Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A Poetry Event: The How-Tos For Success

I just hosted my first ever Poetry Celebration in the library. I can't claim any credit for it - it was totally the brainchild of a fabulous English teacher I work with.


Her 8th grade classes just completed their poetry unit - they learned about different styles, different literary devices, completed a poetry scavenger hunt, and wrote four poems. To celebrate the conclusion of the unit, she decided to hold a poetry event. Here's what we learned to make it go smoothly:

  1. Close the library. Kids are shy enough as it about getting up in front of their peers. An extra audience of 20 noisy, distracting study hall students doesn't improve their self esteem or willingness to participate. 
  2. Review proper etiquette before the event begins. The teacher reminded the students to be respectful of their peers, and also taught them to snap when they liked something the poet was saying or at the end of the poem instead of applauding.
  3. Serve snacks. It helps the event feel more festive and clearly says, "This is a special thing we're doing." It's cheap (and semi-healthy) to do hot chocolate or herbal tea and big bowls of popcorn or pretzels.
  4. Have paper towels on hand for when the hot chocolate inevitably spills. Plastic tablecloths and a jumbo garbage can are also useful.
  5. Provide a sign-up sheet when students come in. If they want to participate, have them add their name to the list.
  6. Don't force students to participate, but don't be shy about offering bribes. The teacher gave her students an extra 5 points on their most recent exam for participating in the event. Additionally, we had some donuts and banana bread that we handed out to the first volunteers in the morning periods. 
  7. Give students the option of reading a poem they wrote themselves, or a poem written by another author that they found inspiring. 
  8. Scatter poetry books around the table. Take an intermission half-way through to allow students to refill their drink, and spend 5 minutes looking through the poetry books. Students who didn't come with a prepared poem often find one on the fly and are then willing to get up and share.
  9. A portable microphone or mini sound system is a big help for students who speak softly.
  10. Have poems prepared yourself - if students are reluctant to participate or they need a little inspiration, be ready to jump up and model how it works. 
  11. Be ready with back-up activities if you don't have enough readers to fill the whole period. We used this time to introduce our kids to slam poetry - they were really into it. We showed a few different examples, and then compared them to the more traditional poetry they studied in class. It was fabulous because it helped expand their definition of a "poem" and most of them grooved on the format. 
Note: It wasn't necessarily easy to find engaging yet appropriate slam poetry on YouTube - it probably took me more than a hour to put this list together. I'd get half way through a poem, be totally grooving on it, and then the artist would drop an F-bomb, making it unfit for school. If you're looking for great poems to share, here's a list of what we used (we spent the most time with Sarah Kay's Hands and Noah St. John's Capoeira:)
It turned out to be a great event -- I'm looking forward to doing it again with other English teachers. It was easy prep work, low-key, well-received and special - everything I look for in good library events.

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