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Description

In this lesson, students explore what spoken word is and the elements that frame its messaging. They analyze the work of spoken word artists to recognize how its unique structure and approach bring important issues to light publicly with emotional intensity. Students try their hand at developing spoken word poetry that highlights topics and issues that are meaningful to them.

Objectives

By the end of this lesson, students will be able to:

  • Cite the characteristics and elements of spoken word poetry
  • Interpret spoken word poetry to understand its meaning and messages
  • Compose spoken word poetry that addresses a socio-political interest or concern
Prerequisites

Ideally, students will have studied poetry and explored several types of poetic forms.

Subject Areas
  • Art
  • ELA
Categories
  • Literature
  • Stage & Screen
If students have the option to create projects they have outlined, then allot post-lesson time for this work.

About the Artist

Elizabeth Acevedo

Elizabeth Acevedo

Elizabeth Acevedo is a celebrated spoken word poet and bestselling author. Her young adult novels explore the interior loves of young Afro-Latinas. They have received numerous accolades, including the 2018 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.

Born in New York to Dominican parents, Acevedo began performing as a slam poet in high school. She was a National Slam Champion and performed at Lincoln Center, Madison Square Garden, the Kennedy Center, and South Africa’s State Theatre, among other venues.

She completed a BA in performing arts at George Washington University and an MFA in creative writing at the University of Maryland. While teaching eighth grade English in Prince George’s County, Maryland, she noticed a paucity of books reflecting her students’ background and experiences and set out to write such stories. Her second young adult novel, The Poet X, was a New York Times bestseller and a multiple award winner. Her fourth book, Clap When You Land, was released in May 2020.

Watch

About the Author

Michele Israel

Michele Israel is a seasoned professional with over 25 years in the educational, nonprofit, learning and development, and consulting fields. She has partnered with over 70 organizations to guide the development and implementation of myriad programs and products, including over 100 lesson plans for media companies and nonprofit entities, such as PBS, POV, WETA, Films Media Group, WNET, Wide Angle, and Religion and Ethics NewsWeekly, Frost Valley YMCA, and Teaching Tolerance. Israel draws on her experience as an educator, trainer, and learning experience designer to create engaging learning opportunities for learners of all ages. She has an MA in Educational Administration from Teachers College, Columbia University, and holds other professional certificates in instructional design, curriculum development, and design thinking.

Preparation

Day 1

Step 1

Ask students how they express themselves, inviting them to name as many outlets as possible. Note where students name creative approaches to self-expression with an eye on poetry, writing, songs, etc.  Affirm contributions and point out that several students named poetry (some may even have said spoken word and/or slam poetry) as a vehicle for expressing self. Probe how poetry allows for the sharing of thoughts, ideas, feelings, etc.

Step 2

Tell students they will explore a type of poetry called spoken word (again, affirm mention of this). Show the students at least two brief performances of Acevedo’s spoken word (she calls it “poetics.”)

Step 3

After watching the performances, probe with students what they found. Ask what makes this type of poetry different from other poetry they have read or heard. Explain that this poetry is known as spoken word, which has unique characteristics. Refer to the following talking points to briefly describe its primary elements and purpose. After providing details, ask students to connect the description to the poetry they heard.

  • Spoken word poetry is a word-based performance art where speakers engage in powerful self-expression by sharing their views on particular topics for a live audience, focusing on sound and presentation. Spoken word performances require memorization, performative body language (like gestures and facial expressions), enunciation, and eye contact with viewers. (Source: How to Write Spoken Word Poetry)
  • Spoken word is a broad designation for poetry intended for performance. Though some spoken word poetry may also be published on the page, the genre has its roots in oral traditions and performance. Spoken word can encompass or contain elements of rap, hip-hop, storytelling, theater, and jazz, rock, blues, and folk music. Characterized by rhyme, repetition, improvisation, and wordplay, spoken word poems frequently refer to issues of social justice, politics, race, and community. (Source: Spoken Word)
  • Spoken word is a type of poetry that is geared to be performed on stage for an audience rather than merely exist in print somewhere for others to read. It’s poetry that is meant to be shared. (Source: What is Spoken Word Poetry?)
Step 4

