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Click to Teach/Click to Learn: Spoken Word Poetry

In this unit of instruction students will choose a poem to rehearse and prepare as a spoken word performance piece.  This unit is modeled after a Model Cornerstone Assessment entitled "Acting Through Spoken Poetry" created by Heather Arters, under a project sponsored in part by the National Endowment for the Arts.   Click here to View the full MCA 

The learner will:

- examine the history of spoken word poetry

- reflect on a performance of spoken word, comparing and contrasting with a traditional monologue performance 

- research the elements of a spoken word performance

- rehearse and develop a performance piece 

Step 1: Get Inspired

Watch Amanda Gorman read the poem "The Hill We Climb" for the 2021 inauguration of President Joseph Biden, then reflect:

How did Ms. Goman use gesture to bring the poem to life? 
How did Ms. Gorman use pacing and rhythm?   
In what ways was her reading similiar to a monologue performance? 
In what ways was her reading different than a monologue performance?

Step 2: Learn about the History of Spoken Word

Watch this short video to learn the history of spoken word poetry.  

Reflection question:  In your journal, write your personal history of poetry.  What has been your experience with poetry up until now?  

Spoken word poet Sarah Kay offers advice on how to perform a spoken word poem. 

Reflection questions:  What were the three pieces of advice Sarah offered?  What did you observe Sarah do that you would like to copy?   Watching her performance, what tip might you add to the list Sarah gave?

Step 3: Honing in on Your Performance

Poetry Out Loud is a national program of poetry performance and adjudications funded in part by the National Endowment for the Arts.  In this next step, you will analyze the rubric used to score Poetry Out Loud performances using the Poetry Out Loud Rubric worksheet in order to help you craft your own Spoken Word performance. You will need to a copy of the rubric and the worksheet.  You may either download and print a copy of the rubric and the worksheet or if you are using online tools as a class,  ask your teacher to point you to copies in your online classroom folder.  You may also simply work from the web version below and respond to the worksheet questions in writing as a journal entry.  

VIEW or Download the Rubric



Step 4: Choose a Poem

Choose a Poem 

Now it's time to choose your poem.  Search the Poetry Out Loud Library to  and identify two poems that capture your imagination.  (Or you may wish to use the sample poems shown below.)   
Read them in front of a mirror.  Which poem did you prefer?  Next read the two aloud to a learning partner, classmate or family member.  Ask your learning partner for their thoughts.  Does one poem feel more comfortable to you after this second reading?  Remember Sarah Kay's advice- you need to love it!  


Put Something In
— Shel Silverstein


 Common Dust — Georgia Douglas Johnson 


Once you have chosen your poem- write a short journal entry detailing the name of your poem, the poet, and why you chose this poem.  

Mobile Apps

Poetry Out Loud aps can help you find, save and practice poems for performance.  You may want to download one to use with your phone or tablet: 

Step 5: Watch and Learn

Watch the examples of student Spoken Word performances and score them with your copy of the Poetry Out Loud rubric.  Be ready to discuss your scores and why you chose this score with your class, a family member or a learning partner. 

In this performance a student recites a published poem.  Using the Poetry Out Loud scoring rubric, assign this student a score. Be prepared to justify the score you chose by pointing out where you saw the actor demonstrating the measurable behaviors noted in the rubric.   

In this performance a student recites a published poem.  Using the Poetry Out Loud scoring rubric, assign this student a score. Be prepared to justify the score you chose by pointing out where you saw the actor demonstrating the measurable behaviors noted in the rubric.   

Watch and Learn: a Student Collaborative Spoken Word

In this performance two students work together on an original Spoken Word performance.   Watch the performance and then answer these questions in your journal:
How did each student use gesture, pacing and rhythm to bring the poem to life?   
In what ways were these performances like a monologue performance? 
In what ways were they different? 

Step 6: Plan ahead for Videotaping


Read "Mastering Digital Auditions" on Dramatics.org, then  create a checklist for yourself. 

What space might work best for you to record your performance?
What could you try to reduce sound issues?   
How can you maximize light? 
Will you need a tri-pod?   

Step 7 - Rehearse and Record

Now it is time to put it all together and rehearse and prepare your performance. Your first step is to memorize your poem, then rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. When you feel ready, capture your performance either during a class video conference call OR by asking someone to record you using a smart phone. 

Here are some great tips about recording a performance:
      How to Self-Tape      
      A CD's 12 Rules for the Perfect Self-Tape     
     13 Self-Tape Mistakes That Sabotage Your Chances

NOTE: If you record your performance be sure to ask your teacher how to upload it to your class folder for sharing. 

Diving Deeper: Write and Perform Your Own Spoken Word Poem

Want more?  Create your own Spoken Word performance!  This tutorial from Khalil Smith offers a simple way to begin. 

Measuring Learning

Classroom Connections

This unit may be modified as needed for use in the middle grades or high school.  Here are the representative standards.

Middle Grades Standards

TH:Cr3.1.8.a. Use repetition and analysis in order to revise devised or scripted drama/theatre work.
TH:Pr4.1.8.a. Explore different pacing to better communicate the story in a drama/theatre work.
TH:Re7.1.8.1a. Apply criteria to the evaluation of artistic choices in a drama/theatre work. 

High School Accomplished Standards 

TH:Cr3.1.II.b. Use research and script analysis to revise physical, vocal and physiological choices impacting the believability and relevance of a drama/theatre work. 
TH:Pr4.1.II.a. Discover how unique choices shape believable and sustainable drama/theatre work.
TH:Re7.1.II.a. Demonstrate an understanding of multiple interpretations of artistic criteria and how each might be used to influence future artistic choices of a drama/theatre work. 

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