Spoken word is poetry that is performed for an audience. It uses the affordances of spoken language such as word play and intonation, to explore ideas and experiences and communicate them to others

In her TED Talk, poet Sarah Kay begins by performing a poem and then discusses her experiences writing and teaching spoken word. She includes some great strategies for getting teens into writing poetry.


Students use a production process to create spoken word pieces. They are first immersed into spoken word texts where they read, view and discuss selected performances such as:

After viewing one of the poems, invite students to discuss the following questions:

  • What message is the artist trying to convey?

  • What do you notice about the use of language and poetic devices?

  • What do you notice about the use of voice (volume, tone, pacing, etc.), body language, gestures, facial expressions, etc?

  • How does the performance help convey the message?


Spoken word poetry provides opportunities to delve into a variety of topics and issues. Topics can include growing up, lessons learned in life, interesting experiences as well as issues of importance to the student.

Following the immersion into spoken word texts, begin to elicit ideas and plan the piece. There are a variety of ways to begin the planning process. A few ways to begin are described below:

  • Write down ten things you should have learned by now. When the student is finished with the list, choose one item that stands out and ask, what’s the story behind this one? You could also have students share their lists with others and have their group members place a star next to the items they want to know more about.

  • Write a list of favourite words. As a large group, brainstorm words on different topics and themes. Encourage students to make personal lists on different topics and themes.

  • Maintain a list of favourite lines from poetry, music lyrics, or narratives. Record these lines in a reader-writer notebook.


Students continue using a production process to draft, revise, edit and receive feedback on their their spoken word poetry.

Metaphor Collage

Teacher Nancy Ransom from LBPSB uses a metaphor writing exercise as away to introduce author's craft into spoken word poetry.

Have students:

  • Choose a concept and develop it into a metaphor.

  • Create a collage that illustrates the metaphor, including both written text and images.

  • Create a written text that incorporates vivid and varied verbs and adjectives.


Students work on the performance element of spoken word by rehearsing, performing, giving and receiving feedback.

Spoken Word Toolkit: Have students use this list of things to keep in mind as they rehearse and perform spoken word poetry.

Memorize your text. Like learning to dance, play a sport, or sing your favorite song, it helps to memorize the movements, the next steps, and the next lyrics. This will help you build more confidence and give you room to play with how you perform your piece when you don’t have to filter it from page to brain to voice. Tune in and visualize images when you memorize. Encode these images in your mind to draw from when you speak.

Volume. Did the audience hear what you said? Speak loudly enough for someone in the back of the room to hear you clearly. Speak directly into the microphone. Adjust your volume to change tone, mood, or intensity of the piece.

Speed. Alternating between different speeds can create added dimensions to your work. When and why would you want to adjust the speed? What could this suggest?

Pause. Dramatic pauses can really pull in the audience, to help them re-focus and ache to know what’s coming next. It also helps you breathe and re-centre yourself if you tend to get stage fright.

Breathe. Breathing is essential to performance. Without breaths, someone better call the paramedics to resuscitate you! Work with placing breaths at different moments of your poem. By creating variation in line lengths, this will help you establish set points for breathing.

Articulation. Refers to the time value we assign to each syllable, as well as how we enunciate words. Give definition to all the details of words and how they are spoken in a clear, direct manner. From there, stretch syllables to slow down the line. This will change the inflection (pitch at which we sound out the syllables.)

Emphasis. By simply changing what words you emphasize, you can change the meaning of a piece entirely. Try emphasizing different words in a line: I AM the king of Siam/ I am the KING of Siam/ I am the king of SIAM. (in hip-hop, the emphasis usually falls on the first down beat.)

Exaggeration. Experiment with using more than one of these techniques to exaggerate an idea. Try speaking really loudly and slowly, with a dramatic pause in the middle and then speed it up at the end. Mix it up!

Eye contact. Try not to stare at your new sneakers while you perform. We know they’re awesome, but it’s better to look up at the audience or just above their heads.

Body language and positioning. Slouching isn’t going to sell your poem about ending world hunger. Stand tall, ground your feet shoulder-width apart, and try gesturing with your hands and arms.

Proper hydration, sleep, and preparation. Take care of yourself before you present your work, just like you would before running a marathon!

Rehearse. It is important to rehearse, rehearse, rehearse, so you can be confident and perform with ease.

Sources: "Take the Mic: the art of performing slam and spoken word" by Mark Smith, "How to Rap: the art and science of the hip-hop MC" by Paul Edwards.

Celebrity Judging: Find two videos online of a strong performance and a performance that needs more work. Have students act as judges, giving their critical feedback of the performances. Make sure they are specific about what worked and what didn’t, demonstrating their knowledge of performance techniques.

Inflection Memes: Help performers plan the inflection of important lines in their poems, have students create memes in which they visually emphasize important words. The meme to the left, created using a simple meme generator, uses CAPSLOCK to stress certain words and s p a c e s between letters to elongate others. Students can also use their memes to advertise their performances.


Explore opportunities for student poets to perform at school, school board and province-wide events. With coaching and guidance from their teachers and local spoken word artists, students can perform their poetry at poetry slams. Through spoken word students are invited to find their voices. They also explore topics and issues of importance to them and their world.


Sarah Kay’s Project VOICE website offers examples of poetry by youth and adults.

From YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association, a division of the American Library Association) The N’s Read/Write/Slam Poetry Workshop includes activities and advice for exploring spoken word poetry.

Button Poetry has a YouTube channel that offers examples of spoken word poetry.

"Every Voice Matters: Spoken Word Poetry in and outside of School" by Wendy R. Williams explores ways to integrate spoken word into classroom and school communities.

Poet and YA author of The Poet X, Elizabeth Acevedo offers examples of her work in her blog.


The purpose of a storyteller is not to tell you how to think, but to give you questions to think upon.

Brandon Sanderson

Storytelling, like spoken word poetry, allows students to produce a spoken text for an audience of peers and adults. Storytelling is crafted and stories are often personal in nature.


  • Use these storytelling analysis questions to engage students in thinking critically about the stories and how they are performed. Invite students to also note and collect the techniques used by storytellers.


  • Use the production process to brainstorm, draft, edit, and refine personal stories.

  • Have students choose a Moth story that they particularly like and use it as a mentor text. They might try using a similar structure for their own stories.

  • A Great Story Must: Here is a compilation of tips for storytelling. Share some or all of these tips with students, engaging them in an ongoing discussion of what they believe makes a story great.

  • Have students rehearse their stories with the help of the tips for storytelling sheet. Offer ample opportunities for students to receive peer/teacher feedback.


  • Arrange for live performances, where students can see the impact of their stories on their audience members. Record live performances for secondary sharing and so that students can listen to their stories later.

  • Discuss the fertile ground of vulnerability; work to help students see vulnerability as a strength in storytelling, and to value this strength in each other. Students who feel uncomfortable sharing personal stories might choose to share a story about a more neutral topic.


The Moth website offers examples of stories performed by youth and adults.

Confabulation is a local storytelling group. Storytellers can apply to perform at their monthly events.


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