“Imagine a world where we were free,
A world where every being is living in peace,
Imagine a world without hate,
A world where we abolished killing stealing n rape
Imagine a world without fear,
Our people bled for equality n it’s finally here.
– Shauna*, 9th grade student in Orlando
Throughout the years, writing poetry has been used a way to connect words to thoughts, feelings and expressions. Like the poem above, it can also be an outcry for change and a declaration of hope. In honor of National Poetry month, here are some ways that you can use poetry and spoken word to help students find their voice, while improving their performance in the classroom.
Host a Poetry Slam!
Poetry slams are great opportunities to get students to exercise their creative muscles while improving their public speaking skills. City Year Orlando AmeriCorps member, Monica Brown, hosted a Black History slam at her high school and was amazed at the confidence and talent that emerged from it. “The students really gave it their all. They practiced and rehearsed with me before the slam and then got on the stage and did their thing. Now I see some of them raise their hand and speak up more in the classroom and that’s great,” she said.
Write “I am…” Poems
Having a strong sense of self and identity is essential to a student’s growth and development. “I am” poems provide a template for them to describe themselves using vivid and abstract language. You can provide a theme or topic for each line or allow students to freestyle it. This will be a great exercise in improving their writing skills and discovering their core traits and values. The result is often a poem that paints a vibrant picture of who they are as an individual. For example: “I am…honey bees buzzing around a garden on a lazy afternoon.” I am….the product of generations of people who work hard but love even harder.”
Research and Profile Different Poets
There are so many prominent poets that have influenced literature, history, music, film and even politics. Students are often exposed to the better known, founding poets such as Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou but there are many others who paved the way for new voices and thought to rise. Create a project where your students research an unsung poet or spoken word artist, past or present, and present their findings to their classmates. You can add a fun twist to it and have them dress like their artist and perform one of their favorite pieces!
Use Poetry to Speak your Truth!
“I cope with everything through writing and performing. I talk about everything that has happened to me and things I see happening around the world. This is where I find my voice,” Monica said.
Spoken word and poetry have an interesting way of bringing out the strength needed to tell your story and speak on current events. It is sometimes hard to vocalize thoughts and feelings and much easier to translate them from pen to paper. Students, especially, may find it difficult to speak their minds because of a lack of confidence and societal pressures. Practice journaling with them and then have them take those entries and turn them into poems or spoken word pieces. They can choose to share them with their peers of keep it to themselves. Either way, they were given the opportunity to speak their truths.
*Name has been changed to protect the student's privacy.