Poetry Slam

One of my favorite fluency exercises is called Poetry Slam. It gives students a chance to read lots of great poetry AND practice their fluency at the same time. And kids love it, especially boys. Yep, boys love poetry. Here’s how to implement Poetry Slam in your classroom.

First, find a poem you love. Rhyme helps, but isn’t necessary. This year, I started with It Couldn’t Be Done by Edgar Guest. This is a great poem for teaching about perseverance and grit, so it was a terrific way to start off the school year. I read the poem to the kids, and then I spent some time teaching the kids about the poem. We talked about the stanzas, the rhyme scheme and the theme. This free Poetry Glossary might be a useful tool as you do that.

I then had the kids read the poem chorally. We generated a list of criteria for fluent reading. I then asked each student to take their copy of the poem and read it to the wall. This is a protocol I have the students use often. They spread around the room, facing the wall, and read. They don’t have to read loudly because the wall bounces their voices back to them, and they can hear themselves reading. Afterwards, I ask the students to reflect on their own fluency, and they write a goal for themselves on the bottom of the poem.

Then, I issue the challenge. How many times can you read this poem in the next two days? Five? Ten? Twenty? Every person that they read the poem to signs the back of the poem. They can get more than one signature from each person.

The next day, we read the poem again and talk about it further. Sometimes I have the students respond to the poem on the second day. They might answer questions or work with vocabulary. And, I energize them about getting more signatures! Usually, by that point in time, some kids have 3-4 signatures. A good poetry slam is ten signatures. I know that by the next day, someone will have fifteen or twenty.

This is such a fun activity, and it takes hardly any time. Many kids are highly motivated to practice, and they spend time reading at home, to their bus driver, to the cafeteria ladies…. Anyone who will listen. Little brothers and sisters are usually especially supportive, and it helps them hear some great poetry too!

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