Pre-Texts Poetry


In this activity, students appropriate and manipulate the words, grammar and themes of a “classic” work in order to develop their own styles as creative writers. By turning an iconic medium into a popular genre, students learn that classic writers have done the same thing, borrowing and stealing other people’s words.  

Students will be asked to break the text down into five sections and then each different section will be assigned to individuals. The second instruction is to cut the number of words in half (the words could be completely changed or condensed). The goal is to keep the powerful meaning of the text in as few words as possible, focusing on the senses.

Through this exercise, participants create different styles of poetry by rearranging the text in different ways. By editing the text, the readers are required to understand the meaning of each sentence. This exercise makes the writing process more accessible for new writers. When everyone shares his or her poem, they can appreciate that everyone writes in a different style. Some people use only words from the text, while others find new rhymes and yet others will update the text into a contemporary situation. There are many variations for this activity, including a challenging exercise devised by a facilitator: assign a different genre of poetry (haiku, sonnet, epic, couplet, etc) to each participant.  At the end of the activity the facilitator encourages students to reflect by asking: What did we just do?

This activity comes from Pre-Texts, an initiative headed by Professor Doris Sommer.  Pre-texts' lessons apply to a wide range of language and literature learning goals.  Workshops, training, and materials are available.  For more information, check out