Sunday, March 12, 2017

Black Out Poetry with Google Docs

March 21st is World Poetry Day, so this is a good time to revisit some ideas for creative ways for students to write poems. In the past I have shared activities for Random Writing Prompts for Poems, as well as drag-and-drop "magnetic" poetry templates in a Winter Theme and a Valentine's Day Theme.

Another fun way to engage students in poetry is by having them create "Black Out" poems. Basically you give the student a page of text pulled from a book, article, websites, or such. The student then blacks out all of the text, except for the words they want to leave behind to form a poem. This can be helpful for students struggling to write a poem, since they do not need to come up with any words of their own, but instead are working within a set collection of available words and in a particular order.

A lot of times you see this activity done with physical paper and big black markers. However, "Black Out Poetry" works great in a digital format. Using Google Docs and a few simple tricks, students can easily create and share their poems. See below for detailed directions on how to do this, including a short tutorial video and a step-by-step example.

Tutorial Video (12 minutes)

Detailed Directions

The "Black Out Poetry" activity will consist of five main steps:

  1. Prepare the Original Text in Google Docs
  2. Change the Page Background to a Temporary Color
  3. Highlight the Chosen Words with White
  4. Change the Page Background to Black
  5. Share the Final Poem

Step #1 - Prepare the Original Text in Google Docs

"Black Out Poetry" is based on students removing words from a provided text, so you need to begin with the text they will work from. This could be text from a book, an article, a blog post, or such.  If you are looking for kid-friendly articles to start from, a few good sites to consider include:

Also, if you are wanting the poem to have a particular theme, you can always search for articles that have a specific keyword in them, such as "love", "family", "war", or "prejudice". For my simple example I searched for an article that had something to do with "trees" and came across this article from DOGOnews:

Once you have the text, copy and paste it into a Google Doc. However, it is best for the text to be as plain and simple as possible with no extra formatting at all. Thankfully there is an easy way to paste just the copied text, and no formatting.

  • First copy the text as normal.
  • Next click inside of the Google Doc.
  • Press "Ctrl" and "Shift" and "V"
  • Or click "Edit" and "Paste without formatting"
  • Or right click and choose "Paste without formatting"
  • The copied text will now be pasted into the Google Doc as plain text with no special formatting.

Once you have the text in the Google Doc you may want to reformat it a bit so it fits nicely on one page. This might include:
  • Change the font size.
  • Delete some if the text if there is too much.
  • Change the page to landscape format if that looks better for creating a poem (click "File" and "Page setup")
When the original text is all ready, simply provide it to your students. You can do this by making a copy for each student in Google Classroom, or by providing the students with a "View Only" link to the document so they can make their own copies.

Step #2 - Change the Page Background to a Temporary Color

Now that the students have the Google Doc with the source text, they can begin to make their "Black Out Poem". Typically the students will only keep a small portion of the words for their final poem. Because of this there are a few tricks that can make the process much faster for the students. The first step will be to temporarily make the page background color something other than white or black.

To do this the student should:
  • Click "File" in the top menu bar.
  • Choose "Page setup" from the drop-down menu.
  • Now click the "Page color" option.
  • From the pop-up menu, choose a color other than white or black such as gray.
  • Click "OK" to make the color change.

Now the entire page will have a gray background (or whatever color you chose). This will make it much easier to do the next step, which will be to highlight the words we want to keep in the poem.

Step #3 - Highlight the Chosen Words with White

Next the student can begin choosing the words they want to keep to make their poem. They should read through the text looking for key words and ideas they want to use. When they have found some words they want to keep, the students should highlight those words with a white background. This will allow those words to stand out now, and to remain visible later when the "black out" is done.

To highlight the words white, the student should do the following:
  • First, use the mouse to select a word.
  • Click the "Text color" button in the top toolbar.
  • Click the "Highlight" option in the drop-down menu.
  • Click the white color option.
  • The selected text will now have a white background.

You can now repeat this process with the rest of the words you want to save. However, to save some time, you can also use the "Paint format" tool to quickly apply the white highlighting to other words.

  • First select a word that is already highlighted white.
  • Next double-click on the "Paint format" button to the top menu bar. Double-clicking will "lock in" the copied formatting.
  • Now simply select any other word in the document and the white highlighting will automatically be applied to it.
  • When done, just click the "Paint format" button again to turn it off.

When all done, your poem words should all be highlighted white. With one more simple step, you can now black out everything else, leaving just the poem you created.

Step #4 - Change the Page Background to Black

For the final step in making the poem, you will want to change the page background color to black. Because all the text is black, by making the background black, all the text will seem to disappear except for the words you previously highlighted with a white background. This is a quick and simple way to "black out" all of the unused text, rather than having to go through and black out each word individually.

Here is what to do:

  • Click "File" in the top menu bar.
  • Choose "Page setup" from the drop-down menu.
  • Now click the "Page color" option.
  • From the pop-up menu, choose black for the color.
  • Click "OK" to make the color change.

When done, the entire page will be black except for the words you originally highlighted with a white background.

Step #5 - Share the Final Poem

With the poem completed, students can share their work in several ways.

  • The poem can be shared with others by using the "Share" button in the top corner to share with specific people or to share as a link with the world.
  • The poem can also be downloaded in PDF format. Simply click "File" and then "Download as" and then "PDF document".

The shared or downloaded poem can be put on the classroom website or blog for a broader audience to access and read.


"Black Out Poetry" can be a fun and educational activity for students. For those that have trouble coming up with a poem, this activity can be helpful since the students already have all the words for the poem and just need to choose the ones they want to keep.

This can also be a fun activity to see what different poems students create when starting with the same original text. The final poems can be compared to see what similar themes came through, or how completely different moods and ideas were expressed.

If your students create some poetry using this method, please consider sharing links to their work in the comments below. Also feel free to share ideas or resources for extending or improving this activity.

Post by Eric Curts. Bring me to your school, organization, or conference with over 50 PD sessions to choose from. Connect with me on Twitter at and on Google+ at


  1. Can this be done by students using the Docs App on an iPad?

  2. Thank you for providing such an inspiring idea. Poetry can be difficult to teach. This is a fun and creative lesson.

  3. Thank you I used this for a project and it went well