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Why All Teachers Should Teach Slam Poetry

TeacherVision Advisory Board Member, Jeanne, shares why every teacher should teach slam poetry. She includes tips and resources for getting started. April is National Poetry Month, the perfect time to try out this approach with your students.

why all teachers should teach slam poetry

Every year I’ve taught, I’ve found a way to weave in slam poetry.

It’s just that good. I’ve taught full-on slam poetry units, and I’ve also just included it in other units where the content of poems or writing techniques spoke to the content of our current unit. No matter how I include it, it’s always my favorite part of our year.

For those that are not familiar with slam poetry or spoken word, put simply it’s just poetry that’s meant to be performed. If you type “slam poetry” into Youtube, you’ll see hundreds of performances by poets from around the world. And it’s not just about the performances--usually the videos you see on Youtube are from slam poetry competitions, where poets are judged on both their writing and performance. A few years back, a documentary came out about a Chicago youth slam poetry competition called Louder than a Bomb. If you can’t get the film, even just the trailer can serve as a fantastic introduction to slam poetry for both you and your students, and even spark interest in creating a slam poetry competition for yourselves.

But why teach it? Why do I make time every year? Here are my top reasons why I think all teachers should weave slam poetry into their curriculum every year.

Why slam poetry?

Provides Opportunities for Windows and Mirrors

Slam poetry provides students with a plethora of "windows and mirrors" opportunities - times where they see themselves in the material, and times they learn about someone different than them. Due to the performance nature of the art, students can actually see the authors of poems, making the windows and mirrors a lot more powerful (and therefore more engaging) for students than just reading the poem in print.

Places Focus on What Matters to Students

Spoken-word poetry is different than poems in print not just because it's designed to be spoken, but because of the subject matter. Slam poetry is usually about real-world issues. When students' choose topics for their slam poetry that matter to them, their passion for what they've written about can help them take their mind off of their own self-consciousness and onto their message and making it as powerful as possible.

Elevates Quality of Writing

Since the poems are meant to be performed and usually in front of their peers, there's some extra pressure to improve their writing compared to if they were just to turn it in to their teacher. This means they tend to hone in a lot more carefully on literary devices and trying different techniques in their writing. That motivation is everything with enhancing learning.

Increases Students’ Confidence

It can be the push for students to get the courage to stand up and speak in front of their classmates. It also helps them see the incredible messages they're capable of as writers. It's also awesome to see the effect that peer reactions can have on their confidence. For many students, this is the first time any of their peers have ever responded in real-time to lines they've written.

Teaches the Power of Word Choice

One of the first reactions students have to the first slam poem I show is usually about the wordplay. They eat it up, and then want to do the same in their writing. It's like suddenly it clicks that sound devices and word choice aren’t just skills they have to check off a list, but a means to sounding cool. I love watching that shift with students.

Encourages Kids to “Take off their Masks” and be Themselves

This one's a huge one for teens who feel like they need to put on a show every day. Slam poetry helps coax students to think about what they care about, and then have the vulnerability and courage to speak about it. That’s a huge jump from hiding in the periphery of the classroom or behind the mask of goofing off, and I love watching it happen again and again.

Increase Student Engagement

Many teachers talk about how classes that have been antsy and unfocused all year are suddenly incredibly engaged during slam poetry--often during times of the year that are notoriously antsy, like after standardized testing or at the end of the year. I'm a firm believer that our students deserve to know why they're learning something, and slam poetry provides an easy why: to be heard. To challenge what's wrong around you. To change the world you live in.

Improve Classroom Culture

I’ve also heard teachers talk about about how slam poetry improved their classroom community--and it’s something I’ve seen every year, too. Teachers say they are able to have conversations about hard topics that they hadn't been able to talk about all year. It helps students talk about what matters to them and to listen to each other, and that can do magical things to classroom culture.

In the end, slam poetry is the perfect medium for students to explore what matters to them, work on delivering it in a powerful way, and having a captive audience to listen to their message. Slam poetry gives students permission to take off their masks and write from the heart--and you can't get much closer to a teacher's dream than that. My recommendation? Get a slam video going tomorrow and ask your students what they’d like to do with it. Thank me later.

Looking to incorporate slam poetry into your own classroom?

Here are some resources to help you get started: Slam Poetry Day One Lesson25+ Slam Poems Appropriate for Middle and High SchoolYoung Chicago Authors Louder than a Bomb Curriculum, and 12 Tips for Teaching Slam Poetry

What are your favorite tips, videos, and experiences in teaching slam poetry? Share with us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+.

Jeanne Wolz taught middle school Writing and AVID in Illinois for four years in addition to serving as the English Department Chair. She holds a bachelor’s in English and Secondary Education and a master’s in Curriculum and Instruction. Currently, she teaches ESL, develops curriculum, and coaches new teachers. You can find more of her resources at www.teacheroffduty.com and follow her on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest.

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