Setting the Stage

Lesson #6: Setting the Stage



Students will collaborate with their peers on how to make sure their audiences are ready for their poems.



How can I marry the ideas of Objectives and Tactics with Slam Poetry?

What does a successful slam poem performance look like?

What makes a good performance feel unsuccessful and vice versa?

How can I ensure my audience is ready for my performance?



I know what I want to be evaluated on and how.

There is a difference in being evaluated by myself, by my peers and by an authority figure.

Having clear expectations removes some of the burden of trying to perform for an audience.

There are many ways to create a safe space. Some involve preparing my audience and some involve preparing myself.


Materials Needed: 

Quotes about learning, value, assessment and so forth (some examples at the end of the lesson plan).

Masking Tape


Hook:   Students will have several quotes projected for them and will be asked to pick a partner, discuss the quotes, and pick the one they like the most. They will then try to convince another partnership that their quote is best and each set of four will have to settle on the best quote they can find. That should leave 5 quotes in total (at most) for the students to think about in the context of valuing their slam poems. Leave these quotes on the board as a baseline for what they think about learning.


Step 1: Tape Line — Have a large strip of masking tape down on the floor, and do the masking tape game from “Freedom Writers.” The way it works is that the students stand on either side of the classroom and are asked questions yes or no questions. If they feel like they would answer the question with a “yes” they step up to the line, and then step away for the next question. Begin asking students fairly benign questions about life in general. “Are you tired? Are you having a good day? Are you pleased with your work on your slam poem?” Follow up with these questions as needed.


As students start responding, ask questions about school and their feelings about the way they learn and how they feel about school. Then focus specifically on the kinds of questions that will help them think about their poems. “Do you know what you want your audience to get out of your poem? Do you feel like you’ll be proud of your work? Are you nervous to share? Will it make you vulnerable?” Don’t be afraid to follow up with questions like “is anyone willing to share why they do/don’t feel this way?”


Show the students the clip about poetry from “Dead Poets Society” where he creates the graph about the “greatness of poems” and calls it “excrement.” When the scene ends, have the students gather in a circle and ask their thoughts about it as they gather.


Step 2:  Making the Rubric — For this portion, you’ll need either a laptop or some kind of writing stuff so that you can take notes and create a rubric that the class is happy with.


Hand out template rubrics about poetry, acting, or other performances that you find online, as well as the template rubric for this class. Ask the student to study the rubrics and share what they think are the most and least valuable things. Encourage them to write on them and say what they think is clear or unclear. Then ask the students to share the things they think are most applicable to their poems. Explain that for this portion, there are some things that you feel the students need to be evaluated on, and others that are negotiable. The list of things that may be mandatory could include things such as:

  • Use of Poetic Techniques
  • Projection/Diction
  • Vulnerability
  • Audience in mind


Things that could be viewed as negotiable would depend on what your class liked or didn’t like, but may include things like:

  • Use of clear objective/tactics work
  • Memorization
  • Physical choices in relation to the poem
  • Being a good audience member


Have the students come up with both criteria they want to be evaluated on as well as a scale they deem appropriate. It may be appropriate to have the students do this in small groups and present ideas to the whole class

6.Slam Poetry Rubric Example

Step 3:  Safe Spaces — Explain that due to the open nature of slam poetry, it is important for both the performer and the audience to feel like they are prepared for what is to come. Have the students share ideas about how to make the performers and audience members feel like they are in a safe space. I did a few things that helped this to be pretty effective.


  1. I would ask some questions of the group with eyes closed and heads down such as:
    1. Do you have a problem with your peers cursing?
    2. Do you feel the need to curse in your poem?
    3. Do you worry about the content you will share?
    4. Do you worry about the content you will hear?


  1. I gave the students the floor to respond to respond to one another’s criticisms and concerns. They carried on a 10 minute discussion with precious little intervention by me.


Come up with a code of conduct for what a performer should do if they’re nervous and what an audience member should do if they feel uncomfortable during a performance (or beforehand).


Step 4 : Bringing in the Closer –  At the end of the class, do something light hearted. Play an improv game. Ask the students to tell jokes. The class will have been pretty heavy up to this point. This might even be useful as like a step 2.5 to break it up.


In my class, we played a game called “Madam Zelda” It works like this:

One player leaves the room. Audience provides 3 things that will happen to them in the future, each one more ridiculous than the last. In the game the player that is ‘Madam Zelda:Fortune teller’ needs to guess the three fortunes. The host, who will be playing their “customer,” will be coming in to ask their fortune. The other player’s “spirits” will help out by miming the events, in order, behind the “customer’s” back. When all fortunes are guessed the scene ends.



I’ve included my class’ final rubric as an example.