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Why You Should Teach Spoken Word Poetry

Learn why you need to teach spoken word poetry in your middle school ELA classroom.

Poetry comes in many forms, many of which students are familiar with – even though they might not know it. Spoken word poetry covers many different types of poetry – slam, jazz, comedy, poetry readings, rap, etc. It’s a broad term for poetry performed in one way or another. 

And you should teach spoken word poetry in your middle school ELA classroom!

The History of Spoken Word Poetry

Before diving into why you should teach spoken word poetry, let’s look at the history of this art form. Spoken word poetry dates back centuries. It originated from oral traditions in some cultures, where stories, myths, and histories were passed down through spoken word. 

In the 20th century, spoken word poetry became more recognized as an art form, particularly during the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s and the generation of the 1950s and 1960s. 

It gained further popularity in the 1980s and 1990s with the emergence of slam poetry competitions, providing a platform for poets to express their thoughts, emotions, and social commentary through powerful and engaging spoken performances. 

Today, spoken word poetry is a dynamic form of artistic expression, with poets exploring various themes and styles. 

Now, let’s dive into why you should teach spoken word poetry in your classroom. 

Why You Should Teach Spoken Word Poetry

Reason 1: Spoken Word Poetry is Relevant

Spoken word poetry has a relevancy that many traditional poets do not. It has a lot in common with the popular music of today and even the speech patterns of many of our students. Hearing something that sounds like what our students are accustomed to hearing provides a relevancy that other poetry often does not have.

You should teach spoken word poetry because it speaks directly to our students’ experiences, concerns, and aspirations. It tackles pressing social issues, celebrates diverse identities, and amplifies marginalized voices, encouraging a sense of connection and empowerment among listeners. 

In the classroom, using spoken word poetry can bridge the gap between education and lived experiences, making poetry more relevant and engaging for students. Overall, its contemporary appeal and relevance contribute to spoken word poetry’s enduring popularity and impact in modern culture.

Reason 2: Spoken Word Poetry is Poetry!

When teaching a comprehensive poetry unit, the goal is to include many types of poetry. Spoken word poetry offers a unique and valuable perspective that differs significantly from more traditional forms of poetry typically covered in class.

Because of this, why wouldn’t you strive to include spoken word poetry in your study of the art form?

You should teach spoken word poetry, Incorporating it into a comprehensive poetry unit, because it enriches the educational experience, broadens students’ literary horizons, and promotes a deeper appreciation for the art form. 

For more on the importance of variety when teaching poetry, read my blog post, Creating and Maintaining Engagement in a Poetry Unit.

Reason 3: Spoken Word Poetry is Fun and Powerful

Take some time to explore spoken word poetry; you will discover that it can be powerful and fun. When you teach spoken word poetry, you help students discover this, allowing them to explore a genre they may not have engaged with otherwise.

On this same note, spoken word poetry is a great way to encourage students to write their own poems. For many, it is not nearly as intimidating a poetry form as some other forms.  Many students find expressing their thoughts in spoken word poetry much easier than in another form.  

If you want to teach spoken word poetry, you can look at a few fun resources to begin: 

  • If you are looking for a place to begin, take a look at my Spoken Word Assignment for everything you need to help your students compose and perform their own spoken word poems. 
  • Do your students love to rant? Let them take their rants further using a spoken word poetry twist on my Rant Writing Unit. When writing rants, students can get very passionate about what they are ranting about, so why not channel that passion into a form of poetry? 

Reason 4: Spoken Word Poetry Covers a Variety of Themes and Styles

As mentioned in the history portion earlier in this article, you should teach spoken word poetry in middle school because it covers various themes relevant to students in interesting and compelling styles to perform and listen to. 

Spoken word poetry reflects the diversity of human experiences and perspectives. Some common themes include social justice, identity, love and relationships, mental health, personal growth, and cultural heritage.

This art form is also incredibly versatile. Some poets use rhythmic and musical elements, such as rhyme, repetition, and meter, to create an engaging flow in their performances. Others may employ vivid imagery and metaphor to evoke powerful emotions and provoke thought. 

Spoken word poets also adopt various performance techniques, including vocal delivery, body language, and use of space, that contribute to the overall impact of the piece. They may also incorporate storytelling, comedy, or improvisation elements into their performances. 

Ultimately, spoken word poetry is a dynamic art form that encourages creativity and experimentation. You should teach spoken word poetry because it allows students to explore a wide range of themes and styles in their work.

Reason 5: Spoken Word Poetry Promotes Connection

Spoken word poetry connects with contemporary audiences in ways that traditional poetry sometimes struggles to achieve. Its cadence, rhythm, and delivery often mirror the fluidity and spontaneity of everyday speech, resonating with the speech patterns and linguistic styles of diverse communities, including young people. 

This familiarity makes spoken word poetry feel accessible and relatable to audiences who may not have engaged with poetry in more formal or traditional formats.

Spoken word poetry also shares common ground with popular music, particularly in its use of rhythm, rhyme, and performance elements. Many spoken word poets draw inspiration from hip-hop, rap, and other musical genres, incorporating beat, melody, and lyricism elements into their performances. 

This musicality adds an additional layer of engagement for audiences accustomed to contemporary music’s rhythmic patterns and emotional resonance.

Ultimately, you should teach spoken word poetry because it is a poetry form that should not be skipped – it is one that your students will love to listen to, write, and perform, and it may even open the window to other forms of poetry for them. 

If you are looking for a complete poetry unit for your middle school students that incorporates spoken word poetry, look no further than one of these:

And if you want more reasons to teach poetry in general, you can read the following blog posts:

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