As a teacher, we tend to teach what we like and what excites us. As I confessed before, poetry is hard for me to get into. I get more jazzed up over nonfiction or an engaging book. But this year I have pushed myself to be uncomfortable with poetry at times because my students need and deserve poetry.
And you know what, so far so good. I have enjoyed the challenge of challenging my teaching range and comfort.
This year, aside from dissecting and discussing poems for the AP Lit exam, we have written beside poems like “Desiderata” and “Lost Generation.” We’ve watched spoken word performances. We have written poems about our names and heritage. We have discussed thematically related poems in small and jigsawed groups. We have created Book Spine poems that connected to another work of literature. We have found and shared poems connected to our independent reading as a way of book talking those books. We have read poetry for the sake of hearing words and enjoying them. We have also participated in the annual Poetry Out Loud competition.
As a national competition sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts, Poetry Out Loud has been around since 2006, with the goal of promoting exposure and participation in poetry and spoken word. Simply, it is a recitation or performance competition that begins at the classroom level with students reciting one or two poems, then progresses to the school, regional, and possibly national level. When started in 2006, only classic poets (think Dickens, Dickenson, and Front) were featured, but the program has since expanded greatly with hundreds of diverse, living choices for students to recite.
My school participates each year, starting at the classroom level. Top performances from each period are then selected to compete among their peers in the same English class period (freshmen through seniors), with the top performances then competing at the school-wide assembly. The winner of the school-wide assembly, which is judged by a panel of non-English teachers with Poetry Out Loud’s official rubric, goes on to represent our school at the regional level, possibly national.
While many students are shy and hesitant to perform in front of their peers, the competition has great benefits.
- It is a unique way to incorporate speaking and listening standards and a related performance task.
- There are ample mini-lessons to incorporate with each student’s choice of poem you can pull from your poetry teaching archives or the website. We researched the poets and their inspiration, examined how diction creates tone, where to place emphasis when performing, and how one creates a verbal tone that mirrors the message of the poem.
- The entire competition is student-centered and differentiated–students are selecting the poems, working to understand their poem beyond memorizing the words, and performing the poems.
- The competition cultivates an appreciation for performed poetry and exposes all participants, myself included, to new poetry. This year, I really loved hearing new poems. Some of my new favorites: “How to Triumph like a Girl” by Ada Limon, “The Delta” by Bruce Bond, “The End of Science Fiction” by Lisel Mueller, and our school’s winner, “Rabbits and Fire” by Alberto Rios.
While I still have more ideas for more poetry in the classroom–mimicking a style or genre, weaving a poem with original art, creating blackout poems, crafting poems from chapter titles or lines–Poetry Out Loud adds another dimension to poetry in the classroom.
Check it out and put it on your school’s calendar for January 2021!
Maggie Lopez is currently reading “Bringing Up Bebe” and “The Coddling of the American Mind” as she awaits her baby girl in April. She will be taking a hiatus from writing for the blog, but looks forward to reconnecting in the fall.