Lesson Plans

Blackout Poetry for Thematic Connections to News and Literature

Blackout poetry from students at R.J. Reynolds High School in Winston-Salem, NC. Image by Pamela Henderson. USA, 2019


Through the visual deconstruction and recreation of poetry, students will learn that words can inspire visual imagery, as well as demonstrate understanding and mastery of a literary skill.


Neutral tone printer papers, pencil, sharpie or Expo marker, ballpoint pen, whiteout, white crayon, colored pencils, chalk, etc. (You may also use discarded book pages if those are available.) 

Background Information:

This lesson was written by Pamela Henderson-Kirkland, who teaches English at R.J. Reynolds High School in Winston-Salem, NC. Before starting this lesson, students had been tracking ways that authors develop theme throughout the course of a text by character development, as well as utilization of author’s craft “magic.” This lesson connects that learning to nonfiction texts.

Student-Facing Activity Inspired by this Lesson

1. The worksheets below present a student-facing blackout poetry exercise inspired by this lesson that was prepared by Pulitzer Center education staff. 

2. The documents below are used as part of this activity.

3. The documents below can be used for the extension activity for this lesson, which is described in the worksheet above.

Lesson Outline:

  1. Students listen to Radiolab’s podcast “American Football.” A downloadable mp3 of the podcast is available here.
  2. Students then read various non fiction offerings from Indigenous writer and examine documents and photography provided via Pulitzer Center that highlight stories about Indigenous communities in the U.S. and Canada. Students could read Sherman Alexie’s novel, "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian." They could also engage with the following reporting projects from Pulitzer Center journalists:
    • Daniella Zalcman’s “Signs of Your Identity,” which examines the lasting impact of government-mandated residential schools for indigenous children in the United States and Canada.
    • Allison Herrera's project Inter(NATION)al, which uses analysis of treaties signed by the U.S. government and several Native American communities to explore current issues facing Indigenous communities in the U.S.
    • Pablo Albarenga's "Seeds of Resistance" project, which visualizes the stories of Indigenous land defenders in Brazil
      Educator note: Contact education@pulitzercenter.org for support identifying additional reporting to use in your classroom as part of this project!
  3. Students use the texts they explored to write their own blackout poem around a chosen and tracked theme from one of these offerings, or more than one if they can prove a connection. (They can.) They create the poems by blacking out and drawing over found text. The texts they choose to black out, or not black out, work with their drawings to communicate the theme(s) they are exploring in their poems.

Students’ finished poems will demonstrate their ability to transfer themes from one medium to another, as well as an ability to analyze a work of art on a deeper level.

Formative Assessment:

  1. Students will demonstrate their ability to make multiple connections between works offered through a variety of mediums.
  2. They will develop thematic statements for three works we have studied.
  3. Then, they will create blackout poetry to demonstrate an ability to analyze and connect, while creating a new product in the style of this popular artform. They will use discarded books.
  4. Finally, they will complete an explanatory paragraph that explains, in depth, their thought processes as they planned their product.
Educator Notes: 

This lesson was created and facilitated by Pamela Henderson-Kirkland, who teaches English at R.J. Reynolds High School in Winston-Salem, NC.

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