Wreck a Classic with Blackout Poetry: A Close Reading of Walton's Letters in "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein"

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SWBAT create a blackout poem for one of Walton's letters to his sister.

Big Idea

Composing blackout poetry necessitates close reading of a text.

Lesson Context and Time Frame

Today's lesson, which is #2 in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, hooks into the previous lesson and the beauty projects before commencing w/ blackout poetry of Walton's letters to his sister. In the lesson students...

  • Discuss Frankenstein's reaction to his creature after reading the first page of chapter 5,
  • Learn about blackout poetry as a close reading activity, 
  • Practice blacking out a poem w/ the instructor, 
  • Create a blackout poem for one of Walton's letters,
  • Share their blackout poems w/ the class. 

What is blackout poetry?

A good explanation and definition of blackout poetry can be found here. A blackout poem uses a written text; to create a "new" form, the student blacks out words and phrases s/he does not want. In its original sense, blackout the writer creates blackout poetry using newspaper articles. Rather than these, however, in this lesson students use part of Frankenstein to Create blackout poetry. Their objective is to show their understanding of the letter with what remains after they black out other parts of the letter. By blacking out the text, what remains functions as a "relief" in that it is raised, highlighted, magnified. This functions rhetorically to say to readers: This matters most in the text. 

A word about the text students use:

I purchased copies of Frankenstein from Prestwick House. Each copy is $2.00. Most years students pay for their own copies, but I provide books to those who cannot afford them. Some options for buying the books include Donors Choose, writing a grant, asking for donations, collecting books from students after the unit for use by other students. 

It's important for students to have books that they can write in for the unit since we are in the process of "wrecking a classic." 

However, for those who can't acquire the cheap books, since Frankenstein is in the public domain, access it online for blackout poetry. Walton Letters is from the public domain. 

Beautiful, but Disturbing Choices: Reading Frankenstein's Reaction to His Creation

10 minutes

At the beginning of the class, read the first page (two paragraphs) to the class and discuss Frankenstein's reaction to his creation. 

Invariably, a student will say that Frankenstein thinks the creature is beautiful. This misreading allows an opportunity to discuss reading words and phrases in context rather than fixating on one word or phrase such as "i selected his features as beautiful." This line tricks students, but a close reading of the text that follows demonstrates to students that although Frankenstein chose beautiful body parts, the result of his piecemeal creation is physically repulsive. 

Compressing Letters: Teacher Demonstration of Blackout Poetry

15 minutes

First define blackout poetry for students: Blackout poetry is created by taking a text and blacking out (with a marker) words and phrases in order to reveal new ideas or to create a new effect. As a close reading technique, blackout poetry can focus students on any number of things, from plot to them to character, etc. A blackout poem creates a new genre, a new text, from the original. 

Second, introduce students to blackout poetry with a short video from the author of Newspaper Blackout: 

Next, I use the document camera to show students the process of blacking out Walton Letter 3 to create a blackout poem, and I invite them to make suggestions about what to keep and what to black out. 

Blackout Poem Letter 3 by Mrs. N. shows the blackout poem of Letter 3 my student teacher created for one class, while Teacher Example Blackout Poem Letter 3 shows my less creative attempt at composing a blackout poem. 

Finding Words: Blacking Out a Letter (1-4)

30 minutes

After the demonstration, allow students to have time to create their blackout poems, but first divide the letters among the class members. Since Letter 4 is long, divide it and have some students blackout the first half and others the second half. Student Blackout Poem Letter 3 shows a finished poem. In-Progress Blackout Poem shows a student poem that is about half finished. Blackout Boat of Letter 3 shows a student's focus on the image of Walton's boat. 

Blacking Out Together: Students Share Their Poems

15 minutes

Students did an excellent job honing in on the substance of the letters in their blackout poems. Each poem offered an opportunity for students to discuss the letters, including Frankenstein's arrival at Walton's ship, Walton's longing for a friend, and Frankenstein's and Walton's common desire to explore. K reads her blackout poem demonstrates the project.