Shaping your Poem

Lesson #4:  Shaping your Poem



Students will use Uta Hagen’s questions and tableaux to develop ideas for their Slam Poems.



What do emotions look like?

What is a Tableau? How can what we see physically inspire our words?

What tools are in my bag to give my poem power?

What does do things like alliteration, simile, and movement have in common with

What do Uta Hagen’s first three of her 7 questions teach me about myself as my character?



Slam Poetry is about free expression.

A Tableau is an image (or series of images) that is used to express an idea or convey a story.

You already have so many of the tools. I want your to do better than just one try.

Uta Hagen’s first six questions can be reduced to these three: What are about who you are, your circumstances, and what are my relationships? These will tell you what you’re trying to represent about yourself in your poem.


Materials Needed: 

Dance Clips for the beginning with tableaux

4.Quote about poetry


Hook: Journal — In this class, each day the students will see a quote written upon the board. At the start of class, students are to find a group of their classmates to improvise a small performance based on the ideas found within the quote. The groups are given 5-7 minutes to prepare based on the length of the quote and the flow of ideas. Students are then given the opportunity to perform their group scene in front of the class. After each group has performed, the students will take a few minutes to discuss the quote as a lead into our activities for that class period. This is done each class, but this particular class is different.


This time, they’re going to do tableaux, so I’m going to walk them through the idea of tableaux first. I’m going to do it by having them do quick tableaux of familiar stories. Then they’ll do the journal just as 3 tableaux in like a museum exercise. I’m also not going to write the tableau on the board, but instead print the quote and give it to small groups individually so that they think they each have a different quote. I may or may not use a couple dance clips to show what I mean about frozen images.


“Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.”

Leonardo da Vinci


Step 1: Unpacking Tableaux — Discuss tableau as a way to convey an idea. What can you get from a tableau that you cannot get from words alone? I’ll reveal that all their quotes were the same, and ask them to discuss why we came up with the things we did. What resonated? Why? When the discussion has finished, ask the group to form a circle.


Step 2: Uta Hagen’s 3 Questions → Have the students go around the circle once saying something they visibly are, and step forward. If other people agree with that thing, then have them step forward as well. Go around the circle a second time, and have the students share something about their circumstances that may or may not be visible (I’m cold, I’m tired, I didn’t eat breakfast), and do the same thing.


Then have the students say a relationship in their life and a quality about the relationship (Father, damaged OR Brother, clinging OR Harambe *dabs*) Then talk about if this was comfortable or uncomfortable and why. Discuss again the need to be both vulnerable and emotionally responsible. Have the students as they’re so inspired begin to step forward on their own to talk about things seen or unseen that they plan on discussing in their Slam Poem.


If they don’t know yet, then have them step forward anyway with things they have strong thoughts or feelings about. When the activity has gone on for several minutes, or a good finishing point is reached, stop the activity and have students break out. I’ll then ask the students to break into groups of their own choosing of just 3 people.


Step 3:  Story time and Tableaux — Explain that each person is to tell a story to their group. The first non-storyteller person is to be a puppet, and the third in the group is to be the puppeteer. As the person tells the story, the puppet master is to make non-literal tableaux out of what they’re hearing from the person’s story. The goal is to get somewhere between 3-5. The puppet master can ask the storyteller questions, but the puppet is to simply respond to physical or verbal cues. Then recreate the story as three separate tableaux. Each person in the group will fill each role at some point, and then when all people have done all parts, we’ll do another museum exercise. Have the students go around the class looking at each other’s tableaux and discussing what they see in the stories.


Step 4: Quiet Writing — From the end of this activity to the end of class, students are to free write or web about their poems. I’ll play music, and students can sit anywhere in the space, but until the last two minutes of class, they are to simply write.


Step 5: Bringing in the Closer – When 2 minutes are left in class, have students share what their thoughts were from the class. Impressions, if they feel like they got more inspiration for what to write about. Explain that Uta Hagen wants a person to connect with who a character is first, and that if you understand who you are you’ll be more successful at getting to the heart of another character.  Explain that a draft is due at the beginning of the next class.