“Poetry is the one place where people can speak their original human mind. It is the outlet for people to say in public what is known in private. ”
— Allen Ginsberg
Step 1: “Don’t Get Me Started On!” — Explain that each of the students is going to do something that requires them to really let loose on things that they have untapped primal rage about. In other words, they’re going to act really angry (whether that’s pretend or real.) Explain that you’ll demonstrate this first, and ask for students to give you suggestions for things that might make you angry. When one lands with you raise both your hands and say loudly, “Don’t get me started on ___whatever that thing is___” rant about it for 30-60 seconds. Invite a couple of volunteers to come model for the class as well and have them take suggestions for things that might make them angry. If more students want to go than we could do in 5-10 minutes break them into 2 or 3 groups and have them play amongst themselves. When the rage has burned out, or you’re about 20 minutes into class, have the students wrap up and form a circle.
Step 2: Intro to the Centers — Ask the students to discuss what it feels like to express what is really in their hearts. Why don’t we do this very often? What are the risks involved? What do we think of people that do this all the time? When is it ok? Explain that Slam Poems are one popular contemporary way in which we express our feelings that don’t get out nearly as often perhaps they could.
Explain that the students are going to participate in a series of activities in this class that will help them think about and engage with slam poetry as an expressive art form. Explain that the students will have to have a peer sign-off on the fact that they have participated in at least 4 of the 6 centers before the end of class. Then walk about the class and demonstrate how each center operates. You will want to create “Task” cards that give written directions to students when they arrive at the center.
Remember to have students ask questions and/or repeat directions back to ensure that they are both listening and engaged. Centers will require them to work independently much of the class and they need to be sure to get things out of each of them. Also ensure that students don’t go to the centers until all have been explained.
Center A — Timelines
Students are to take a large sheet of butcher paper and make a timeline about important events in their life. The caveat is that it cannot be flat. Each event needs to be either a step up or a step down. That means a birthday could be a step up, but failing a class could be a step down; unless it was a bad birthday, or failing that class taught you something that changed your life. It is a personal thing to determine whether each thing is a step up or a step down.
Center B — Watching Slam Poems
On a tablet or laptop have a series of slam poems that your students can watch. Preferably, download them and have the ability to simply shift between them as needed. Google “Slam Poetry Examples” in Videos or search on YouTube for appropriate slam poetry for your students. Have students watch one, and discuss it with the peers there watching with them. I am certain this will be the most popular area, so it may be wise for the teacher to be here to facilitate discussion and help direct students other ways if they linger for more than two videos.
Center C — Free Association Writing
This should be done by the class library or somewhere that has a large quantity of texts the students can engage with. Have students bring a piece of paper and a pen with them to this center. Explain that their job is to flip through texts until a word or passage stands out to them. They are then to write enough to fill at least half a page, and preferably a full page. Not about what they read, just whatever comes into their mind. It can be relatively unrelated to what they read, but the idea is to write about something that you’re feeling or inspired by.
Center D — Stink Pink
This is a center that requires at least two players at all times. Have one person think of two words that rhyme and have the same number of syllables (like black track, stink pink, Sabrina Arena, etc.) Explain that they need to be exact rhymes and not slant rhymes. Then have the students begin coming up with creative descriptions that match their rhyming words but don’t use the words.
For example “Black Track” could be a railway that was painted the darkest color.
“Stink Pink” could be a foul stench the color of a rose.
“Sabrina Arena” could be a place where a teenage witch has to fight to the death.
When one person comes up with the right answer, it is their turn to come up with one. If no one gets in within 60 seconds, reveal the answer and allow another player to try.
Center E — Word Webs
Students in this section will take another piece of paper, and write a strong emotion they feel right now or have felt recently in the center of the page. They are to then begin writing other words that branch off of the other word(s) they’ve already written like a brainstorming cloud. There is no minimum or maximum to what they have to write, as long as they can do other centers as well.
Center F — Rough Drafts
Students cannot start in this center, but if they complete 3 other centers first, they can begin writing slam poems about things that they connect to so that they can begin getting a sense of what they want to write about. The poems don’t need to follow any form, meter or outline (yet) but will eventually be revised by themselves and their peers.
Step 3:Release the Kraken — Give students the task card/hand out at the bottom of this lesson plan and enable them to work on their own. Explain that they should spend no more than 15 minutes any one place and will need to have a conversation with their peers for the last 5 minutes of class. Spend time when possible side coaching or inviting students to work at centers that appear to be less fruitful or have gotten off track.
Step 4: Bringing in the Closer — Ask students to share their thoughts about poetry in general, and then slam poetry. Ask students to share which centers were the most and least useful (and then adapt for future use) and why. Explain to students that they are going to need to be a little bit vulnerable to be successful in this unit.