7 Helpful Steps to Bring Inspiring Slam Poetry in Class

Do you have students share their writing and poetry in class? Writing is meant to be shared with others.  It’s the final step of the writing process, it’s one of the hardest parts, but it’s the most important.  By sharing our writing we are sharing our feelings, ideas, and stories with others.  Many students are reluctant to share their work, and they think of their writing as a paper to be turned in for a grade.  As I consider this I understand why so much of the writing I read is lacking enthusiasm. 

Captivating Spoken Word Brings Inspiration for Poetry in Class

A few years ago, I was attending my favorite summer concert festival, Soulfest.  It’s transformed over the years, but at the core, it is over 75 artists coming together for three days to play music on three or more stages.  What I love about this festival is that it has some big-name headliners that I’m dying to see, but during the day I get to hear new music from lesser-known musicians that I don’t know, who perform a variety of styles. 

On this particularly hot and humid day, my husband and I decided to check out Propaganda because I like rap and his name. He mixed his lyrics with his story.  His words were in meter and rhythm which caught my attention and made me listen.  His rap was meaningful and full of truth about the world, race, and religion.  We enjoyed his performance and decided to go listen to him speak too.  His topic seemed interesting and so did he.

Even though he had left his raps on stage he still spoke with the same engaging tone and rhythm.  He was still performing but differently. He caught my attention even further as he explained that he used to be an 8th grade English teacher, which was reflected in his diverse and elegant vocabulary.  

He explained his thoughts on the Bible from his unique perspective.  He is an artist of the spoken word and rapper who has put a label on himself so that others could not. Whether he was talking or rapping I was completely captivated. 

Every year I return to Soulfest, Propaganda is a name I look for among the artists.  He performs and speaks most years.

The Bringing Impactful Poetry in Class Because of Impactful Performances 

The most impactful performances stick with us because of more than flashing lights and sound effects.  The artist or show has connected with us on a deeper level.  Something personal and truthful they shared connected in a way that made us think and feel.  These impactful performances stay with us for a long time because of the connection. 

Have you attended a performance that has rocked you like this?  If you haven’t then I recommend checking out Propaganda on YouTube or listening to his work on Spotify.  He covers a multitude of topics and does it in a captivating way.  His performance was more impactful for me than most. The first time I saw him is a performance that stands out to me after years. 

As teachers, our goal is to get our students to be passionate and connect with their writing.  Bringing inspiring spoken word and slam poetry in class is a great step in that direction.

Can I Bring Inspiring Spoken Word and Slam Poetry in Class?

Poetry is one of the hardest things to teach because there are so many different forms, but that’s also what makes it amazing.  Any teacher can bring inspiring spoken word and slam poetry in class.  Spoken word and slam poetry are two specific kinds over poetry that happen to have a lot of similarities.  They are fun to bring into the classroom and can change your ELA block.

Spoken Word and Slam Poetry Examples

Poetry is not a dead art form.  There are many places where poetry can be heard and performed.  Here are some great poetic performances that have gotten different levels of attention.  After you do some more reading you can argue if they are spoken word, slam poetry, beat poetry, or hip-hop. Watch with an open mind and heart to let these performances move you.

  • Propaganda performs a spoken word piece called “Raise the Banner.”
  • Ginny and Georgia in this TV show the main character opts to write a poem to perform for her class instead of an essay.  The teacher gives the prize in the competition to another student.
  • Amanda Gorman has gotten a lot of attention since the presidential inauguration because of the power poem she wrote, “The Hill We Climb.”

Poetry Teaching Activities for Spoken Word and Slam Poetry in Class

I have broken down the process of bringing spoken word and slam poetry in class into 7 steps.  These steps will take you from introducing this concept to your students all the way through hosting a slam yourself.   After reading these steps you will be ready to stand on stage and speak out.

1. Exploration Activities of Spoken Word and Slam Poetry Examples

There are four types of poetry that are very similar and as you start your students on the journey of understanding slam poetry it’s helpful to understand the differences between these types of poetry. There is slam poetry, spoken word, beat poetry, and rap (hip-hop).  There is not a perfect definition of each of these.  Poetry is fluid, so it is constantly changing and being reinvented.  However, your students should be able to do a little research to understand the similarities and differences better. 

  • Slam poetry is poetry meant to be performed as part of a judged contest where each poet has three minutes to perform. 
  • Spoken word is poetry that is written with performance in mind.  It’s written for performance over being recorded on paper for reading.
  • Beat poetry is a style that is over 50 years old from the Beat Generation.  It’s stereotypically represented by the image of berets and bongo drums.
  • Rap (hip-hop) is characterized by the rhymes that are set to a tempo.  It has a rhythm and is spoken over music.

2. Define Each Type of Poetry in Class

As the class researches, you may decide to use more complex and detailed definitions than what I’ve introduced above.  Defining and clarification of each type of poetry is an important activity and step in the process of teaching your student spoken word and slam poetry.

Think about what types of conversations would work for your class.  I would have my students research on their own first.  Then I would have them work in small groups to figure out what they want their definitions to be.  Last we would finalize those definitions as a class.

