Found Poems for Inquiry

Since Rebecca has been rockin’ the blog for the last several weeks, it’s  time for me to jump in and talk a little bit about some inquiry-based learning highlights from the past few weeks. I’ve been spending a lot of time with teachers in formal and mini-observations (‘tis the season), and our focus on the C3 Framework for social studies has driven a lot of good instruction. For this post, I am so excited to share about a found poem activity in a 10th Grade U.S. History classroom.

In a  pre-conference for an observation, a teacher came to me excited about a great idea to have kids use primary documents to make found poems. As always, we got into a discussion about the purpose for using the documents, authentic reading and writing, and cognitive engagement. By the time the teacher left, we were both really excited to see students explore themes from World War I and  create found poems using text from soldiers’ journals.

When I entered the room on the day of the lesson, I saw that students had highlighted and marked up the text. The lesson progressed in this way:

  • Students were asked to select three of the most powerful quotes and write them on strips of paper.Screen Shot 2016-02-15 at 6.34.13 PM
  • Then, the class was split in half and students laid their strips onto large paper and determined how to place those lines to create a poem and reflect a theme from World War I.
  • In order to accomplish this, students read aloud, discussed the text, negotiated, organized, analyzed, carefully curated, applied content, empathized, created an original product, and truly collaborated.
  • After students created the poems, they worked independently to determine a title and explain why and how that title reflected significant themes of World War I.

After planning with and observing this teacher, I thought a lot about how important it is to leverage exciting tasks into true inquiry. It has to be strategic, and we have to ask ourselves a lot of questions about inquiry work:

  • Is this a classroom task or a true inquiry experience?
  • How do we show students that documents speak to us?
  • How can teachers break down close reading mechanics and build students’ capacity to analyze and create meaning?

Students identified themes like man’s inhumanity to man, consequences of war, and spirituality in the soldier as they titled their poems. Students were able to access the documents at their own level, and together they explored the major themes. A student who chose “sordid beyond belief” and a student who chose “it was just like a living hell” were able to connect portions of the documents and engage in deeper analysis together. And they were all able to see the importance and power of words found in primary documents: pure poetry.



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