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HistoryFix: Summarizing a State's History with a Found Poem

A Writing Across the Curriculum Lesson from HistoryFix
Historical Topic: any topic from your state's history Students Write: a "found poem" summary

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Lesson Overview and Resources

Student Writing Samples from this Lesson


Lisa Larson has been a Northern Nevada Writing Project Teacher Consultant since 2009. She teaches middle school in Reno, Nevada.

Lisa keeps a personal portfolio of work here at WritingFix.


Summarizing a State's History with a Found Poem

This writing across the curriculum lesson was created by Nevada teacher Lisa Larson during the NNWP's HistoryFix Workshop for Teachers.

Lisa considers this writing assignment to be appropriate for students in grades 5-8. She uses it with Nevada History but believes it would work when studying any state's history.

Lesson Overview:

Objectives/Overview: Students will identify the main message and story behind a song serving as a mentor text; they will use a note-taking strategy and create a "found poem." They will then apply this strategy to an article from a printed mentor text of the teacher's choosing. This strategy can be extended to revising their own expository writing. Numerous other resources exist inside of this lesson's main mentor text, such as fun information about Columbus, World War II, The Lewis and Clark Expedition, and The First Olympics, just to name a few.

• Students will identify key words and phrases in a text that contribute to the main idea

• Students will compose a Found Poem using the collected key words and phrases from the text that synthesize the main idea

• Students will apply this skill to a piece of their own writing to assist with the revision process

Time Needed: Two 60-minute class sessions

Writing skills (traits) to stress while teaching this lesson:

  • Idea Development (writing with a clear, central idea or theme in mind; and putting researched ideas into one’s own words)
  • Word Choice (Using precise nouns to assist the reader’s understanding; incorporating interesting adjectives into the writing; and u sing strong verbs to keep the sentences interesting)

Materials List:

  • The song “Cold Missouri Waters,” sung by James Keelaghan, and printed lyrics for each student
  • Young Men and Fire by Norman MacLean (optional text). You can also acquire a summary of what happened during the Mann Gulch Fire by Googling it instead.
  • Graphic Organizer for Cold Missouri Waters
  • Oh, Yikes!: History's Grossest Moments by Joy Masoff (this is the text Lisa uses for session #2 of this lesson because it contains a highly engaging article on the history of Hoover Dam, which is the state history topic she uses this lesson with. Teachers may use any engaging text about any historical topic to complete this lesson.)

Background Information:

Students often have difficulty identifying what is most important in a text. By drawing their attention to key words and phrases and then having them create a poem with them, students can identify the main idea and then summarize a text without plagiarizing.

If you are new to the idea of found poems, here is a link to another lesson at WritingFix that teaches the found poem format.

Before beginning the lesson, ask students what they know about note-taking and comprehending a text. Record any answers the students provide. Revisit this list after the lesson and compare answers.

Teacher Instructions:

Session 1: Mentor Text..."Cold Missouri Waters"

•Tell students they will be listening to a song about an historic event that happened in 1949 in Montana. They need to listen for and record key words and phrases in the first column of their graphic organizer. Anything that seems important should be recorded.

•Share as a whole group, telling students to add to the first column if they hear something relevant.

•Pass out the lyrics to "Cold Missouri Waters." Tell students they will be listening to the song again, only this time following along with the words and adding anything important in the second column of the graphic organizer.

•Have students share in small groups and then ask them to justify their choices. Give them time to write these reasons in the third column of the graphic organizer.

•Allow time to create a Found Poem based on the the words and phrases from their graphic organizers. Share as a whole class.

•Draw attention to the poems that captured the main idea/theme.

•Read an excerpt from Young Men and Fire or summary from internet about the Mann Gulch Fire and allow students to assess themselves about their understanding of the main idea of the song.


Session 2: Mentor Text...Oh, Yikes! or any book with a historical topic of the teacher's choosing.

•Tell students to take out a piece of notebook paper and fold it in half lengthwise (hotdog). Label the left column “Important Words and Phrases” and the right column “Why this is Important.” Tell students they will be reading a short article in small groups about a piece of Nevada history.

•NEVADA TEACHERS: Share from pages 48-49 of Oh Yikes!: History's Grossest, Wackiest Moments, and tell students to start reading at the subheading labeled “Dam You!” It is about the history of Hoover Dam. For teachers in other states, you can apply this lesson to the Hoover Dan too, or you can choose a topic from your own state's interesting history.

•Students need to follow the note-taking strategy utilized for “Cold Missouri Waters” and record key words and phrases from the text on a piece of notebook paper.

•Allow enough time for students to complete the task and then share as a whole group.

•Come to a consensus about what the main idea/theme is of the article. Next, ask students to create a Found Poem synthesizing their knowledge of Hoover Dam (or your chosen topic). Allow time for students to complete the task and share as a whole class. Again, draw attention to the poems that capture the main idea/theme.

•Remove all material from the students except their Found Poem. Ask them to write a letter to someone summarizing the article using only the poem as a resource.

•Share as a whole group.


•Ask students to choose a piece of expository writing from their Writer’s Notebook. Fold a piece of notebook paper lengthwise and label the two columns as outlined above. Ask students to identify the key words and phrases in their writing and explain why they are important.

•Show the list and explanation to a neighbor who has not read the original piece of writing. What do they think it will be about? What are they expecting to read about in the original piece? Are these elements captured in the original draft?

•Ask students to revise based on feedback and what they identified as the main idea of the piece.

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