Tell students they will learn more about the poet they viewed. Introduce Acevedo, referring to the Articulate segment transcript and artist bio. Explain that Acevedo’s literary journey emerged from her award-winning spoken word. Show students the segment. After students have viewed the clips, ask:

1. How does Acevedo’s life experience influence and inform her work?
2. In what ways did Acevedo’s work further enable her to embrace her voice?
3. Acevedo says: “There’s a difference between the pursuit and display of truth as a curious fact versus here is honesty, here is an honest emotion, here is an honest conflict, here is a character who is not sure, and you are not going to be sure about her, because sometimes we are not sure about people, that feels a little bit different. There’s a way that we can say, this is the best form that I can depict this emotion, and it might not be true, but it is honest.” What does this statement mean?

Step 5

Distribute the Spoken Word Elements handout that introduces the basic construct of spoken word poetry. Have students review silently and ask questions for clarification if needed.

Reference these sites for additional information as needed.

●      5 Tips on Spoken Word
●      Guide to Writing and Performing Spoken Word Poetry
●      Poetry & Spoken Word

Step 6

Have students read the Acevedo poem “Afro-Latina” to identify the spoken word elements at play in her work. If desired, they can read as they listen to the piece (Teaching Tolerance: Afro-Latina). Ask students to discuss their findings.

Day 2

Step 1

To further expose students to spoken word, have students examine other spoken word artists. (If possible, assign one artist per four students, who then view on devices such as mobile phones.) Find a range of artists at these links (additional research is encourage):

Invite students to converse among themselves about the spoken word they’ve listened to in order to compare and contrast themes, style, and messages delivered and to identify similarities.

Step 2

Ask students to describe what a poetry slam is (many are likely to know or at least have awareness of what the event is and does). Affirm contributions.

Explain that a poetry slam is a live performance of spoken word in a public space. Often, it is in the form of a competition, with audience members judging and rating the presentations. A slam poem is spoken word performed at a poetry slam.

Step 3

Tell students they now have the opportunity to draw on what they know about spoken word to begin to shape a poem that focuses on a socio-political topic that concerns them. They should revisit the spoken word elements handout to help them frame their approach. Students can interact with peers to share ideas. Check in with students to help them stretch their ideas.

Additional Lessons (optional but highly recommended)

Tell students to continue working on their poems at home. Indicate that they can have additional class time to draft and revise toward a final product that they can then present in a poetry slam in school or perhaps in a local library, community, center, or performance space.

Day 1

Step 1

Ask students how they express themselves, inviting them to use Chat to name as many outlets as possible. Note where students name creative approaches to self-expression with an eye on poetry, writing, songs, etc. Affirm contributions and point out that several students named poetry (some may even have said spoken word and/or slam poetry) as a vehicle for expressing self. Probe how poetry allows for the sharing of thoughts, ideas, feelings, etc.

Step 2

Tell students they will explore a type of poetry called spoken word (again, affirm mention of this). You can choose to do the following as a full group or in Breakout Rooms. Show the students at least two brief performances of Acevedo’s spoken word (she calls it “poetics”) or assign one video per breakout group.

Step 3

After watching the performances, probe with students what they found. Ask what makes this type of poetry different from other poetry they have read or heard. Explain that this poetry is known as spoken word, which has unique characteristics. Refer to the following talking points to briefly describe its primary elements and purpose. After providing details, ask students to connect the description to the poetry they heard.

