MAIS, 2011 Slam Poetry in the Upper Elementary Classroom Introduction:

MAIS, 2011
Slam Poetry in the Upper Elementary Classroom
MaryAnn Buhr and Rachel Rocky Bernstein
The Spoken Word Revolution, as it has been called is upon us! Slam
poetry and hip-hop are quickly becoming some of the main tools to
teach poetry to kids. This movement, started in Chicago, is growing
internationally, with slam scenes in Germany, the UK, Spain, Portugal,
Italy, Sweden, Holland, and many more.
To give the 3-12th grade teacher the resources to do a slam
poetry unit with their class
Introduce teachers to the concept of performance poetry as a
tool for second language learners to grow as holistic writers
To help teachers to create safe space for students to express
themselves through writing and performance
How to incorporate slam into your classroom:
Length: We recommend 3-4 weeks in duration
Materials: poetry portfolio, perhaps with illustrations as well. 8-10
poems long, computer for youtube videos, copies of poems to read as
a class
Lesson Format
1. Poet Talk-Take time to share insights on the lives of poets. What
they say and what aspects of life revealed the poetry.
2. Poetry Read Aloud and Minilesson-When reading new poems
avoid long introductions. Simply read aloud without analyzing. Then
read it again, ask for comments, or invite partners to talk with each
-In a lesson it could be appropriate for students to respond to poems
through sketches, or respond in a writer´s journal.
3. Poetry Projects and Centers- Students use this time to
-Read and respond to poems from poetry books
-Draft, revise, and edit their own poems
-Create art to accompany the poem
-Confer with the teacher
-Work in Centers
4. Poetry Sharing- Come back as a class and students share work. Here
students can come invite feedback from their peers.
Poetry Center Ideas:
Language- Students share words and language that fascinates. Have a
board where students can post and add words they have found
Listening- Students can hear poetry read aloud.
Poetry Window- An area is designated with clipboards, pencils, and
paper where students can write and sketch what they feel.
Illustration- Students can use a variety of art media to illustrate poems
Unit Outline:
Week 1: Introduce students to Poetry and Figurative Language
Each day introduce a new poem to the kids to read aloud as a class so
kids can see the format of poetry on a daily basis. Select poems on
different themes, form, and authors so the kids are able to see a variety.
Throughout the week also use music as a form to introduce the
concepts of poetry.
The first week is focused on finding and using figurative language.
After determining the meaning of figurative language students go on
figurative language hunts through poetry books to find examples.
Through the week students practice applying the use of figurative
language by describing normal everyday objects and making them
come to life.
Week 2: Knowing Sound Devices and writing with structure
Continue reading aloud poems on a daily basis finding uses of
figurative language then start to identify poetic devices in the daily
reading. Teach poetic devices only a couple at a time so students can
completely understand the uses. Have students identify poetic devices
in poetry and apply their knowledge through creating fixed form
poetry. This could be done through haikus, diamantes, limericks, or
through other fixed form poems that show line, stanza, rhyme, or any
of the other poetic devices.
Week 3: What is Slam Poetry?
Show videos on you tube of slam poets and discuss, what is slam
poetry? Have a slam poet come in to do examples as well. Have
students pick parts of their lives that they are passionate about to free
write poems. Read aloud student progress as the week goes on.
During this time students will be creating many poems in the rough
draft form. Narrow down the poems to a few select ones that the
students will turn into their best work. Make sure to guide students
with using poetic devices to enhance their writing.
Week 4: Preparing for the Slam
This is the week where students are finishing up final drafts and
practicing for the slam. Continue showing a slam example a day and
have kids detail what they notice in the presentation of slam poetry.
Make sure to emphasize the use of voice, movement, language, and
pauses are important in this type of poetry. With partners the students
determine what parts of the poem to emphasize while performing their
poem. Then the students practice in small groups to help fine tune
Week 5: The Slam!
Pick a space on campus where you can get your students and their
parents and then have other teachers or parents “score” the slam. We
used a scale of good-awesome, giving the prize at the end to the poet
whose work we felt deserved to win based on audience support and
“high scores”. **Make sure you keep track of who’s getting what so
that you can determine the winner.
Basics of Poetry/Vocabulary:
Line: the line is printed as one single line on the page. If it occupies
more than one line, its remainder is usually indented to indicate that it
is a continuation.
Stanza: A division of a poem created by arranging the lines into a unit
or paragraph.
The stanzas within a poem are separated by blank lines.
Rhyme Scheme: The pattern established by the arrangement of
rhymes in a stanza or poem, generally described by using letters of the
alphabet to denote the recurrence of rhyming lines, such as the ababbcc
of the Rhyme Royal stanza form.
