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Excision Poetry

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I love excision poetry. I think it’s gorgeous and often haunting because it’s like a secret story within the page it was taken from. I wasn’t really able to incorporate it into my poetry unit this year, but when I was looking over past test results in preparation for the STAAR I realized that many of my seventh graders had scored low on the standard for graphical elements, specifically how capital letters, line length, and word position contribute to a poem’s meaning. I wanted to do a low-intensity review activity to help solidify this concept, and had a great idea using excision poems!

First, I had students choose a page from a book they’d read, randomly or one with a specific scene they liked. I didn’t want to have them all lined up by the copier forever, so I ended up capturing the pages by just freezing my doc camera and then copying the image into a word document, where I cropped/resized so the book page filled the paper. This way I was able to have a few kids choose their pages at a time while the rest of them were doing classwork.

The next day, I showed the kids a poem I’d written by excision (see below) and we made observations, then discussed how “the poet” had made certain decisions about how to arrange the words on the page. After that I showed them the book page I had used (the original example just had the words I chose underlined, but later I added the doodling), pointing out how the formatting on the page forced me to NOT have significant capitals or line length in my original draft – I changed those things later to add to the meaning of my poem.

I purposely included some significantly longer/shorter lines and unusual capitals to make sure they'd have things to comment on :)

I purposely varied my line length and used unusual capitals to make sure they’d have things to comment on :)

After that, I had students make their own poems using their pages I’d printed out before class. We also looked at some examples of artistic-looking excision poetry (thanks, Pinterest!) and decorated the pages. Some of the kids did a really incredible, creative job – one student took a love scene and managed to excise it until it sounded like it was about murder!

Left: Her page described a creature hissing and crawling. I LOVE how she made her words slither down the page like a snake! Right: Blood splatters on a zombie page. Isn't the last line chilling?

Left: The page described a creature hissing and crawling, so she made her words slither down the page like a snake!
Right: Blood splatters on a zombie page. Isn’t the last line chilling?

The one thing I would change in the future is to allow more time for the “art” portion of this lesson. For my purposes, it was just a quick review activity for state testing, but I would rather encourage students to decorate their page in a way that relates to the tone or content of their final poem and then share it with the class.

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