Color poem: pop-up poetry to get students thinking like a poet

My personal education goal this year is to incorporate more creative writing opportunities into my core English classes. In American Literature, my juniors had just learned about the symbolism of the green light so the timing was perfect to pause for a moment of creative expression. This activity can be done with ANY color and with any book that uses color in a meaningful way.

Pre-write Activity – Shades of Green

Across the top of my front board, I hung a row of sheets of paper of different shades of one color. I got the sheets at my local craft store in the scrap booking section for a dime each. It was important to me to get various shades of the same color instead of a rainbow palette so that students can consider the nuances of color and shades. Students wrote down a list of 3 words that came to mind for the different shades on this handout. I encouraged them to not simply describe the shade, but to make associations with objects or actions that come to mind for each color. Then, students wrote 4 words of their choice underneath the corresponding shades on the board.

Create a community of writers by having everyone share their words on the board.

The next step is to move to the Word Combos box on the handout. After the students had all written their words on the board, I had them look over all of the words and write down 5 interesting, unexpected word pairs – words that normally wouldn’t go together, such as “velvet mountain” or “electric sleep.” Then, after erasing our original lists of words, we each wrote 2 of our unexpected word pairs on the board that we felt were the most interesting. I was super impressed with this part of the lesson.


Finally, it’s time to write a poem. Encourage students to use an many word combos from the board, as well as from their own papers, along with the individual 8 shades words they’ve written on their handouts to write a poem about…. well, this part is up to you. I gave students the option to write a poem about The Great Gatsby, imagining they were at one of Gatsby’s parties. The other option was to write a poem about whatever they wanted, whatever is inspiring them in the moment. I gave them 5-10 minutes to write a poem of 6 lines that includes as many words as they can from their sheet and from the board.

Finally, we went around the room and each read our whole poem or at least a line from the poem. And after each person shared, we celebrated with poetry snaps.

Celebrate every student for sharing their work.

If you feel inclined to have your students do a follow-up activity, or maybe as a pre-writing, here’s some poems that use color in meaningful ways:

Green Means Literally a Thousand Things or More by Matt Donovan

Variations in Blue by Lauren K. Alleyne

off white by Nate Marshall

Why is the Color of Snow? by Brenda Shaughnessy

Spoken For by Li-Young Lee

Shell White by Melissa Range

Triple Sonnet for Black Hair by Dorothy Chan

The Electric Blues by Logan February

La suavecita by Lupe Mendez

Synesthesia by Mahtem Shiferraw

Sorrow is Not My Name by Ross Gay

Instructions of Not Giving Up by Ada Limón

Blue by Carl Phillips

application for the position of abdelhalim hafez’s girl by Safia Elhillo

Sonnet 12 by Victoria Chang


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