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Excision Poetry

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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Poetry Activities

I looooove poetry and have so much fun teaching it, even though most students tend to hate it. I’ve been planning to share some of my more successful poetry activities for months now, so here they are!

Kisses & Kiwis

Sadly, I can’t take credit for coming up with this awesome activity – a coworker demonstrated it at a PD session over the summer (he uses kumquats, but my grocery store didn’t have any) and I had to try it. It’s a fun way to emphasize sensory details and produce some impressive writing!


Each student received a Hershey’s Kiss and each table group got half a kiwi (which I cut into individual pieces when we got to touch/taste). We created a chart including columns for each of the five senses, then spent 30 seconds per sense jotting down our observations. It’s important that these 30-second sessions are silent so kids can focus on their observations, and I encouraged them to explore their subjects in detail – crinkle the wrapper, peel back a bit of the kiwi’s skin, try to squish/tear/break it, etc. It can get pretty silly, especially when we’re thinking about how the objects sound, but the students enjoyed coming up with weird ways to make observations. After the charts were complete, they used their observations to write brief poems full of sensory details. I also encouraged them to try to include metaphors or “deeper meaning”, which led to one excellent-but-inappropriate poem (they’re talking about putting things in their mouth, what did I expect?), so be careful to frame the assignment more specifically than I did.

Scavenger Hunt

One of the great things about poetic devices, especially similes and hyperbole, is that they’re everywhere (not even intentional! POINT PROVEN). Students don’t realize that poetry can pop up in songs, stories, advertisements, and even casual conversation, so this activity is designed to help them understand poetic devices by identifying them in the real world. I had students try to collect examples that appeared naturally in their daily lives, then write them on notecards and post them on the wall, creating a kind of bar graph of poetic devices.


Terrible picture, but you get the idea.
Hyperbole came up so often in conversation that students still point it out sometimes!


Students put the quotation and source on one side of the card,
and their name and the poetic device on the back.

The student who found the most examples in each class received extra credit on the final, but making the assignment optional led to a disparity in how much everyone participated (the reason it was optional was because I wanted them to pay attention to their surroundings and naturally find examples – not just google “examples of personification” and print out a list). I think next time I’ll give students a “bingo card” type of thing so they can keep track of how many examples they find and be more motivated to find a variety of poetic devices.

Haiku Posters

I’ve done this assignment a couple of times and find it to be a good way to teach the emphasis on natural subjects in haiku, as well as providing a break from our usual writing routine. You could also go outside and find a place to make observations on your campus, but if you don’t have a very pretty area to do this you might get a lot of haikus about gravel or something, haha. Instead, I had students choose an image of nature from a magazine to write about. Many public libraries have old magazines you can just take, or you can find old National Geographics for pretty cheap at some used book stores. Luckily for me, I was given a subscription to Smithsonian Magazine as a gift and that had tons of great images for my students to use as inspiration! After choosing an image, they wrote three haikus based on what they observed, then created a poster featuring the image and their best haiku. They had to get their haikus “approved” before starting the poster, which ensured that they’d written the proper number of syllables and made an effort to write a quality poem.