ELL · poetry · reluctant writers

Found Poetry

April is here, which means National Poetry Month! Poetry is one of my favorite ways to boost writing confidence in students. With the right supports in place, poetry’s freedom from structure and conventions allows all writers to feel successful, especially multilingual learners (MLLs) and reluctant writers. 

My favorite way to scaffold poetry writing is with a strategy called Found Poetry from Project GLAD.  Found Poetry supports MLLs and reluctant writers by providing them with the precise, descriptive language they need as well as many opportunities to create free verse (non-rhyming) poetry with differentiated levels of guidance.  Here’s how to do it:

Part 1

The first part of Found Poetry is actually a reading lesson.  Find a paragraph full of rich language from a text on a familiar topic.  It could be a paragraph from a favorite anchor/mentor text or on a topic that students have been studying in science or social studies.  Sometimes I find that writing a paragraph myself is the most time efficient because I can include the specific vocabulary that my students have already learned or that I want to make sure they know.  The example below is a paragraph that I wrote for my second graders who were learning about urban, suburban, and rural communities.

Once you have your paragraph, decide how you will display it: written on chart paper, printed/copied on a paper to project with a document camera, typed on a slide, etc.  Read through the paragraph several times with your students.  Include gestures and actions for key words and phrases to make it more comprehensible for your MLLs.  Invite your students to read and do the gestures with you.  Ask if there are any unfamiliar words or words that don’t make sense and work through them together.  Before the last reading, tell students, “This time, I want you to pay attention to the words that stand out for you, the ones that paint a picture in your mind or create a strong feeling in you.”  After reading, have students share their words and then highlight them in the text (10-30 words, depending on the grade level of your students).  Make sure all students are comfortable with the highlighted words. 

Part 2

The next part is done without students.  Write the highlighted words on a sentence strip and cut them apart.  Place the word cards in the bottom of a pocket chart.  Then type the words in large print and copy them so that students can have their own set of word cards.

Part 3

The final part of the lesson can take place the same day as Part 1, or the following day, depending on when you have time to prep the word cards in Part 2.  Gather students around the pocket chart for your minilesson, telling them, “These are the words we highlighted in the text we read together.  I have written them on word cards so that we can use them to create poems.  Read them with me.”  Read through the word cards, doing gestures or giving quick definitions for vocabulary as needed, making sure every student is comfortable with all the words. “You chose these words because they are rich, descriptive words.  They help paint a picture in our minds or make us feel a certain way.  These are the kinds of words we use when writing poetry.  Watch how I choose some of these words and make a poem with them.”

Use the word cards to create a free-verse poem in the pocket chart—like magnetic poetry!  Think aloud as you decide which words to use and where to place them.  When you finish your poem, read it aloud for your students.  Then have them read it with you, practicing reading with appropriate expression.  Afterwards, you can start over and model creating another poem, this time with a different form and different words.

Next, invite a student to come up and create a poem in the pocket chart.  When they finish, they can read the poem to the class and then invite the class to read their poem with them.  Repeat with a few more students.

At this point, students are ready to move into independent writing, creating their own poems and writing them down.  Continue to differentiate and scaffold for students during this phase of the workshop:

  • Some students will be ready to write poems directly on paper using the “word bank” in the pocket chart for support.
  • Some students will want to manipulate word cards to create their poem and can cut out their own set of word cards to use, arranging them into a poem before writing it down.
  • Emergent-level MLLs and reluctant writers might need additional support from the teacher.  These students could meet in a small group and continue making poems at the pocket chart before moving into independent writing time.

Found poetry is an accessible, fun introduction to poetry not only for MLLs but for all students.  From here, you can launch a series of minilessons focused on topics like line breaks and white space, rhythm, precise language, repetition, and ending lines while students write free-verse poems on topics of their choice.  Or use the strategy as a stand-alone way to integrate literacy into your science and social studies units.  You’ll be amazed at the poems you and your students create!

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