Much of the writing we assign our students is public writing—writing to communicate with others. Writing-to-learn is personal writing, writing that helps students increase comprehension of texts—fiction and nonfiction—in all disciplines. Reader response compels readers to interact with the text and makes visible for readers and their teachers the depth of text comprehension. This is the seventh in a series of columns on scaffolding writing-to-learn by teaching a variety of reader response strategies before, during, and after reading.
The past writing-to-read columns have focused on before-reading response (preview response) and a variety of during-reading response strategies and types: employing response starters, double-entry response, marginal notes, notepassing, and visual response or drawing through the text. Equally important is after-reading response, response that takes readers back to the text for synthesis and increased learning. This column and the following columns in the series will share a variety of strategies for employing after-reading response across the disciplines.
Effective after-reading response employs a text reformulation or "text re-write" strategy where readers reconstruct text read into another type of text. This synthesis, a critical thinking skill that involves putting together assorted parts to make a new whole, helps readers in all disciplines not only relate information learned, but rethink the meaning of this learning and connect it to other learning and their developing views of the world in which they live.
One mode of reformulation is to create found poetry. Poetry was defined by Samuel Taylor Coleridge as "the best words in the best order." That being true, poetry can help readers look for the "best" or most important words or details in a text and use their "best" or most effective terms to analyze and evaluate the text to show their learning. Putting words in their best order is not only a writing skill but also an analytical skill and a way to combine what students learned with what they already know and make new meaning.
Found poems take words, phrases, and details from existing texts and cause readers to modify them, reorder them, and present them as poems, much as one does when creating a collage. This can result in learning and showing understanding in new ways. A classic found poem consists exclusively of words from the outside text(s), but in the interest of true synthesis and showing one's learning, the found poetry employed in after-reading response writing includes some of the reader/writer's own thoughts about the text. Other decisions of form, such as where to break lines and spacing, are also left to the poet.
Writing found poetry involves determining the important details in a text and the ways in which perceiving and even recording these details leads to increased comprehension of the text and its meaning.
To create their found poems, readers read through the text once, possibly annotating or using marginal notes as they read [see AMLE Magazine. 6(1), 2018 for writing to learn with marginal notes]. They then return to the text and highlight important or significant details—words and phrases—analyzing the text and employing critical evaluation skills. As they reflect and respond to the text, readers use those words and phrases to create a found poem, adding any necessary words to make or determine meaning.
Directions for Writing Found
Poems for Synthesis
- Read through the text.
- Return to the text and highlight only important words and phrases.
- Refashion, reorder, and/or reorganize those words, phrases, and details you chose into a poem.
- Decide on the most effective format. Poetry doesn't need to rhyme; it can be free verse. Think about line endings or line breaks, formatting, and spacing.
- Add necessary words and thoughts of your own to make meaning, showing analysis, connections, and inferences you have made.
- Add a conclusion: the theme (author's message) or your own understanding, the point you took from the article.
This strategy takes readers through the critical thinking taxonomy of analysis, evaluation, and synthesis and teaches readers to look for and then determine important, not interesting, details. Considering the found poetry responses, teachers can ascertain what and how readers read and comprehended and whether students are able to determine which details in a text are critical.
Students read the article "The Kind of Face Only a Wasp Could Trust," a short article that explains how the black splotches that naturally occur on female paper wasps indicate strength and status on a social hierarchy that allows them less work. Wasps who cheat with fake splotches (paint applied by researchers) are harassed as social fakers under a zero tolerance policy.
One student read the article through and then highlighted the words and phrases she found important: (The sample below with terms highlighted (bolded) is from the first paragraph):
Paper wasps establish hierarchy within the all-female colony. After female wasps mate, they fight each other to establish their rank; the higher it is, the more egg laying and less work they have to do. [Researchers found] a lot of fighting is not necessary because the wasps signal their strength and status with the number of black splotches on their bright yellow faces—more splotches denote higher status.
When finished, she made mindful decisions to write her found poem in free verse format and designed her poem to show her understanding of the article. She then added a thoughtful conclusion that illustrates an understanding she realized from the article:
Black Splotches (naturally-occurring) on yellow faces
Signaling social status for the female wasps, Giving less work for those higher in the hierarchy, Signifying body strength.
Revered - always.
Cheaters lying (painted-on splotches)
Indicating sign of weakness, Causing harassment; Zero tolerance for social fakers.
Caught - always.
Paper Wasps or Human—It doesn't pay to lie.
Disciplinary Example—English-Language Arts
In an eighth grade English-language arts class, students were reading Salman Rushdie's Haroun and the Sea of Stories. For one of the pivotal chapters in this fairytale about the importance of "stories that aren't even true," Jen wrote a found poem, capturing the details and power of the climax and showing her comprehension of the significance of this event:
The ocean pure, unpolluted,
So many different colors, shining white lights,
To ruin an ocean, you add Khattam-Shud,
The dark ship,
The poison blends, creating the death of story.
What was in his pocket? Wish-water?
Happening by a process too complicated to explain,
The minutes p a s s e d.
The sun rises on Chup again.
The ship fizzles away.
Things can return to what they were.
Disciplinary Example—Social Studies
And as part of a study of 9/11, social studies students read articles, watched videos, and read novels about the events. As a final text, they read an article, "I Was 11 on 9/11." In this article Emily Sussell who, on September 11, 2001, had been a sixth grader in a school near the Twin Towers, recounts the events of that day from her point of view then and ten years later.
Teachers used this appropriate article as a final text to synthesize student learning. Students used found poetry to determine the details that were important in understanding how these events affected young people who were their ages at the time of 9/11 and how these events may have impacted their futures.
September 11, 2001
2001: Fourth day of sixth grade
Was in the shadows
Of the Twin Towers
8:45: A crash
We evacuated school
The feeling of heat on my face
10:28: North Tower collapses
Safe—us, but not others
The Pentagon attacked
In Shanksville airline passengers save
the White House or
The nation and the world is
3,000 people were
2011: Twenty-one years old
I and a nation changed.
Other students, such as sixth grader Isabella, focused on many of the same words and phrases, also including such details as
21 years old,
that dark day
is still a big part of her life.
Isabella also added a conclusion that showed her interpretation of the article: You never know how much you have until you either lose it or risk it.
Text contains many and diverse details and facts—some true, some interesting, some critical to understanding. To increase comprehension and become proficient readers, students need to be able to distinguish the facts essential for understanding and learning, not only in informational text, but also for following, comprehending, and analyzing fictional texts. While determining important details may appear to be a during-reading response activity, readers cannot establish what is important until the text has been read and the author's purpose and message ascertained; therefore, this strategy must take the reader back to the text. Found poetry not only encourages readers to choose the most important details, it gives them the opportunity to work with those details to show the meaning they took from the text and share that learning with others.
Modigliani, L. (2011, September 5). "I was 11 on 9/11." Scholastic News Edition 5/6. Retrieved from http://www.scholastic.com/browse/article.jsp?id=3756391
Netting, J.F. (2005, February 6). The kind of face only a wasp could trust. Discover Magazine. Retrieved from http://discovermagazine.com/2005/feb/face-that-wasp-trusts
Rushdie, S. (1991). Haroun and the sea of stories. London: Granta Books in association with Penguin Books.
Lesley Roessing taught middle school for 20 years before becoming the founding director of the Coastal Savannah Writing Project and senior lecturer in the College of Education of Georgia Southern University, Armstrong campus. Lesley has published four professional books for educators, as well as chapters and articles on literacy. The ideas in this column were based on
The Write to Read: Response Journals That Increase Comprehension (Corwin, 2009).
Published in AMLE Magazine
, February 2019.