If you’re like me, you want a hook for your poetry unit. Something students can grab ahold of when poetry feels too disconnected from their lives. I’m here to offer you that very hook. It’s called poetry slam. I have a feeling you’ve heard of it, but have you tried it yet? And if not, WHY NOT?
Last month I wrote a post all about how to do it, so today I’m going to focus on ten amazing video clips you can use as part of your slam unit. If you’re not ready to dive fully into slam, you could also easily use them to complement a traditional poetry unit.
In my slam units I sprinkle video clips throughout the week so that students can practice judging poems. I play the video, then ask everyone to silently give it a score 1-10 and prepare to defend that score. Then I start calling on people. It’s always so. much. fun. One student may rate a poem with a one that five other students thought was the best ten they’d ever seen. The debate that follows is exactly the kind of engagement I love.
Bottom line, in poetry slam, there are no rules. The audience loves what they love.
I find that sharing videos of eloquent slammers inspires my students to move in new directions with their poetry. The quality of poems they slam every year astounds me. We do several writing workshops in class but because they are so engaged with the slam format and want to perform something excellent, they spend many hours working on their poems outside of class too.
In this post I’m going to share some of the most outstanding slam videos I’ve seen in my ten years of searching. And for each, I’m going to offer you a brief prompt you could share with your students in a writing workshop after watching and scoring the video. I wouldn’t recommend doing them all, but if you choose several that you believe your students will connect to, I think you’ll find this a very productive way to inspire writing.
Prompt: Alexandra Oliver compares love to stale twinkles. Talk about a striking, unusual choice. Write a poem around one big simile that will surprise people. Stick with the theme of love, or branch out. Just choose something surprising for your simile. For example, “slam poems are like omelettes…”
Prompt: Rives explores a topic most of his audience know nothing about. What’s something you know all about through experience that no one else here does? I bet there’s something. Write a poem about it. Use specific anecdotes and descriptive details to bring it alive, because you’re the only one who can do that for us.
Prompt: Baird explores a very personal theme, using many small details from her own experience. Write about something personal to you, and include at least ten specific details from your own experience as you explore the topic. You don’t every have to show this poem to anyone if you don’t want to.
Jack McCarthy blends humor and sincerity in his slam piece “Boys Don’t Cry.” This one gets a range of student responses, and that’s just one of the reasons I think it’s well worth sharing.
Prompt: Jack McCarthy breaks apart a common statement with his poem “Boys Don’t Cry.” What’s something you hear people say that you think is absurd? Write a poem to disprove a commonly held belief or trite saying. Sprinkle in striking description and details from your own experience.
I hope you find the time to incorporate some slam into your unit, or go full steam ahead into poetry slam. I’ve done it every year of my teaching career and LOVED it every time. If you’re diving in for the first time and could use some support, I’d be glad to have you join my Facebook group Creative High School English. It’s a great place to get help and ideas when you’re trying something new and wonderful, and I’m in there just about every day to help everyone connect and share ideas.