3. Close Readings of Slam Poetry Best

Now that your students have a good understanding of how slam poetry and spoken word are different from rap and beat poetry it’s a good time for an activity.  Close readings are a popular teaching activity in which students break down literature.  Close readings are great, but because this form of poetry is focused on performance I suggest that you have students read the work of a few artists as well as watch it. 

Class or group discussions are the purpose of these close readings, not writing short answers.  Poetry is about how the poet connects to us, how they make us think and feel.  Students should determine which type of poetry they are reading or watching.  Then they can take a closer look at the poem itself and consider the following:

  • Likes/dislikes
  • Author’s message
  • Dominant images or impressions made
  • Identify literary devices and poetry terms

4. Ideas for Writing Poetry

Your students are ready to write their own poetry at this point.  Well almost ready.  Picking a form of poetry is the very first step in writing and we’ve done that, slam poetry.  The second step is almost as hard, picking a topic or idea.

Your students’ ideas for writing poetry must be based on one of three things because it is meant to be performed.  To have a successful performance spoken word or slam poetry must be personal, have meaning, or be story-driven.  Your students should be able to explain how their topic stems from one of these three guidelines.  This will make their poems are more likely to be successful.

5. Slam Poetry How to Write It

This is obvious, but sometimes after long years of teaching, we forget.  Model how to write spoken word and slam poetry in class.  Every teacher knows modeling is a key part of increasing student understanding, but sometimes we forget that we must explain and then model it too.  It demonstrates to students the process of writing poetry, even when it’s tricky and we might have points where we get stuck and have to work through it.  It’s a great way for them to learn not just about slam poetry, but writing too.

How to Get Your Students Thinking Deeper About Writing Poetry In Class

Your students can try writing from different perspectives.  Say they are writing about a sports game or competition.  They could write as themselves, a best friend watching from the stands, their parent, or the coach.  Each perspective will reveal different ideas and meanings.  They can combine these ideas into their final piece.

Have your students take different approaches to topics.  Imagine if they decided to write a piece about social justice or women’s rights.  What would happen if they wrote a poem of the opposite opinion, but still from their own perspective.  I don’t think they would use this poem as their final slam poem, but it could generate new ideas to help in their revision process and be a good challenge.

Write multiple poems about the same topic.  Sometimes I’ve done this as I write examples or just because I’ve forgotten or lost work.  However, when I look at different drafts side by side they are each different.  Sometimes I can merge them to create my best piece or one draft is clearly better than the other. 

6. Model Feedback and Revision as a Poetry Teaching Activity

Students need to learn how to give feedback to classmates.  It’s a hard skill because it is both a social skill and an academic skill.  Here are some guidelines your students can use to provide useful feedback to a classmate. When they are providing feed they can think about:

  • question
  • personal response
  • praise
  • specific observation
  • suggestion for improvement

I would suggest that you require your students to give feedback using two of these guides lines. Maybe create a worksheet they can fill out to be turned in at the end of the period.

Revision is a step in the writing process that I feel confuses a lot of students and a lot of teachers too.  We tell students how to do it, but don’t show them.  We give them a checklist, but don’t walk them through how to do it.  It’s time we change this and model the revision process. 

Earlier I told you to model writing a slam poem.  It’s time to revisit your work for this lesson.  Use your slam poem to show students how to revise it.  Take your checklist and think out loud while revising.  This will show your students that even you filter through several ideas to create your best piece of writing.  

7. Rehearse for Spoken Word and Slam Poetry in Class

The entire point of creating these lessons is to perform the final piece.  Spoken word and slam poetry is meant to be performed.  That is the quality that makes it so different from other written works. For your students to perform their piece well they must rehearse.  Students will be resistant to rehearsing, but that doesn’t mean they can skip it. 

Three ways to rehearse depending on your time:

  1. Have your students practice their poems alone or with a friend.
  2. Have a partner record their poetry slam practice.  This way the student can review it repeatedly and look for how to make it better.
  3. Have students perform for a small group.  The group should look for one place the performer can improve.  This next part is the kicker.  The student should practice that one piece for the group, repeatedly, until it’s fixed.

Bonus Mini-Lesson Activities on Poetry

For your actual poetry slam, you can make it as complex or simple as you want.  Invite other classes and parents and set a fancy stage or simply use the front of the classroom.  I suggest talking to the school librarian.  Libraries can give off a bit of a coffee house vibe and it would mix it up a bit for the special performance day.

I hope this guide helps you bring inspiring spoken word and slam poetry in class.  But I wanted to leave you with a few more activities on poetry.  Let’s keep these simple and short.

1. Share samples of own work

2. As the kids write spotlight student work throughout the periods

3. Keep an eye out for teachable moments

4. Each class give your students one specific thing to work on

More Poetry for the Classroom

I love poetry and teaching poetry so much because I have seen it impact my students.  Here are a few more articles to continue your poetry momentum.


Teaching the Writing Process with Poetry

Writing Conferences Made Easy With Poetry

How to Write Slam Poetry – A 9 Step Guide

Here is Your FREE Prompt for Writing Poetry

I know that you needed a prompt to help kickstart your students’ writing.  Here is an entire lesson for FREE.  My Our School Poem guides students through using sensory language to describe their school. The step-by-step directions guide your class through the writing process with all the necessary worksheets make this the perfect lesson for your classroom.

Leave a Reply