Slam Poetry Ideas from My Classroom to Yours
If you are looking for fun slam poetry ideas for your classroom, this is the post for you! When teaching slam poetry, the content will engage students. It’s up to you to take students on a self-reflective journey. In the end, students will perform slam poetry in the classroom, sharing heartfelt words with each other.
Slam poetry, or spoken word poetry engages and challenges middle school and high school students to express themselves in a clear, authentic, and ear-catching way.
After teaching slam poetry for several years, I’m sharing what I’ve learned. I hope these slam poetry ideas will help other middle school and high school teachers in their teaching of poetry.
Tip #1: Give Context
One of the best slam poetry ideas I can give you is to take time (even if it’s just for a day) to explore. Give students choice. Help them understand slam poetry as an art form and why it is growing in popularity.
Idea: Have students explore “spoken word” as a natural extension of oral storytelling tradition. Watch Phil Kaye’s “Why We Tell Stories” and ask students the following questions: How did “spoken word” or “slam” poetry originate? What is the difference between “spoken word” and “slam” poetry?
Tip #2: Define
Take time to help students understand what slam poetry is and is not.
Idea: Watch Sarah Kay’s “If I Should Have a Daughter.”
The goal here is to address misconceptions and stereotypes associated with slam poetry and come to a new, deeper, collective definition of slam poetry as a jumping off point for student inquiry and writing.
Here are the top five misconceptions about slam poetry I hear from my students:
- It’s all about the speaker.
- Only interesting people are slam poets.
- Slam poetry has to be “in your face.”
- Slam poetry has to be sad or angry.
- Slam poetry is like a rap battle.
Tip #3: Connect to Prior Knowledge
Take time to help students learn/review literary and poetic terms. View a variety of poems, or allow students to complete an inquiry project. This is a slam poetry idea students will love because it helps them to see the purpose behind an author’s choices.
Emphasize that it’s not about the quantity of the devices in a slam poem, but about the quality and impact of them in one’s writing.
Tip #4: Generate Slam Poetry Ideas
Take time to help students explore possible slam poem topics and stories.
Some students will know right away what they want to write about (but may still benefit from exploring other less obvious options). Other students will need help generating a topic.
Great slam poetry ideas are interesting, personally meaningful, and story-driven.
Tip #5: Analyze Slam Poetry
Create opportunities for student-centered talk, analysis, and response to slam poetry. Slam poetry ideas for students’ own writing will generate organically as students explore.
The beauty of slam poetry is that it is a visual, verbal feast. I’ve found that, for in-class analysis of slam poetry, it helps to have students preview the poem and quick chat focused on “likes/dislikes,” “author’s message,” and/or “dominant images and impressions” before digging deeper.
Multiple readings of a poem, with the ability to annotate a hard copy of the text will help students to appreciate and respond to the poem in different ways.
There is a time and a place for a deep dive into a poem, but I would limit this to 1-3 poems you have hand-picked for their interest and literary merit. If you haven’t caught my previous post, here are 40 of my favorite, most engaging slam poems to use during a slam poetry unit.
Try to flip the close reading to the students in a way that is not “sit and get” – jigsaw and ask groups to present different poems to the class, make an info-graphic or mind map to deconstruct a poem, engage in a collaborative discussion, color code the text, etc.
Tip #6: Write…a lot!
Help students to explore and workshop at least two different topics. OR, you could have students write two poems with different angles on the same topic.
Students who write multiple poems or have a lot of time to free-write while exploring slam poetry:
- Gain writing practice.
- Have stronger slam poetry ideas.
- Participate in writer’s workshop and/or peer review which increases student comfort level with sharing prior to their ending slam performance.
- Engage in self-reflection, i.e. which one is the “best” and why?
Tip #7: Try Different Approaches
As students work their writing muscles, trying on different types of slam poetry and different topics, use a writer’s workshop approach which involves modeling, discussion of student samples, and sharing of student writing.
This type of student sharing is really important to help students build trust and confidence prior to the final slam poetry performances, and my students often end up revising and adding to one of their initial slam poetry ideas for their final product.
Tip #8: Model Peer Feedback
Model how to provide feedback in student-friendly terms. Also, make sure that students know what the skill looks like in effective exemplars. In addition, create a lot of peer sharing opportunities so that they can practice this skill and receive feedback from a variety of peers, maybe in a variety of different forms/ways.
A simple formula that can be used is 1+1 feedback: 1 specific question, personal response, or praise + 1 specific observation and suggestion for improvement.
