Poetry Slams and Lesson Plans

Poetry slams can lead your students beyond a focus on rhyme and meter and into the emotional pull of poetry.

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Whenever a teacher mentions poetry, many learners respond with moans and groans. However, there are a lot of fun and interactive lessons that can help them transition from the idea that poetry is all about rhyme and meter to an expression of free-flowing emotion and ideas. One such activity is a poetry slam.

What is a Poetry Slam?

This activity gives pupils the opportunity to write and perform their poems in front of a group of people. In a traditional slam, the topic of the poems is the same. Some topics ideas that I have found to work well are: relationships, the environment, or politics. Each poet is given a specific amount of time to recite his or her work in front of a live audience. The goal is not merely to read the poem, but to embody the essence of the poem.  A group of judges or evaluators then gives the poet a score, typically between 0 and 30 points. This score can be based on any number of qualities, such as performance or adherence to the assigned topic. In your classroom, you can design the evaluation to fit the needs of your students and include such categories as focus, theme, and performance. In order to determine a winner, tabulate the numerical results and incorporate audience comments/observations to determine a winner. I suggest creating a universal observation form for each "judge" to use.

Watch and Learn

In order to familiarize your future poets with this type of poetic expression, try finding local poetry slams that feature community poets. Coffee houses and colleges or universities are great places to start. You can also try searching online and have the class virtually attend a poetry reading or poetry slam.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Speaking in front of groups is difficult for many people. Add to that the idea of reading aloud something one has written, and the fear factor is huge! In order to ease anxiety, have your first poetry slam in your classroom. Once students become familiar enough with the format and the scoring system, encourage them to do a poetry slam with other classes or to put together a small group in order to practice. To extend the lesson, consider organizing a school-wide poetry slam.

Poetry slams can be used in practically any creative writing/poetry or literature lesson. They can also work in conjunction with speech/debate presentations in order to help with “stage fright.” The following lessons provide a great foundation for incorporating a poetry slam into poetry and creative writing lessons.

Poetry Slams and Lesson Plans:

My Favorite Place

Here your learners will explore how the senses influence creative writing.  After going through a whole-class visual activity, they brainstorm using their own favorite place. This would be a great opportunity for sharing their poems in the poetry slam format.

Making Poetry Writing Fun

This resource offers a great introduction to poetry. Once your young poets explore and analyze some more common poems, they use what they learned about form and style to create their own poems. The lesson also allows for flexibility and can be adapted to specific classroom needs.

Descriptive Writing

This lesson explores characteristics of exotic animals and how they could be described.  In the lesson, students explore each stage of the writing process and look at specific examples.  Once they are familiar with the process, they use their imagination and creativity to produce a unique project. Rather than turning in written work, a poetry slam could easily be interchanged. This is a great lesson because it can be adapted to any topic. 

Poetry Slam

This is a great lesson to introduce pupils to poetry slams. It takes them through the step-by-step process using an impromptu activity where they choose words randomly and then construct a poem.  This is a fun and interactive lesson.

Discussion Question:

Do you have students participate in a type of poetry slam? What is effective? Share your tips!