February 28, 2019

Dimitra Neonakis

Creating Poetry from Science and Nonfiction Text

Topics: Kids And Creativity, Creativity, STEM Education / Play, Learning at Home, Learning Through Play, STEAM

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Ever wonder how to sneak a little creativity and literacy into your science lessons without departing too far from your curriculum? Blackout poetry is a great way to use science, creative nonfiction text, and magazines to create found poetry masterpieces with your students.

Meet standards for common core reading and writing, art, and for NGSS all in one fell swoop! Your students will have a blast creating redacted poems. And you can create a great bulletin board display with these literary STEAM masterpieces. Ready to put the "A" in STEAM education? Let's go!

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Source Text: The Forest: Life Nature Library by Time-Life



Students will create original poems using science or nonfiction text as source material.



  • Photocopies of various pieces of selected science text and creative nonfiction, science fiction, etc
  • Pencils
  • Sharpie markers


Optional Materials

  • Washi tape
  • Sequins and glitter
  • Old maps
  • Printouts of satellite images or other image data
  • Paint pens
  • Exacto knives
  • Scissors
  • Science magazines
  • Opaque white gelly roll pens
  • Paint markers
  • Colored pencils
  • Stickers
  • Stencils
  • Paints


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Source Text: Surely You're Joking Mr Feynman by Richard Feynman


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Source Text: The Planets by Dava Sobel

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Source Text: Periodic Tales by Hugh Aldersey-Williams


First select your text. For this blog I've used a mix of creative nonfiction. I used "Periodic Tales" to begin creating a blackout periodic table. I like Richard Feynman for humor and Henry David Thoreau for ten dollar words. I have not tackled any classics or Shakespeare but if those speak to you go for it! You can even use newspapers, tabloids or crosswords. It's up to you. Play! Have fun!

If you are not going to alter or dismantle a book it is a good idea to make some photocopies. You can judiciously or randomly select your pages. If you are in a gathering or class you could trade pages or all agree to see what you can create with the same page.

I like to preselect my words with pencil. I can change things as I go along if I choose to and I can erase the marks when I am finished. Sometimes I pre-read the page and make a plan but often I proceed intuitively selecting words as I come across them. Though I impose the restriction on myself of always going in order, other poets use strings or arrows to guide the reader around the page. Do whatever best expresses your ideas.


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Source Text: Walden by Henry David Thoreau


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Source Text: Philosphiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica by Isaac Newton and  Make Blackout Poetry by John Carroll


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Source text: Make Blackout Poetry by John Carroll


The simplest form of blackout poetry is this straight up "redacted style." Many poets use it and prefer its minimalism.


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Source Text: Obsidian Butterfly by Laurell K. Hamilton


This one looks like it came straight out of MK Ultra.


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Source Text: Surely You're Joking Mr Feynman by Richard Feynman

If you want to take a more colorful or graphic approach you can try drawing a simple shape around each word or word group and then linking those with a second color. You can use color and shape to group your words and accentuate rhythm or just for pure graphics appeal. Use as many colors as you like. Embellish with gel pens! Get creatively crazy like a mad graffiti artist. The poem below comprises a  sharpie, water color paint, a paint pen, and a white gel pen.

You can mix styles and media to create all kinds of visual effects. Below I used water color paints and sharpie to work on an altered book I am making as a gift for a geologist friend about to receive their PhD. The source text is The Restless Earth by Nigel Calder. It's an old science book explaining the then new theory of plate tectonics for lay people… perfect for her. 


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Source Text: The Restless Earth by Nigel Calder

As I chose text appropriate for my friend's gift, you can choose text that is appropriate to your lesson or unit. Use any mix of informational text, creative non fiction, science magazines, science fiction or adventure fiction that fits your lesson or unit or your students interests. Enlist the help of your school or local librarian! Below are some books our middle school librarian selected for me.


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If you only find a small number of words, don't be afraid to crop your text. Be creative and have fun. The sky's the limit. This is a great way to take a little break from the routine and help your student’s imaginations take flight! Here is a different way to "stand on the shoulders of giants." Have fun!

When you are finished, have your students share their art pieces in a gallery walk or even a little event like a science poetry slam! And what a great bulletin board you can create!

Standards Alignment

NGSS Nature of Science

"Science knowledge is cumulative and many people from many generations and nations have contributed to science knowledge."

"Science is a way of knowing used by many people, not just scientists."

Common Core


"Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization and style are appropriate to task, purpose and audience."


"Write routinely over extended time frames and shorter time frames for a range of discipline specific tasks, purposes and audiences."

National Arts Standards

"Formulate an artistic investigation of personally relevant content for creating art."

"Demonstrate openness in trying new ideas, materials, methods and approaches in creating works of art or design."

"Apply visual organizational strategies to design and produce a work of art, design or media that clearly communicates information or ideas."

All original artwork copyright Dimitra Neonakis 2015-2019


Screen Shot 2018-02-14 at 10.28.31 AMDimitra Neonakis always had a love for science and nature, but came late in life to formal science education. With degrees in visual and performing arts and an environmental monitoring certificate, Dimitra brings her A game to STEAM education. Dimitra has designed and classroom-tested science activities for formal and informal k-12 and collegiate science education since 2005. She works both with at risk and neurodiverse populations as well as typical students. Students fondly refer to her as Ms. Dee and Ms. Frizzle and they all agree that science is fun!


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