems.
- Ask members to underline words and phrases in their found poem and then to write a poem of their own using the underlined words and the format of their found poem.
- Remind students to compare their parallel poems to the criteria on the Found & Parallel Poems Checklist.
- Once the groups have finished their parallel poems, have the groups all share with the full class.
- Ask groups to submit their found and parallel poems at the end of the session.
- Try the ReadWriteThink lesson Alliteration in Headline Poems for another way to create found poems.
- For additional discussion of found poems, tap the student examples in "Found and Headline Poems" from Getting the Knack: 20 Poetry Writing Exercises by Stephen Dunning and William Stafford.
- Use this lesson as a book report alternative. Ask students to choose descriptive passages from two or three key moments in the text and then compose found and parallel poems from those passages. Add a reflective piece where students explain why they chose the passages they did.
Student Assessment / Reflections
Evaluate students’ found poems using the Found & Parallel Poem Checklist. In your comments, draw connections to the discussion of the poem formats and the practice poems that students have written.