Poetry Slam Learning Resources

LEARNING RESOURCES THIRD LEVEL FOURTH LEVEL SENIOR PHASE Poetry Slam Learning Resources Resource created by Anita Govan Contents 2 3 4 6 A quick...
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Poetry Slam Learning Resources

Resource created by Anita Govan

Contents 2 3 4 6

A quick guide to Slam poetry Ten things to consider Make a poetry Slam part of your curriculum Ten top tips for Slam poetry

A quick guide to Slam poetry The word ‘SLAM’ is just another word for competition. The poet must write and perform their own work. The poem is timed (2-3mins) and scored by/with audience input. Slams began in the United States with Marc Smith, a factory worker from Chicago who ran poetry readings in the Greenmill in 1980s. Marc wanted to get the audience more involved, so he asked the audience to score the poets. Slams made poets think much more about their audience – audiences loved it. The Slam idea quickly spread from Chicago to New York where Bob Holman took it to the Nuyorican Poets Cafe (the home of performance poetry). There it quickly took off and spread across the USA. Now there are hundreds of regular slams run in schools, clubs, bars, pubs, theatres and festivals all over the world, with slammers pitting their skills against each other. ConFAB (Scotland) has the longest running School Slams in the UK. You can view these on YouTube: www.youtube.com/watch?v=RfXL5_ZYm1E It is a very open form and anyone can put on a slam. They are run in many different ways but the general rules are the same. Marc Smith says: ‘If the competition takes over the poetry, then the poetry has lost.’


Ten things to consider l

Slam is a term used to describe a competition of performance poetry. This goes in rounds of rubrics like 8-4-2 to the winner and is judged by the audience (traditionally) giving scores out of ten, e.g., 8.3, 9.2 or out of a hundred, e.g., 83/93. Often limits are imposed, like 2-3 minutes or one poem each round. This means that you must have more than one poem prepared.


It is called Slam poetry because it is written with Slam competition in mind. However you can be a fantastic performance poet but never win a slam. This is more to do with the time limits, subject matter and the ear and experience of the slam audience. However, don’t lose sight that in the end it’s all just poetry. This is why the mantra, “the best poet never wins” is advised by Marc Smith founder of Slam.


It might be best to keep Slams internal to the group until your group is confident and comfortable before you put them up against other groups or in front of an audience. It’s about building up confidence in their words, thoughts and ideas. I would suggest that you don’t put on a Slam to an audience in the school who has NOT gone through the same process of the performers on stage.


It is important that IF you run a Poetry Slam for young people that you make it as fun as possible. Do not focus too much on the competition: say, “This is JUST for fun.” It can be a very scary thing to perform your own words and thoughts to an audience of your peers: even adults find this hard!


It is important when scoring a slam that you are generous with the score. Never give out zero: keep scores high. They deserve good points just for getting up. Remember the aim is to encourage. Keep it positive. Ban booing: it’s easy to be critical, but it’s a lot harder to get up there and do it.


Slam or performance poetry is not written for the page but for the stage and it must be remembered the audience is only going to hear the poem once. Metaphor can work well here but sophisticated and subtle wordplay, which works on the page, might go unnoticed by an audience.


Remember that there are no real rules in poetry and the creative writing of a poem is very different to the analysis of a poem. Creative writing is more about reflecting expressing the internal self and the world that surrounds the internal self. So encourage them to write about what they know.


Never force anybody to perform their poem if they are not ready to do so. Let them sit it out and encourage them again next time. They have to learn to choose themselves. Slam needs an audience too: the more


they see the more they will learn l

Take the focus off the spelling and grammar and put the focus on performance. It’s more important that they read out loud to themselves: this allows them to hear the rhythm and rhyme.


It’s also best not too focus too much on who wins, even if they are very good. If you choose to give out prizes, make sure they are not grand but more encouraging or maybe very silly to emphasize that it’s just for fun!


Make a poetry Slam part of your curriculum EXPLORE A TEXT

You can examine different character viewpoints and voices using a poetry slam, focusing on points in a text where characters are in conflict. For instance, the differing viewpoints of the two doctors in Flowers for Algernon could be explored by different teams in a poetry slam.

Eng 3-19a Lit 3-06a Lit 3-25a Lit 3-15a Eng 3-31a HWB 3-14a

You could even convey one character’s dilemma by using two different poems, representing the conflicting voices in a character’s head: for example, Hamlet’s internal conflict over whether or not to kill Claudius could be conveyed using a poetry slam. EXPLORE AN ISSUE

A poetry slam is a great way to explore pupils’ ideas about different viewpoints on a moral or social issue. If your school is focusing on racism, environmental issues or any other controversial topic, a poetry slam could be an ideal opportunity for pupils to explore different sides of the argument and convey viewpoints through poetry.

Lit 3-02a Lit 3-03a Lit 3-01a Lit 3-09a HWB 3-14a HWB 3-13a


You could ask pupils to create a digital story to go with their poems, which will really test their critical thinking!

Tch 3-03a Tch 3-04a HWB 3-14a Eng 3-31a

A digital story is a series of images, videos or text (or a combination of all these) which conveys a narrative. A good place to start in digital storytelling is our Booktrailer Masterclass videos. In particular, Lesson 3 and 4 will tell you where to go looking for images, sounds and videos, and also how to use simple editing tools. You can find the videos here: www.scottishbooktrust.com/learning/cpd/toolkits/booktrailer-masterclass



The outcomes listed for each activity above are not definitive. Depending on how you choose to implement the ideas in your school, you may find that you achieve other outcomes. You may also find that you do not achieve all the outcomes listed above. The outcomes are mostly applicable to Level 4 and the senior phase as well as Level 3. The ideas are designed so you can put your own stamp on them – see where they take you!


Ten top tips for Slam poetry 1) WRITE & PERFORM YOUR OWN POEM

This is the only rule of slam poetry You can be funny, serious or just downright silly but it must be yours. 2) BE BRAVE

This is your right to speak It’s your chance to say how you feel about the world around you. 3) START WITH THE WORDS

And the rest will follow Start with a list. Trust yourself. You’re unique: the words are yours. 4) RHYME IS NOT OBLIGATORY

Poetry does not have to rhyme Rhyme is very difficult so don’t worry about it. Think rhythm. 5) DON’T GET HUNG UP ON THE SPELLING

Get into the creative flow first It’s more important to speak the words of your poem out loud when creating it. 6) BREATHE

The breath is the foundation to the voice Also remember to breathe at the end of lines. 7) THINK EMOTION

Think of an emotion behind the poem Try lots of different emotions see what works best for the poem. 8) LEARN YOUR LINES

The brain’s a muscle – the more you use it, the better it is! Put the poem up on a toilet/kitchen wall and read it every time you enter/leave the room. It will come! 9) ENJOY

If you don’t enjoy it why should the audience? A slam is just for fun! Don’t take it too seriously, even if you win. 10) REMEMBER

‘The best poet never wins.’ Marc Smith – founder of Slam Poetry