Can You Hear The Sound of Students Finding Their Voice?
“I need your help for this next one” I say, staring into the eyes of every student not looking down at their phone.
“When I put my hand up in the air I need you to yell, ‘What If?'” I say, striding across the front of the classroom. As I raise my hand above my head a few kids in the front say, “what if?”
“Louder than that!” I say, throwing my hand up again. Most of the class responds, but still not with the energy I need.
“LOUDER THAN THAT!” I below, throwing my hand up dramatically.
“WHAT IF!?” the class screams, as I let loose with a barrage of words slammed fast a furious in response to their question.
Slam Poetry is Not Acting or Rap
In less than 10 seconds I’ve established that slam poetry involves approaching words in a new and unexpected way. Slam poetry is creative, it’s original, fun and unlike anything else you might think would be like it. Slam poetry is different than acting, because we don’t use any props or costumes. It’s not like rap or hiphop, because there is no music or beats. Slam is just about words.
I’ve taught slam poetry to thousands of students over the last 1o years, and I’ve seen some come alive in a way no one, (especially them) ever imagined. Slam poetry changed my life and I love bringing slam into schools because I was one of those students, the one that struggled with spelling and could never remember the rules of grammar and punctuation. But slam poetry isn’t about any of those rules. Slam is about personal expression and discovering a creative voice as an individual. That’s what I found so exciting and empowering as a slam poet myself, and what I love to share with students.
A Whole Other World of Words
Traditional poetry was published in books and journals and the audience experienced the work by reading the words of the poet. That’s how it was expressed and received. But slam poetry is a whole other world of words. A slam poet’s writing is never read by anyone but them, and is only experienced by an audience when the poet performs their words, or ‘slams’ them. So if you have students who struggle with the rules of writing and can’t remember a simile from a metaphor and think an onomatopoeia is a mammal from the southern hemisphere, slam poetry might just be the very thing you’re looking for to get them excited in creative writing. Like this slam poem below that an elementary student gave me at the end of the week.
If I hadn’t just heard the elementary student slam this poem, I’m not sure I would have been able to even understand what she’d written. I mean she couldn’t even spelling ‘the’ correctly. But it didn’t matter. She wrote all week long. She was always the first one to put her hand up to perform. When I showed this to her teacher, that’s when I found out this little girl had never written anything in class before, and had never volunteered to participate at the front of the class. But when we took the rules away, she was able to approach words in a way that let her express herself. We can always learn to spell ‘the’ and how to use commas and periods, but it takes a safe place to take a risk and try something for the first time. You can hear me read this in a VIDEO HERE.
Irreverent Sense of Humour*Searing Sarcasm & Biting Wit
I’ve spent a lot of time working with teachers trying to engage the students at the back of the room. You know the ones with the ball cap pulled down and hoodie pulled up, slouched over, distracted and disengaged. Well full disclosure…that was me in school. That’s why I keep an eye on them as I introduce slam. When we get to the part of the session where everyone starts to write I make a point of drifting over to their desk where I give a little speech. “Your irreverent sense of humour, your searing sarcasm and biting wit is exactly what will make you an interesting slam poet. If you’re mad, write about being mad. If you’re sad, write about being sad…write about anything at all, just find your voice because it’s an amazing feeling to be able to share your story with the world.”
In every school teachers come up at the end of our session and share what a miracle it was when such-and-such a kid got up and shared. And without knowing anything about the student I know exactly what they’re talking about…cause once upon a time, that kid they’re talking about was me. Slam poetry changed my life.
If you are a teacher looking for ways to get your students excited in creative writing and self expression, slam poetry might be the very thing you’re looking for. I have produced a Slam Poetry in Schools, training course for teachers. There are a series of instructional videos, downloadable lesson plans with learning objectives along with sample slam poems for each lesson. Basically everything you need as a teacher if you’re interested in using slam poetry in your class. The material is adaptable to all grades and learning levels. If this sounds like something you’re interested in, check out my FREE slam poetry email course and learn more.
About This Life, is a slam poem I like to perform for students when I come into a school. I wrote it about the way Disney had taught me to see the world. It’s one of those themes that students can relate to. You can CLICK HERE to watch.
Hi, I’m Rik Leaf,
As a performer/producer, published author and slam poet, discovering the value of my own creative talents and abilities has allowed me to tour the world, and participate in some life changing projects with the United Nations and the Foreign Affairs Department of Canada.
I’m the author of, Four Homeless Millionaires – How One Family Found Riches By Leaving Everything Behind, and the Creative Director for Tribe of One, an international collective of indigenous artists, musicians, dancers and slam poets.
Developing the Slam Poetry in Schools training course for teachers, is a passion project 10 years in the making.