How to Host a School Poetry Slam
Discover how to host a school poetry slam that will build self-esteem and communication skills in your students. Includes step by step instructions.
What is a poetry slam?
According to Poetry Slam Inc, a poetry slam is the “competitive art of performance poetry. It puts a dual emphasis on writing and performance, encouraging poets to focus on what they’re saying and how they’re saying it.”
Embed the Poet Visit into the Curriculum
Get a member of the school leadership team on board by demonstrating the benefits of such a visit. Discuss the best format to get as many students involved. Look at the year-long schedule for the best time to have a school-wide focus on poetry.
Don’t waste a visit from a professional poet by not backing it up in the classroom! Improved writing, performing and expression are benefits of creating poetry. It also helps develop rhythm and enhances memory. Reciting poems from memory promotes reading, vocabulary and communication skills. It fosters empathy and allows the poets to connect emotionally with their audience. Opportunities to perform improves public speaking skills and presents the poems true meaning through the poet’s performance.
School Poetry Slam Tips
1. Choose an Appropriate Poet
Research different poets who have worked in schools and are used to performing in front of hundreds of people. Get recommendations from colleagues at other schools. Also, look into their poetry! Just because they have done one great poem for children doesn’t mean their other work will be appropriate. You don’t want 10-year-olds digging around the poet’s website and find something inappropriate for their age. Richard Grant came highly recommended and his poetry was relatable but something very different to what we would have heard before.
2. Decide on a Format
Richard Grant described previous school visits and the format fit nicely with our vision. We made a few tweaks, all the time communicating with the staff, via the Head of English. The planned four-day event allowed us to make the most of his expertise and focus on poetry. The schedule involved each class creating an original poem over three days. One group of students from each class would perform at the poetry slam on the final day.
3. Fix Dates and Times
Choose a time when the poetry is the focus of the curriculum and when you know your preferred venue is free. Promote the event and add it to any school-wide schedules. Inform everyone in the school that a large event is taking place. It may interfere with regularly scheduled events, so talk to those teachers affected.
4. Arrange Travel and Payment
Working in Malaysia, arranging any visitor from overseas is a large job. First, I had to budget for such an event, making sure there was enough money for additional guest speakers during the school year. Secondly, through emails with Richard, we finalised the dates for his visit. The finance department booked flights, hotel and arranged local transportation, as well as his payment. As Richard was working at other international schools, we spread the cost of transportation.
5. Book Venue and Audiovisual Equipment
Choose a room with a staging area and enough space for a large audience. Research what audiovisual equipment you need and if you need help to set up. Also, check with the poet to see what they need for their own presentation. We needed microphones, video recording equipment, stage set up and a large screen. As I would be busy during the event, I arranged for someone to help with the use of this equipment.
6. During the Poet’s Visit
- Each class involved writes a class poem and has a group ready to perform it at the poetry slam. Have the poet visit every class and support them in the writing of the poem and performance techniques. Organise a schedule so the teachers know when to expect support.
- Have an initial assembly to introduce the poet and explain the process for the duration of the visit. Build excitement for the poetry slam.
- Keep teachers informed of expectations and schedule. Confirm details before emailing them. Don’t bombard them with messages! They just want to identify when and where to be and what they need to do.
- Make time in the schedule for the performers to practice. Discuss with the poet, the best way to do this. Richard Grant worked with ten groups at a time, having them perform together while he went around the room helping each group. (Don’t forget to book the performance space for this too.)
- Also, think about how you can make use of the poet in other ways. Richard Grant did a parent presentation on poetry with children. It was engaging and a great success.
7. The Poetry Slam
- Organising the video and slideshows created by each class was the biggest organisational job on the final day. The teachers had a deadline to add them to a Google Drive shared folder. I organised them into the performance order. A student or class teacher took charge of the video during the poetry presentation.
- It was important for the performers to practice the first few lines repeatedly. This gave them confidence when up on stage.
- We seated all the performers at the front of the audience so they wouldn’t miss any of the show. This way they could quickly get on the stage when it was their turn.
8. Poetry Slam Rules
You will obviously need to decide on the best rules for your school. These were our rules.
- Poems were to be original.
- We didn’t have a theme. Each class came up with truly unique poems from funny, sad, meaningful and strange. Some poems related to class topics, others focused on animals, toys and favourite foods.
- We allowed simple props and made videos made in the classroom. This was a preference, and some classes didn’t use any extras.
- A poem time limit was a necessity, otherwise, it would have been a long show!
- A respectful audience.
- Judges were volunteers from the teaching and office staff. They considered the originality and performance.
Want to take it further?
The following year we upped the stakes. Richard returned for five days. The first four days were essentially the same as the previous year. The main difference happened on the fifth day. We invited other international schools to send students, of any age, to a Poetry Showcase.
We decided on a non-competitive format, mainly because of the age differences of the participants. Five schools sent individuals, pairs and groups of students from primary up to secondary school age. Richard Grant spent the morning working on performance techniques. In the afternoon the students performed in front of an audience of over 500 students, teachers and parents. Who knows what this event could turn into next year! You can watch the event here.
Additional School Poetry Slam Resources
- Education World: A Poetry Slam Cures the Blahs
- The Guardian: Celebrating Poetry Day with slam: writing rhymes in school time
- National Literacy Trust: Write On: Poetry Slam toolkit
- Poetry School: How to Put on a Poetry Reading
- Poetry Slam Inc: Poetry Slam General Information
- Poetry Society: Learning Resources from The Poetry Society
- Poetry Teatime: How to Throw a Poetry Slam
- The Reading Agency: Running a Poetry Slam
- Scholastic: Open a Poetry Cafe to Celebrate Student Writing!
- We Are Teachers: How to Host Your Own Schoolwide Poetry Slam
- Young Poets Network: How to Put On a Poetry Gig by Amy Key
- Youth Speaks: How to Organize an In-School Slam
How do you go about teaching poetry in your classroom? It was always such a struggle for me. Finding some great poetry books definitely helped.
Do you have any favourite poetry books that you use to motivate your students? Let me know in the comments below. I will try and include them in this list so let me know below if you have any suggestions.
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