Tip #9: Share Your Slam Poetry Ideas!
Teach students to be independent and self-reflective as writers.
Model what revision looks like and sounds like.
MOST IMPORTANT TIP ALERT: Write alongside the students and talk them through your revision process. Share your slam poetry ideas and writing with your students, even when they are not “perfect.”
Tip #10: Use Mini lessons
There is plenty of opportunity to build writing skills with targeted, skill-based instruction. I like to teach using short mini-lessons (so that students have plenty of opportunity for in-class writing). In these slam poetry lessons, I focus on idea development, diction, figurative language, sentence structure/organization, etc.
- Show students samples of your own writing or ask them for feedback.
- As you move around the room, find really excellent examples to spotlight and ask students why they work so well.
- Seize teachable moments.
- Give students ONE specific something to work on at a time.
- On workshop days, I will have three categories posted on the board when students walk in (i.e. work on line division, get rid of unnecessary pronouns & passive voice, writing workshop), and they sign themselves up for the day’s work. I usually use Google Classroom to post resources and tasks, and have students complete a question on classroom as their “ticket out the door” which asks them to provide an example of purposeful revision and discuss how it improves their draft, what their next steps are, and what questions they still have.
Tip #11: Rehearse
You’ll definitely want to give students time to practice and rehearse. I like to give students at least one full day in class to do this, and keep them moving and practicing the entire time.
- Have students find a buddy, exchange cell phones, and record each other performing (you need space for this). Then, students watch, reflect, and try again. (Psst…You have to stay on students so that they take the time to watch and try again…no one likes seeing him/herself, and it takes grit to try and try again in order to see improvement.)
- Put students in groups of 3-4. Set clear expectations for rehearsal.
- Here are my rules:
- Everyone participates
- After a performance, the group must come to a consensus as to the #1 area for improvement (i.e. facial expression doesn’t match poem’s tone).
- The speaker will go again…until s/he has smoothed out the #1 area for improvement. (Psst…Again, you really have to emphasize the importance of this step, making sure students don’t just run through their poem and sit down again. Practicing, even with a stanza, until the skill is improved is important!)
- Repeat the cycle, giving another round of feedback to each performer.
Tip #12: Make Performance Fun
From the beginning, I think that the teacher sets the tone for slam poetry with his or her own level of excitement, writing and sharing of slam poetry ideas, and organization of the final slam performances.
I try, in my class, to make final slam poetry performances as much as possible like a live slam poetry competition with the opportunity for scoring and audience involvement.
I have tried pulling random students as “judges” and having them hold up scores for each performance which works; however, I like even to involve every student as a judge and determine a class “champion” in a democratic way.
Another option is to treat the final performances like a live poetry reading event, dimming the lights, and allowing students to snap their appreciation and drink warm beverages (coffee, tea, hot chocolate).
If you loved these slam poetry ideas, here are some resources for you!
I hope you have found these slam poetry ideas to be useful!
First of all, I’ve compiled a guide to teaching slam poetry as a resource for teachers like you! Please take a moment to download the free guide if you want more inspiration like you found in this post.
Next, to support my effort to bring engaging, student-centered, ready-to-use resources to hard-working ELA teachers, I hope that you’ll take the time to follow my TpT store.
In addition, if you need some awesome, ready-to-use slam poetry teaching resources, here are some of my best-sellers:
This no prep, engaging, CCSS-aligned slam poetry unit is packed with student-centered activities and assignments designed to promote inquiry and self-expression as students explore and write slam poetry / spoken word poetry. Writing poetry can be a fun, interactive, student-centered experience that engages every learner! Build writing, reading, speaking and listening, and meta-cognitive skills with these digital and print resources for Google Drive.
This is the complete slam poetry experience, from exploration to analysis, from writing to performance. Your students will understand and appreciate slam poetry, but they will also learn strategies for how to write it well. I use these materials in my own classroom and have carefully revised and structured them so that they are effective and engaging.
In addition to the unit plan, you’ll receive engaging slam poetry activities, graphic organizers, and question handouts designed to help students practice close reading and analysis skills while exposing them to a variety of slam poets and poems. There’s a LOT here!
I’ve designed this slam poetry / spoken word poetry mini unit for teachers who want to incorporate slam poetry writing, but don’t have weeks to teach it. This is a completely student-centered experience with independent slam poetry exploration, brainstorming, and writing activities.