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Recasting Language through Found Poetry

Lesson Question:

How can students analyze and write " found poetry" based on particular prose passages?

Applicable Grades:


Lesson Overview:

In this lesson, students will be introduced to the genre of found poetry and learn how to compose their own found poems through the process of identifying and arranging key language from a prose passage.

Length of Lesson:

One hour to one hour and a half

Instructional Objectives:

Students will:

  • analyze a sample found poem and its relationship to an original text
  • evaluate language based on poetic and thematic criteria
  • compose and share found poems based on selected prose passages


  • white board
  • computers with Internet access
  • Origin of Species excerpt [click here to download]
  • The Scarlet Letter excerpt [click here to download]
  • Kennedy's 1961 Inaugural Address excerpt [click here to download]


Analyzing a poem:

  • Present the following poem "Natural Selection" to the class by reading it aloud and by writing it on the board (or on an overhead):

    Natural Selection

    Survival of the fittest:
    the machinery of life.
    Fleeting wishes of man
    compared with
    "truer" productions.

  • Ask students to reread the poem "Natural Selection" to themselves and then to summarize its ideas or message with a partner. In other words, partners should determine what this poem "is about." What does it say about "natural selection"? Encourage students to use the Visual Thesaurus to help them analyze the specific language of the poem (including the phrases "natural selection" or "survival of the fittest").


Discussing the meaning of the poem "Natural Selection":

  • Elicit partners' analyses of the poem "Natural Selection."
  • Display the VT definition of "natural selection" and "survival of the fittest" as "a natural process resulting in the evolution of organisms best adapted to the environment."
  • Establish that the poem is also defining survival of the fittest as a "natural process" but it also distinguishes between natural evolution ("Nature's truer" productions) and men's desires (the "fleeting wishes of man").

Defining "found poetry" by example:

  • Distribute copies of the excerpt from Darwin's book Origin of Species [click here to download] and instruct each student to read the excerpt and underline any words or phrases in the excerpt that they also read in the poem. [Students should be able to find each word or phrase in the poem in the excerpt as well.]
  • Reveal that the poem "Natural Selection" is an example of "found poetry"; in other words, the poem was written by arranging key words and phrases from the Darwin excerpt in poetic form.
  • Explain that found poetry can be composed from works of fiction, newspaper articles, letters, speeches, or even from other poetry. The web site Poets.org defines found poetry as the "literary equivalent of a collage" since it takes 'existing texts and refashions them, reorders them, and presents them as poems.'
  • Point out that a found poem usually captures the essence of the text in which it was found; therefore, the found poem "Natural Selection" attempts to condense or distill Darwin's message in a tighter, more poetic form. [However, found poetry could also be used to distort or undermine the message of a text by intentionally rearranging words to communicate a message contrary to the writer's original intent.]

Writing found poems:

  • Have students choose a prose passage of one to two pages in length from which they will compose found poetry. Advise students to choose texts that contain powerful or interesting language, colorful dialogue, or vivid imagery. Two examples are available through this lesson: an excerpt from Hawthorne's novel The Scarlet Letter [click here to download] and an excerpt from Kennedy's 1961 inaugural address [click here to download]. However, students could choose to use excerpts from their favorite works of literature, excerpts from presidential debate transcripts, or even from an interesting magazine or newspaper article.
  • Instruct students to read their chosen passages or texts carefully, underlining 10 to 20 powerful or interesting words or phrases that somehow pop out at them. They might underline certain words or phrases since they succinctly communicate a greater theme in the text or simply because they like how the words or phrases "sound" (due to alliteration, rhythm, etc.).
  • Encourage students to use the VT in their search for key or powerful language in a text. Students should not avoid unfamiliar vocabulary as they compose their found poems since sometimes these more complex words are essential to a text's tone or meaning. (For example, the excerpt from The Scarlet Letter opens with a sentence containing the word ignominy—a word that certainly conveys the essence of why the scarlet letter had been placed on Hester Prynne's chest.)
  • Ask students to then list their underlined words and phrases on a large sheet of paper, leaving space between each entry. Students can then use this list as the available "word bank" for their found poetry compositions. They may even wish to cut apart the words and phrases to form individual word or phrase tiles that they can physically manipulate in different orders.
  • Once students have isolated the particular words or phrases that they intend on using in their poems, they should decide upon a final order and format for their poems. This process should include decisions about punctuation, line breaks and the overall shape of their poems. [For example, found poetry can take the form of concrete poetry where the shape of the poem somehow mirrors a prominent theme or idea in the poem (e.g., a poem about rain in the shape of a raindrop, a poem about love in the shape of a heart, etc.).]


