Headline poetry: capture 2020 with found words

2020 Tattle-Tale Truths

Where have you been lately?

Home cookies story hour

A briefly noted


What are your symptoms?

Untrue advice:

A subtle silence

A war of persuasion

What tests should you expect?

Action equities fire

Next-level knowledge

The might-have-been modern world

A week ago, I started collecting about 100 words to make a headline poem. I finished it yesterday. With this poem, I wanted to capture 2020 as I’ve experienced it so far. Like everyone, I’m still experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic that was ushered into our lives in March when my school closed for the remainder of the year. Fortunately, since my husband and I both teach, it’s been a spring of staying in, working, baking, writing, completing a few house projects, and keeping up with the news. We’ve had an easy go of it compared to so many others and I get that.

But gradually, spring gave way to summer with the protests and violence spurred by the deaths of African-Americans at the hands of police. Somehow, I wanted my poem to capture both of these history-making forces.

The jury’s still out on whether I succeeded, and after all, a poem is just a poem. I don’t have to get it right, whatever “right” means. And that’s one thing I love about this art form.

If you’re unfamiliar with headline poetry, read my two posts here and here.

I am definitely turning into a headline poetry enthusiast.

I think it can open up new doors to expression for both students with a flair for language and those who struggle to get words onto a page. I also like that it gets students using printed materials, scissors, glue… and creativity. With so many “screen time distractions,” it’s refreshing to create a tangible memento.

The key to headline poetry is to be open to metaphor, nonsensical word choices, and creativity.

Likewise, it helps to be open to unusual materials. For example, I couldn’t find a sheet of paper at home to arrange my words onto. My daughter suggested this manila envelope and I really like the way it can be folded like a book. This accomplishes three things:

  • it protects the words
  • it creates a “frame” for the work
  • it makes the poem easy to store in a notebook or file cabinet, i.e. no more giant sheets of poster board or construction paper that require space I simply don’t have in my classroom
Using an envelope creates a cover for your poem.

For this poem, I used present-day magazines such as The New Yorker and Better Homes and Gardens. However, all I had on hand were pre-pandemic issues, which opened up new word possibilities. Since there weren’t corona virus stories in these issues, I had to make other, more unexpected word choices. (The questions Where have you been lately?, What are your symptoms?, and What tests should you expect? were from an article about general spring flu season remedies, and not COVID-19).

Poem detail.

For contrast and fun, I collected a few words (cookies, story hour, knowledge, and modern) from vintage magazines. These included the January 1948 issue of Children’s Activities, and the September 1940 Woman’s Home Companion. My goal was to see how old typefaces would affect the poem’s tone. In this case, the old type didn’t seem to add much. Maybe next time I’ll add some photos or illustrations from these magazines to see what that does.

Thanks for reading!
Check out this headline poetry post for more details. For more ELA teaching ideas and lessons, enter your email below and I’ll add you to my list — THANK YOU!

Success! You're on the list.

Published by Marilyn Yung

Writes | Teaches | Not sure where one ends and the other begins.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: