Spoken word poetry:
- forces them to take risks.
- develops creativity, as there are no set rules to the verse.
- encourages self-exploration and expression of personal identity.
- builds confidence.
- builds collegiality between students.
- enhances their vocal expression, belief and conviction.
- develops written expression.
We begin the unit by exploring and analysing various pieces of slam poetry. Students immediately become defensive stating, “Are you kidding Miss? There is no way we can do that.” However, with some gentle encouragement, effective scaffolding and peer support, poems are quickly formed and ready for editing.
One of my favourite ways to generate poetry is through a sharing circle. Students sit in two circles (inner and outer) facing a partner. Each student has a number of post-it notes and a pen. I then pose a question (see below) and they have one minute to generate an answer on a post-it note. They then have another minute to discuss the question and the answers with their partner. Afterwards, the outer circle rotates one place to the right and we begin the process again. We use this to generate ideas. Ten questions are probably enough to begin with. Students then take their post-it notes and lay them out on a large sheet of paper. The routine Generate-Sort-Connect-Elaborate assists in the expansion of ideas. This is done individually. Students then use this brainstorm as a platform to formulate ideas for their poem. Some students may need an extra question or two to stimulate thinking. The only rule is that the poem must be about something that is important to them. If they are not passionate about the topic then the poem will not be effective.
If you could change one thing about the world what would you change?
What word makes your tounge heavy?
When was the last time you felt your heart beat fast?
Is there anything you wish you could change about yourself?
What have you learnt the hard way?
What or who inspires you?
How would you define yourself?
How are you changing the world with your choices?
When have you fallen?
When have you stepped up?
What's not worth waiting for?
When you look into your heart, what do you see?
What don't you want to believe?
I also introduce the students to a poem that can be read forwards and backwards. You can find it here. Like the above exercise, one student must be the poet reading the text while the rest of the group must create physical images to accompanying the voice. When the poem is read backwards the physical image must be performed in reverse. It takes a great amount of critical thinking to compete this task with many of the students complaining that their ‘brains hurt’ after performing.
As students are writing, rehearsing and preparing their final performances they are constantly encouraged to share with their peers and receive feedback. All the students find this task challenging and so they are very supportive of each other. In the final performance they are encouraged to cheer and make noise during the performances when they see fit. The level of trust is elevated as students realise that just as they are sharing something they are passionate about or care about, revealing a little of themselves, so too are their peers. As a class group the students learn a lot about each other and find they have things in common that they never realised. For me, I am given an insight into what is important to them and what they are interested in. This is a privilege and an advantage for any teacher.
A few points to note:
- I have made this a non-assessable unit. By making it non-assessable I am giving them the freedom to take risks without fear of failure.
- Encourage students to read their poems out loud as they edit and look for the natural rhythms.
- Assist them in removing unnecessary conjunction words such as ‘and’, ‘but’ and ‘because’. This will assist in the flow of the poem.
- Invite students to vocalise the situation or perspective using all five senses. (Sight, sound, taste, smell, touch)
- To be effective, spoken word poetry needs to be original, personal and relatable.
- ‘Body slam’ (as my students have termed it) is an excellent alternative for more kinaesthetic students.
I hope this post inspires you to take a leap into this unique performance medium. Remember, if you take risks, so to will your students.