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Creating Spoken Word Poetry

The weirder my poetry got the more it felt like mine. -Sarah Kay

 

Spoken word is poetry that is perfomed 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.

Immersion 

Student 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 dicusss the following questions:

  • What message is the artist trying to convey?
  • What do you notice about the use of language?
  • What do you notice about the use of voice (volume, tone, pacing, etc.)?
  • How does the performance help convey the message?

The Spoken Word Poetry Analysis sheet may be used when exploring spoken word texts and performances.

Plan and Organize

Spoken word poetry provides opportunites 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:

Download a handout of this activity

 

  • 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.

 

Draft, Revise and Edit

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

 

Perform Spoken Word Poetry

Students work on the performance element of spoken word by rehearsing, perfoming, 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. 

Celebrity Judging: Find two videos online of a strong performance and a performance that needs more work. Have students play celebrity 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 below, created using this 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.

Compete in a Poetry Slam

SPEAK Up brings together student poets from several Montreal-area schools. Under coaching and guidance from their teachers and local spoken word artists, students perform their poetry at the EMSB Speak Up poetry slam. 

Through spoken word students are invited to find their voice. They also explore topics and issues of importance to them and their world. 

 

Organizer Nayem Alam performs "We Can Change" during the opening of the 2014 Speak Up competition.

Charlotte Sparks performs "Plastic Flowers" during the 2017 Speak Up slam.

Additional Resources:

Sarah Kay's Project VOICE website offers even more examples of poetry by youth and adults.

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 more examples of spoken word poetry.

The Digital Poet blog offers information on spoken word, creating spoken word poetry, finding topics, performance strategies as well as examples of sophisticated spoken word pieces.

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

Features of text help sheet for annotating transcripts of poems.

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