Sharing found poems:

  • Since appreciating a found poem is often linked to one's familiarity with the original text, have students share their found poems (and related original texts) with partners or small groups. (Sharing found poems in a large-group setting may preclude students from also sharing original texts due to time constraints.)
  • After each student shares his or her found poem and related text, direct other students to give poets appropriate feedback. Does the found poetry mirror the themes or tone of the original work? Which words or phrases in the found poems are especially interesting or vivid? How can transforming textual genre shape tone and/or content?

Extending the Lesson:

  • One fun way to extend this lesson would be to assign students the task of creating found poetry from the textual world around them, instead of from a specific prose passage or text. For example, students could borrow language from street signs, classified advertisements, billboards, posted school regulations, store windows, graffiti, etc. and then reshape these examples with a central focus in mind as they compose their found poems.


  • Students' found poems should be assessed based on various criteria: Does the poem communicate a coherent theme or idea? Does the poem contain interesting or vivid language presented in poetic form? Does the poem relate well to the content of the original text.

Educational Standards:


Standard 7. Understands biological evolution and the diversity of life

Level III (Grades 6-8)

4. Knows evidence that supports the idea that there is unity among organisms despite the fact that some species look very different (e.g., similarity of internal structures in different organisms, similarity of chemical processes in different organisms, evidence of common ancestry)

Level IV (Grades 9-12)

6. Knows how natural selection and its evolutionary consequences provide a scientific explanation for the diversity and unity of past and present life forms on Earth (e.g., recurring patterns of relationship exist throughout the fossil record; molecular similarities exist among the diverse species of living organisms; the millions of different species living today appear to be related by descent from common ancestors)

Language Arts

Standard 4. Gathers and uses information for research purposes

Level IV (Grade: 9-12)

2. Uses a variety of print and electronic sources to gather information for research topics (e.g., news sources such as magazines, radio, television, newspapers; government publications; microfiche; telephone information services; databases; field studies; speeches; technical documents; periodicals; Internet)

Standard 6. Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of literary texts

Level III (Grade: 6-8)

1. Uses reading skills and strategies to understand a variety of literary passages and texts (e.g., fiction, nonfiction, myths, poems, fantasies, biographies, autobiographies, science fiction, drama)

2. Knows the defining characteristics of a variety of literary forms and genres (e.g., fiction, nonfiction, myths, poems, fantasies, biographies, autobiographies, science fiction, drama)

Level IV (Grade: 9-12)

1. Uses reading skills and strategies to understand a variety of literary texts (e.g., fiction, nonfiction, myths, poems, biographies, autobiographies, science fiction, supernatural tales, satires, parodies, plays, American literature, British literature, world and ancient literature)

2. Knows the defining characteristics of a variety of literary forms and genres (e.g.,fiction, nonfiction, myths, poems, biographies, autobiographies, science fiction, supernatural tales, satires, parodies, plays, drama, American literature, British literature, world and ancient literature, the Bible)

Standard 8. Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes

Level III (Grades 6-8)

1. Plays a variety of roles in group discussions (e.g., active listener, discussion leader, facilitator)

6. Makes oral presentations to the class (e.g., uses notes and outlines; uses organizational pattern that includes preview, introduction, body, transitions, conclusion; uses a clear point of view; uses evidence and arguments to support opinions; uses visual media)

Level IV (Grades 9-12)

5. Makes formal presentations to the class (e.g., includes definitions for clarity; supports main ideas using anecdotes, examples, statistics, analogies, and other evidence; uses visual aids or technology, such as transparencies, slides, electronic media; cites information sources)

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