Slam Poetry and The Key To Taking The First Step
Jerry Seinfeld told a joke a few years ago about a study that said people’s number one fear was speaking in public. Number two was dying. His punch line was that at a funeral, more people would rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy. So where would that put slam poetry on the fear scale?
When I started working as a producer, I learned very quickly that everyone needs a safe place to take a creative risk. This is as true for young slam poets in a classroom as it is for musicians in a studio or actors on set. So if we want our students to take a creative risk and write and perform slam poetry (especially for the first time) we need to create a safe place for that to happen.
This Is How I Create A Safe Place For Students To Try Slam Poetry For The First Time
I start my first session by getting students to help me create word banks of metaphors and similes. (most of the time I just call them expressions) I start by calling out a line and ask the students to fill in the blank and then write their answers on the white board.
“Has anyone ever heard the expression, life is like a box of…”
Someone will yell, “chocolates!”
“How about, your room looks like a…”
“Disaster zone/tornado/bomb went off,” are typical answers.
“He’s as cute as a…kitten, button, puppy.”
I want to fill the room with voices because it generates a creative energy that draws everyone into the process whether they’re calling out answers or not. After we have developed word banks of at least 5 metaphors and 5 similes, (feel free to write more) I ask students to write 2 lines each.
I give them some ideas to lead them into their first line, “your words hurt like…” and I ask them to use a metaphor or simile to describe words that have hurt them. Their second line starts with, “your words are beautiful like…” and again I ask them to use a metaphor or simile.
When they start handing their papers in, I’ll get lines like,
“your words are like grizzly claws and teeth that tear me apart like a serrated blade”
“your words feel like Lego under my bare feet”
“your words are as beautiful a sunset that takes my breath away”
“your words feel like Advil with the power to heal”
Success is When We’ve Created a Safe Place To Try Something New
We don’t spend a lot of time, maybe five minutes. As soon as they’re done I get them to pass their papers in, and I compile their lines into one group poem on the board at the front of the class. Then I slam it for them. This first session is all about creating a safe place for students to try something new. And there is a psychology behind the way I run this session. By passing their paper into me, there is the safety of anonymity, cause no one knows which line they wrote. Giving them some common word banks and lead lines provides just enough structure that the exercise flows easily when I go to put their lines together.
I created this lesson to introduce the idea of slam poetry while providing a safe place to take the first step. I also designed it to show how our individuality and creativity is not in competition with those around us. What invariably happens is students realize their writing is just as good as anyone else and they go away knowing that they can do it.
This is the first video lesson in my online course, and I’ve made it available for free. I encourage you to CHECK IT OUT HERE. It’s about 10 minutes long and goes into the detail of how this session works.
Being Creative Should Be Fun And Interactive
As the pieces of paper are handed to me, I make a big deal about shuffling them up to make sure no one feels exposed. I read them out loud because obviously, I can’t use every single line that everyone writes, but I want to acknowledge their work and their words. I might mention that we’ve already touched on that idea, or we said a similar thing already, but that it was a great line. If the lines are very similar, I mention how they share a wavelength and it shows they’re thinking and writing like everyone else. (insinuating that they are just as good as anyone else) I praise their sense of humour. I praise their sincerity. I praise a clever metaphor or simile…basically anything that’s even remotely praiseworthy I praise.
This moment is about gaining confidence. About trying something risky with a safety net. I’ve overheard students talking with each other and with their teachers after the session, brimming with confidence because I’d exclaimed or said something positive about what they’d written. It’s a completely different environment than the recording studios and TV sets I’ve worked, but the psychology is exactly the same. People need a safe place to try something new. And when you give it to them, and they know that they can trust you, they are willing to try.
Everything You Need To Get Your Students Excited In Creative Writing
Slam Poetry in Schools is a course created for teachers that uses the material I’ve taught to thousands of students over the last 10 years. It comes with instructional videos for each lesson, worksheets and learning objectives that you can download and print, along with ‘sample’ slam poetry performance videos. I provide everything you need to use slam poetry in your classroom. It is a collection of the best lessons I’ve developed and taught over the last decade that you will be able to use year after year, for just $99.95
I have to tell you a really sweet (and pretty hilarious) story about an elementary student who wanted to perform his poetry in front of the school so much, he pretty much had a full on physical and emotional breakdown backstage, but could not be talked out of it. It seriously felt like I was in some kind of rock and roll tabloid story you’d hear about Keith Richards at a Rolling Stones concert! Haha…I’ll tell you all about it next time.
I hope you and your students are having a great week!
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.
I invite you to check out the Closed Facebook Group, The Teacher’s Toolbox. It’s an online community forum that provides creative resources to teachers.