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Primary Sources + Found Poetry = Celebrate Poetry Month

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Found Poetry Primary Source Set
Found Poetry Primary Source Set

Looking for ways to celebrate National Poetry Month while addressing reading and writing skills or Common Core Standards? When I was teaching elementary school, I could tell even from a short piece of writing whether a student understood the central idea. Poems can be a great way to assess student learning.

The Library of Congress Found Poetry Primary Source Set supports students in honing their reading and historical comprehension skills by creating poetry based upon informational text and images – on topics as diverse as Helen Keller, Walt Whitman, women’s suffrage, and the Harlem Renaissance.

Students can analyze a primary source text such as the Helen Keller letter shown here; select words and phrases from the text by highlighting, circling or cutting them out; then use those words to create their own unique poems.  Students can make a personal connection, develop background knowledge,  and identify key details by examining the related images in the Found Poetry Primary Source Set.

Letter from Helen Keller to Mabel Hubbard Bell, August 20, 1893
Helen Keller’s letter describing her visit to the World’s Fair, August 20, 1893

Depending upon your learning goals and the age of the students, they can create different kinds of poems:

  • Retell the same story in their own words as a poem;
  • Retell the story within the same historical context;
  • Identify and write from the point of view of the original author;
  • Write the poem from the point of view of another person or group of people mentioned in the primary source;
  • Distill the most important idea in the primary source and express it in the compressed language of a poem;
  • Write about the same issue as it relates to the students’ lives or the broader world today.

Additional ideas are found in the Teacher’s Guide.  Students can use the Primary Source Analysis Tool when analyzing the text and accompanying images.  Several Common Core Standards related to informational text can be addressed with the above strategies – from “Identify the main topic of a multiparagraph text” (2nd grade) to “Determine the central ideas or conclusions of a text; summarize complex concepts, processes, or information presented in a text by paraphrasing them in simpler but still accurate terms” (11th & 12th grades).

For more literacy strategies related to primary source text, see last year’s Poetry Month blog: Making Connections Through Poetry: Finding the Heart in History.

We’d love to hear about any experiences you’ve had with found poetry, or ideas you have about how you might use it during Poetry Month.


Comments (6)

  1. I teach first/second combination class. It is obvious that at this tender age students enjoy rhyming. We make up poems all the time about our day, a story we’ve read or simply our ambitions. Rhyming is the way to go. Children are learning/re-emphasizing phonemic awareness as they create their poems. Blending is taking place and the kids have fun simultaneously.

  2. My teacher decided to introduce my class to found poetry and I think that it is by far my favorite type of poetry. I think that it is a lot more fun to have search for the words in different places. I used lines from different posters around my school. I used lines that I did not even think were relevant to what I was going to write but in the end it all came together.

  3. I didn’t know what found poems were until recently but I plan on writing on for a project that I am working on.

  4. This is definitely an interesting way to help students learn poetry and using primary sources at the same time. I always hated studying poems in school but I think “found poetry” would have made it more exciting for me. Using this with students is a great way to get them reading and writing at the same time and allows me to see that they are learning.

  5. I would love to use these resources, but none of the links are working. This is the error message I get.

    Error 503 Service unavailable. has experienced an error.

    I hope this is fixed soon.

    • It appears the website is having some issues. The technology folks are aware and are working to fix it.

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