The Envelope Project: How It Works

This exercise should take 45-60 minutes.

  • Begin with one sealed envelope for each participating student.
  • Each envelope contains one poem inside; the first line of this poem is printed on the outside of the envelope.
  • Ask the students to take a minute or two to study the first line on the outside of the envelope—is it short or long, does it contain big words or small, what images does it evoke, who do they imagine speaking it, etc.
  • Ask the students to inhabit the voice of the first line—to be "inside the mind" of the speaker or "pretend you are the person writing this poem"—and finish writing the poem, keeping the first line.
  • Afterwards, break the students up into small groups according to the original poems they were given, and ask the students to open up the envelope and read the original poems, as well as their own poems, to each other.
  • Ask each group to talk about the experience—how did the original poem differ from their poem? What images came up, did the voice of the first line sound the same throughout the poem, what surprised them? And they can talk about what ideas they had about their own poems, as well as compare them to each other.
  • Finally, assemble the whole class back together, and ask for volunteers to read each of the original poems. Then, all the students should read their poems aloud.