Using Blackout Poetry to Discover Thematic Subjects

10th March 2017

My juniors are going to be reading the play, A Raisin in the Sun, by Lorraine Hansberry next quarter. In order to introduce the theme of fourth quarter, The Pursuit of Unending Happiness, I decided to show them this TED TALK by Dan Gilbert.

In this TED TALK, Gilbert describes why synthetic happiness, the happiness that comes about from “being stuck” with what you have and “watering your own grass” so-to-speak, is actually better than the natural happiness we think we get from the freedom to choose our own happiness. It is a more scientific approach to something abstract and with it being only 20 minutes, it was a great lead-in to the unit as the characters in the play move from what they think will bring them natural happiness to what they ultimately receive in the end, synthetic happiness. As students watched the talk, I asked them to take notes using this note-sheet.

To bring my students into this synthetic happiness experiment, I gave them all different excerpts of the play photocopied onto printer paper (I did not, however, give them any pages from Act 3 as to not give away the ending of the play before we even read it.) If you really want to know I gave them pages 510, 521,498, 503, and 530 from this PDF. They were “stuck” with their page. They were not allowed to change pages with other students or get another one from the stack by the door. They were not too happy about this.

I then used Laura Randazzo’s Blackout Poetry Prezi to introduce them to Blackout Poetry. I told them they were to create their own Blackout Poem using their excerpt from the play and in the end we will see if they are happy with their end result (spoiler alert: they totally were). The TED Talk and Prezi took an entire 55 minute class period.

The next class period, they worked feverishly on their poems; some students “got it” right away and others were agonizing over making their’s perfect. When they felt they messed up, I gave them a new page of their same excerpt to start over. They blacked out, boxed words, designed images, and frankly were so engaged I had to do it myself along with them!

Here are some samples:

When they were finished, we presented them in class and they were SO amazing and they really cheered for each other’s poems and commented on how awesome they all were. It was the perfect way to end the week before Spring Break and a much needed break from essay writing and test prep.

What they don’t realize is that without even knowing it, most of them pulled out words from the passages that are thematic subjects in the play: alcohol, money, religion, freedom, inner demons, mistakes, and happiness. When we get back from break, I will discuss these concepts with them before we read the play.

I am hoping that as we read the play together they will recognize their page from this activity and feel a connection to the piece outside of the story because they made it a piece of themselves.