Sounds DevicesAlliteration: Repeated consonant sounds at the beginning of words
placed near each other, usually on the same or adjacent lines
Example: fast and furious
Assonance: Repeated vowel sounds in words placed near each other,
usually on the same or adjacent lines.
Example: Peter and Andrew patted the pony at Ascot
Consonance: Repeated consonant sounds at the ending of words
placed near each other, usually on the same or adjacent lines.
Example: boats into the past
Onomatopoeia: Words that sound like their meanings.
Example: boom, buzz, crackle, gurgle, hiss, pop, sizzle, snap, swoosh,
whir, zip
Repetition: The purposeful re-use of words and phrases for an effect.
Example: Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Rhyme: Words that have different beginning sounds but whose
endings sound alike, including the final vowel sound and everything
following it.
Rhythm: pattern of accented syllables separated by unaccented
There are five basic rhythms:
Pattern Name Example
– / Iamb/Iambic
/ – Trochee/Trochaic deadline
– – / Anapest/Anapestic to the beach
/ – – Dactyl/Dactylic frequently
/ / Spondee/Spondaic true blue
Figurative Language
Metaphor: A direct comparison between two unlike things, stating
that one is the other or does the action of the other.
Example: He’s a zero.
Pun: Word play in which words with totally different meanings have
similar or identical sounds.
Example: Like a firefly in the rain, I’m de-lighted.
Simile: A direct comparison of two unlike things using “like” or “as.”
Example: He’s as dumb as an ox.
Personification: Attributing human characteristics to an inanimate
object, animal, or abstract idea.
Example: The days crept by slowly, sorrowfully.
Forms of Poetry
Formula: A poem which follows a set pattern of meter, rhyme scheme, and
-Limerick: humorous 5 line poems. The first and second lines rhyme, as
do the 3rd and the fourth. The fifth line is a humorous surprise
statement that rhymes with the first 2 lines.
-Cinquain: 5 line poem built off of syllables. The structure goes 2, 4, 6,
8, and 2 syllables
-Haiku: A form of poetry that originated in Japan. Uses simple
language and rarely includes metaphor. Made up of 3 lines. Normally
the structure goes 5,7, and 5 syllables.
**There are many more formulaic poems. To find the structure and
examples go to the following website:
Free Verse: lines with no prescribed pattern or structure — the poet
determines all the variables as seems appropriate for each poem
Open: poetic form free from regularity and consistency in elements
such as rhyme, line length, and metrical form
Found: Pieces of writing that were not intended as poems but appear
in the environment to discover. These types of poems can be found in
newspaper ads, signs, or in written or oral language
Narrative: Tell a story or a sequence or events. Ballads and epics are
types of narratives.
Concrete: Dramatically represents meaning not only by the sound of
words but also by how they look. The print takes on the form of a
collage with different fonts and newsprint.
Lyric: It is personal and descriptive. It is a melodic that conveys a
sense of song.
List: May rhyme or not, short or long. Listing objects, a series of
events, specific characteristics, or any other set of items.
Other 1-2 day lesson ideas:
“The Distance,” Danny Sherrard
Vocab: refrain, abstract noun
Lesson: What is the refrain in Danny’s poem? (Answer: “the distance”).
Brainstorm a list of abstract nouns on the board together. Use one of
these nouns as the refrain for your poem. Experiment with using the
article “the” or not. What is the difference between “the love” and
“love” being your refrain?
“The Newer Collusus” Karen Finneyfrock and “Skinhead” by Patricia
Vocab: Persona poem
Lesson: Who is Karen personifying? What about Patricia? What does it
mean to personify something? Have your students pick something they
want to personify.
Poem one: personify an object and follow it through the day. What are
some things that the object sees? How does it feel? Who does it come
in contact with? How can you tell the audience what the object is,
without using the object’s name itself?
Poem two: personify a person or group of people. Preferably someone
who you have a strong connection to and who feel you can
appropriately talk for.
NOTE: Be very careful with appropriation of another person’s struggle
with persona poems. This is an amazing activity to open dialogue about
other people/cultures/races/class groups etc.; it is also very dangerous
for a person to think that by speaking for a group (who he/she may or
may not be a part of) he can solve their problems. Remind your
students that persona poems are about exploring a new territory
through a new voice.
