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Blackout Poems

December 16, 2013

I have just stumbled upon the most wonderful way to get your students writing without having to produce any output at all! They can write with INPUT! Crazy, right?

How to do it? BLACKOUT POEMS! They are great! Simply take a text in the target language (a newspaper article, a story...anything) and hand it to students along with a thick, black marker. They 'black out' as much of the text as they want, leaving behind isolated letters, words, and phrases that, when read in order, create a poem. It of course leaves much room for grammatical inaccuracy, especially as students piece together their poem at the letter and word level. Beginning with correct language is more likely to lead to [more] correct output (ex: working from a teacher-created or authentic text versus from a student-created text that has not been revised).

A blackout poem is the perfect writing assignment for language learners because it is input driven. Learn what a blackout poem is and how to create them with your students!


  1. Give students a photocopy of a text--make sure that it is a text that you have the rights to photocopy (you can NOT photocopy copyrighted novels!). I especially love working with authentic texts: blog posts, song lyrics, articles, short stories, etc. Students don't even have to understand the original text in order to look through for words that they recognize and can work with. Consider reading a comprehensible summary of an authentic text and then having students work with the authentic text in its original form to create the poem!
  2. Give students a black marker.
  3. Give your students some direction/assign a topic: create a poem that talks about how a character feels or identifies his or her struggle, creates a metaphor for the events, solves or summarizes the problem involved, tells a joke, expresses the student's reaction to the piece, communicates a life lesson, gives advice to a character or friend, etc.
  4. Let students black out the text to their hearts' content!


Students will get in TONS of exposure to the text as they critically read and re-read the text, trying to develop a poem and deciding what should stay and what should go! I love this!


For some really cool examples, just do a google image search for "blackout poems". You will see that many of them also have an artistic aspect to them--some kind of a shape or form created by the blacked-out text.

Manifesto - A Blackout Poem by Kevin Harrell  (

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