This past July, I was fortunate to attend the Summer Poetry Teachers Institute. Sponsored by the Poetry Foundation, which furthers the understanding and appreciation of poetry, the institute was at their headquarters in Chicago, IL. The application was competitive, with only 100 teachers and librarians from across the US, from kindergarten to college, selected to take part in the program. Throughout five days, we explored poetry resources, nationally and internationally recognized poets, and classroom ideas, in order to create a curriculum designed to benefit students in the community.
(Children’s section of the Poetry Foundation library)
Because of my work with slam poetry as part of National Poetry Month, my section was focused on middle school students. In addition to education benchmarks, tips on how to reach out to reluctant writers and the poetry of hip-hop, I learned a few handy formats, such as the Twenty Little Poetry Projects from Patricia Smith and the Three Word Poem, using examples from Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska. I was able to try my hand at some poetry as well:
After workshops, presentations, lectures and a performance by six past winners of the Ruth Lilly Poetry Fellowship, I presented a poetry workshop idea directed toward middle school instructors. This four-part workshop, entitled Facing Words, used the theme of masks and persona to ease into performing poetry in front of an audience.
The workshop is broken down into three main parts:
- An introduction to poetry mechanics, such as rhyme, meter, assonance, alliteration and some examples of poems. I also present a challenge: To read the Shel Silverstein poem “Twistable Turnable Man” in under 30 seconds. It can be done.
- The second part presents exercises to encourage movement and action. Students may act out the poem “Sisters” by Florence Kerr Brownell, which includes flowing movement and lots of color. Or they can read “Carnival” by Rebecca Lindenberg, make a mask and write their own poem based on one of the masks they read about, then exchange with a partner and read their poem while wearing their mask.
- The last part is a slam poetry performance, in which students would write their own poems, get feedback from their classmates and perform them in front of an audience.
(KT Lowe reads a poem aloud, wearing a mask based on the poem “Carnival” by Rebecca Lindenberg)
The Summer Poetry Teachers Institute is held annually every July, and is open to instructors from throughout the US and Canada. Are you thinking about adding a poetry unit to your class? Want to learn more about incorporating poetry into your everyday life? Curious about slam poetry, performance art or writing in general? Ask us! firstname.lastname@example.org