‘Found Poetry’ Activity

Updated: Apr 17, 2020

By Kristi Kraychy

On our final blog post before the long weekend, I would like to share one of my favourite beginner poetry activities. This activity can be successful with nearly any age of student. The only requirements are that students are able to read at a basic level and can confidently use scissors. This activity can build vocabulary, support spelling, improve reading comprehension and develop fine motor skills. For older students who may be reluctant to read or write poetry, this project offers a low-risk and fun introduction to creative writing and poetic self-expression. I often ask my high school students to include Found Poetry on the front or back covers of their poetry journals during our poetry unit.

This style of poetry is most often categorized under the Dadaist style. Dada was an artistic and literary movement that began in Europe. It arose as a reaction to World War I and the nationalism that many thought had led to the war. Influenced by other avant-garde movements, its output was diverse, including performance art, poetry, sculpture, painting, and collage. Dada's aesthetic was marked by its mockery of materialistic and nationalistic attitudes of the time and proved to have a powerful influence on many great modern and contemporary writers and artists.

Found Poetry Activity Materials you will need: 

  • A poetry journal (a hardcover journal with thicker quality paper is best but just a piece of blank paper is fine too).

  • Old magazines, newspapers, junk mail or old novels or children's books that are already in rough shape that can be destroyed. You can also photocopy pages from existing poems or books you want to keep.

  • Age-appropriate scissors.

  • Glue stick.

  • A thick black marker (or paint, see options under version 2).

  • Pencil/eraser.

Variation 1. Ransom Note Poetry. Beginner level.

  • Begin by looking through all of the printed materials you have (magazines, junk mail, old books). When you find a word that you feel is meaningful or visually appealing, carefully cut it out and put it aside.

  • Once you have a small pile of words cut out, you can begin to arrange them in phrases, sentences or any form of poetry you would like.

  • I have seen students glue their words on their paper as soon as they cut them out which often results in very entertaining, unique and random poems. Other students carefully craft their poems on the table first before they glue them to the page.

  • Pictures can be cut out and added for emphasis in the middle of phrases or used as decoration around the poem if desired. However, this assignment works best when the focus is on the words rather than images.

  • I encourage my students to ask a friend or family member to "find the hidden meaning" or offer their own interpretation of the finished poem.

Variation 2. Redacted Poetry. Intermediate/advanced level.

  • The first step is to find a magazine or news article, a page from a book or even a longer existing poem.

  • Quickly skim-read through the original work. You only need to have a general idea of what the article or story is about.

  • Next, scan the page for words or short phrases that stand out to you. Underline them with a pencil. (You may need to read over the page a number of times before you find enough words or phrases that you’d like to use. Try not to think about whether the words belong together, just choose any words that catch your eye).

  • Then, using a dark marker, black out all the other words (the ones you did not choose) leaving only the words you have chosen.

*Another form of Redacted/Erasure Poetry is to circle your chosen words and then paint over everything else, turning it into a work of art.

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