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Making Connections Through Poetry: Finding the Heart in History

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April 2021 update: The online activity this post refers to has been retired. We invite you to visit the Found Poetry primary source set for materials and ideas to support found poetry activities.

April has been set aside as a time to celebrate and explore the rich and varied legacy of poetry. This is the second in a series of three posts to explore resources for reading, writing and studying poetry.

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Making Connections through Poetry

Few assignments elicited more groans from students in my high school English classes than when I would announce, “and now you’ll write a poem.”

While writing original poetry can be daunting, the online activity Making Connections through Poetry uses a “found poetry” strategy and provides a creative opportunity for students to express historical understanding. It also provides opportunities to connect language arts and history lessons.

Students analyze primary source images and documents from the Library of Congress and then create a poem using words and phrases from the primary sources. They can make personal connections with history as they retell it from their own perspective.

Please don’t judge me by this example, but this is what the activity looks like.

Browse the primary sources arranged in galleries by era and by selected historical themes. Direct the students to the era or theme that matches your curricular goals. They may select primary sources from the gallery, or you may assign specific sources. Students first analyze the primary source, and then select words and phrases to express their understanding in a poem. Add guidelines regarding the historical understanding and the form of the poem (sonnet, diamante, haiku) as needed to support your students and to meet your goals.

The activity includes the option to enter, preview and print the illustrated poem as well as suggestions for using the activity. To get started, you may have students:

  • Select and analyze an image, and then analyze a text document that connects to some aspect of the image. Select words and phrases from the text and arrange them in a poem to express a central idea from both the print and the text.
  • Analyze the source document for under­standing and retell the same story in a poem.
  • Use the poems and images to create a print or digital class poetry anthology to share with parents and other members of the school community. Students may add historical context, if desired.

For even more primary sources for creating found poetry, take a look at the selections already gathered in the Primary Source Sets, including one on Found Poetry, or search the Library of Congress website.

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