Nov 19 2012 The Power of Spoken Word Performance in the Classroom

It is fairly safe to say that not every student is immediately open to poetry.  Especially at first.  We’ve all had the experience of coming into a new classroom and, after explaining the basic tenet of most poetry residencies – writing and reading poetry – receiving blank stares or less than enthusiastic responses.

One effective way to hook students’ attention and interest is to listen to poets read their work or watch poets perform, not only on that first day, but throughout the residency.  And thanks to the Internet and modern technology, it is now relatively easy to do that in the classroom, even when an author visit is not possible.

Charles R. Smith’s Allow Me to Introduce Myself is full of rhythm and musicality as he describes his abilities on the basketball court.  Students literally dance in their seats listening to it and want to hear it again and again.  It’s a great example of the use of hyperbole, description and show don’t tell.        

Writer and actor Daniel Beaty’s piece Knock, Knockdetails his experience growing up with a father who was in prison for most of Beaty’s childhood.  Not only is the piece itself powerful, but Beaty’s performance of his monologue is completely engaging and inspiring.

By starting off with an activity that students most likely do in their spare time—listen to music, watch videos—it can help demystify poetry and make it more accessible, especially for reluctant readers and writers.  It truly brings the poet’s words to life, right there in the classroom, in a way that is otherwise impossible to replicate.  This also models for students the significance of reading their own work out loud.  How the best medium for their words, their stories, their voice is actually themselves.

-Susan Buttenwieser

Susan Buttenwieser is a prose writer and T&W teaching artist.  To read more about Susan, go here.

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