How to Host a School Poetry Slam
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's 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.
Decide on a poet
Research different poets who have worked in schools and are used to performing in front of hundreds of people. Get recommendation 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 our would have heard before.
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 the 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.
Arrange Travel and Payment
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.
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, the hotel and arranged local transportation, as well as his payment. As Richard was working at other international schools, we spread the cost of transportation.
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.
During the poet's visit
- Each class writes a class poem and one group ready perform it at the slam. Have the poet visit every class and support them in the writing of the poem and performance techniques. Organise a schedule for the teachers.
- Have an initial assembly to introduce the poet and explain what is going to happen. Build excitement!
- Keep teachers informed of expectations and schedule. Confirm details before emailing them. Don’t bombard them with messages! They want to identify when and where to be and their role.
- Make time for the performers to practice. Richard Grant worked with ten groups at a time, having them perform together while he went around helping each group. (Don’t forget to book space for this.)
- Think of other ways you can make use of the poet. Richard Grant did a parent presentation on poetry with children. It was engaging, informative and a great success.
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.
What are the rules?
- Poems had 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 child made videos. 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!
Why not take the plunge and host a school poetry slam of your own! If you have hosted something similar let me know in the comments at the end!