Erasure Poetry Prompt with variations
(Optional: before class, ask students to bring any tools they’d like to use to erase/redact a text: highlighters, sharpies, white-out, sticky notes, scissors, anything.)
Part I: Use any poem in The Ground I Stand On Is Not My Ground, or any other erasure poem, as a starting point for discussion. Poems whose original texts you can access work well, but that’s not necessary. Point out the poem’s pronouns and its strong verbs and objects: the engines of the poem’s narrative or sense. If you have a projector and you’re using a poem from The Ground, project the poem at the website, and show several lines of original text. Identify where the pronouns come from: were they pronouns in the original? Or were they made from other words (“I” from “If” or “Instead” for example)? Follow the link to the original document and compare its language to the poem’s language. Are there different speakers? Do you imagine the setting to be different, or the time?
Option A: Choose today’s newspaper, national or local. Photocopy an article of interest to your students (sports results, international headlines, local editorials, etc.) or project it onto a screen in your classroom. Ask students to find pronouns (the letter “I” in the words “In” or “If” or “Instead”; the word “we” in “were” or “where”; the word “our” in “hour”; etc.). Then ask students to find good action verbs, then to complete their sentences and keep going. After 15-20 minutes, ask students to share their erasures.
Option B: Ask students to bring their own prose text to class, with the aim of erasing it. The best texts are those the students have strong feelings about, either of admiration or frustration. Assigned essays work well, as do favorite stories or prose pieces. It also works well to bring a passage of their own writing they don’t care much for, and ask them to trade and erase each other’s.
Option C: Erasure Telephone.
A riff on trading. Ask students to erase one line or sentence from their text to get the erasure going, then to pass left and erase the next sentence from the new text in front of them. Continue as long as students are engaged.
These prompts have been particularly successful with high school students, including those who sometimes feel less enthusiastic about literature units, or who have trouble getting started writing. When I taught this prompt at Contoocook Valley High School in New Hampshire, the students liked it so much they decided to hold an erasure poetry lesson themselves for elementary school students.