Other Ideas:
Watch! Listen! Watch! Youtube has thousands of videos of
slammers. Here are a few poets to look up who have (at least a few)
Karen Finneyfrock
Buddy Wakefield
Mahogany Brown
Jive Poetic
Adam Falkner
Jon Sands
Rachel McKibbons
Patiricia Smith
Marc Bamithu Joseph
Cristin O’Keefe Aptowitz
Bring in a visiting artist! Slam poets are everywhere. Here is a list of
slam venues with contact information across the USA and Europe. Or
befriend a slammer (like Rocky) and s/he will gladly put you in touch
with a competent (and hungry) poet who would love to be paid for
his/her art!! There is nothing like being able to watch a poet on
youtube and then meeting him/her in person--a truly life-changing
experience for kids. (Also google: slam + your city)
Poetry Slam Barcelona:
Poetry Slam Madrid:
Poetry Slam Lisboa:
Lars Ruppel and Sebastian 23
New York Urbana: Cristin O’Keefe Aptowitz
New York LouderArts: James Merenda
Youth Speaks:
Writing Prompts: **Note: we did not edit these from the original authors to
preserve integrity, but they are all appropriate. You may need to tailor them a bit to
fit the level of your students
Visualization - Seth Walker
Visualization Begin by thinking of a moment in your life which dramatically changed it.
Dwell in the memory until you can fully experience the heat of the moment.
Description) Describe a few seconds of that moment. Include as many of the 5 of the
senses each of your images as possible.
~Further steps~
Revision) Go back over the poem and make sure that each line has multiple sensory
images. (sight & smell, touch/texture and taste)
Editing) Lace the important images into each other, cutting out wasted "connection
based" words. Cut away images which are distracting to the main focus.
Editing Goal) The poem must be 5 lines or less.
5 Easy Pieces - Daemond Arrindell
1. Remember a person you know well
2. Imagine a place where you find that person
3. Describe the person’s hands
4. Describe something he or she is doing with their hands
5. Use a metaphor to say something about some exotic place
6. Mention what you would want to ask this person in the context of 4 and 5 above.
7. The person looks up toward you, notices you, and gives an answer that suggests he or
she only gets part of what you asked
Origin Myth - Maya Phillips **A great add on to a social studies unit!
Some of the most popular and interesting myths of a culture are the origin myths.
1) Look up a myth and pick a subject within the myth--a human, an animal, a deity, etc-and describe its origins.
2) Describe the origin of the myth itself, simply as a story. How do these stories develop
and expand? What makes a myth? What is the relationship between mythology, faith, and
Trace each thread of your subject to its possible beginnings. Determine what makes a
myth and what it reflects about the people who believe it.
Instructional Poem - David Winter
Write a set of instructions for something you know how to do by heart. This could be a
recipe (your grandmother's brownies), an emotional process (how to fall in love), an act
of craftsmanship (how to weave a basket), or an action so simple you may not remember
how you learned it (how to tie your shoes). Be specific in the details that you use, and
allow the instructive voice to become formal, colloquial, or intimate as appropriate. To
whom are you giving these instructions? Why is it important that this information be
passed on? Trust in your deep knowledge of the subject you're writing about, and let the
language that describes it surprise you.
Ekphrasis - Jive Poetic **A great add on to the art classroom. Instead of a
picture, maybe use a piece of art being studied.
Ekphrasis has been considered generally to be a rhetorical device in which one medium
of art tries to relate to another medium by defining and describing its essence and form,
and in doing so, relate more directly to the audience. — Wikipedia
Choose a photograph of a person you don't know.
A. Write a poem to this person.
B. Write a poem about this person.
C. Write a poem about what happened right before, during or after this picture.
D. Write a poem introducing this person to a real person in your life.
-Jon Sands
-Write Fuzzy/Write Bloody books:
-LouderArts Collective List of Writing Prompts:
-Adam Falkner:
-Geoff and Emily Kagan Trenchard
English Teaching: Practice and Critique December, 2006, Volume 5,
Number 3
pp. 127-136
The spoken word Revolution
Pedagogy of the Oppressed - Paulo Friere
Handbook of Poetic Forms - Ron Padgett
The Artist Way - Julia Cameron
The Pocket Muse - Monica Wood
Guiding Readers and Writers Grades 3-6-Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su
Contact Info:
Rocky: [email protected]
MaryAnn: [email protected]
Rachel Rocky Bernstein has been performing in slam since she was
17. She has been on multiple national slam teams. Her self-published
book The Violin Maker’s Daughter came out November 2010, and she
was the featured American poet at the Deutschsprachigen slam
nationals in 2010 in Bochum Germany and has toured through the
USA and Germany. Rocky has been teaching poetry in various schools
throughout the USA and now Spain. She holds a degree from the
University of Washington in music education and is the elementary
music specialist at the Benjamin Franklin International School here in
Barcelona where she also started the poetry club and the school’s Gay
Straight Alliance.
MaryAnn Buhr is an Arizona native at her first international teaching
job here in Barcelona. She has been teaching upper elementary for 4
years and holds a Masters Degree in Language and Literacy from
Arizona State University. Her passion for collaborative education has
brought her to do work not only in slam poetry, but in writing, reading
and music collaborations with various teachers in Arizona and