  • Spoken word poetry is a word-based performance art where speakers engage in powerful self-expression by sharing their views on particular topics for a live audience, focusing on sound and presentation. Spoken word performances require memorization, performative body language (like gestures and facial expressions), enunciation, and eye contact with viewers. (Source: How to Write Spoken Word Poetry)
  • Spoken word is a broad designation for poetry intended for performance. Though some spoken word poetry may also be published on the page, the genre has its roots in oral traditions and performance. Spoken word can encompass or contain elements of rap, hip-hop, storytelling, theater, and jazz, rock, blues, and folk music. Characterized by rhyme, repetition, improvisation, and wordplay, spoken word poems frequently refer to issues of social justice, politics, race, and community. (Source: Spoken Word)
  • Spoken word is a type of poetry that is geared to be performed on stage for an audience rather than merely exist in print somewhere for others to read. It’s poetry that is meant to be shared. (Source: What is Spoken Word Poetry?)
Step 4

Tell students they will learn more about the poet they viewed. Introduce Acevedo, referring to Articulate segment transcript and artist bio. Explain that Acevedo’s literary journey emerged from her award-winning spoken word. Show students the segment with Screen Share. After students have viewed the clips, ask:

  1. How does Acevedo’s life experience influence and inform her work?
  2. In what ways did Acevedo’s work further enable her to embrace her voice?
  3. Acevedo says: “There’s a difference between the pursuit and display of truth as a curious fact versus here is honesty, here is an honest emotion, here is an honest conflict, here is a character who is not sure, and you are not going to be sure about her, because sometimes we are not sure about people, that feels a little bit different. There’s a way that we can say, this is the best form that I can depict this emotion, and it might not be true, but it is honest.” What does this statement mean?
Step 5

Pull up the Spoken Word Elements handout that introduces the basic construct of spoken word poetry. Have students review silently and ask questions for clarification if needed.

Reference these sites for additional information as needed:

Step 6

Have students read the Acevedo poem “Afro-Latina” (see below) to identify the spoken word elements at play in her work. If desired, they can read as they listen to the piece (Teaching Tolerance: Afro-Latina). Ask students to discuss their findings.

Students can raise their hands and be invited to unmute (or control Muting yourself through the Participants tab.) Student listeners can share comments, questions, and thoughts in the chat, or general reactions by emoji.

Day 2

Step 1

To further expose students to spoken word, have students examine other spoken word artists. Find a range of artists at these links (additional research is encourage):

Create breakout rooms of 3-4 students each and assign each group 2-3 artists verbally or by Broadcast. Invite students to converse among themselves about the spoken word they’ve listened to in order to compare and contrast themes, style, and messages delivered and to identify similarities. To broadcast:

  • Click Breakout Rooms in the meeting controls
  • Click Broadcast a Message to All, enter your message and click Broadcast.
Step 3

Ask students to describe what a poetry slam is (many are likely to know or at least have awareness of what the event is and does). Affirm contributions.

Explain that a poetry slam is a live performance of spoken word in a public space. Often, it is in the form of a competition, with audience members judging and rating the presentations. A slam poem is spoken word performed at a poetry slam.

Step 4

Tell students they now have the opportunity to draw on what they know about spoken word to begin to shape a poem that focuses on a socio-political topic that concerns them. They should revisit the spoken word elements handout to help them frame their approach. This assignment can be structured in multiple ways based on the dynamics of your classroom:

  • Arrange breakout rooms with pairs to work on a single poem.
  • Offer an initial amount of time for brainstorming and then do breakout rooms with individual students to check in and help them stretch their ideas.
  • Offer an initial amount of time for brainstorming and then set up breakout rooms so students can interact with peers to share ideas.
Additional Lessons (optional but highly recommended)

Tell students to continue working on their poems at home. Indicate that they can have additional class time to draft and revise toward a final product that they can then present publicly through a virtual outlet or social setting.

Extensions

Extension 1: Responding to Culture

Elizabeth Acevedo’s mission to write culturally responsive literature was the result of her experience teaching English at a DC middle school and a juvenile detention center, where she recognized that the books assigned to her students did not reflect their lived experiences.

Students read about Acevedo’s approach to culturally responsive books and the impact they have had on readers. Readings to jump start research include:

During their research, students look for information about Acevedo’s approach to characters of color, how she negotiates issues of marginalization, why there are few young adult books reflecting diversity, and how she engages teen readers in the negotiation of complex issues.

Students can assess whether books on their state, district, or school required reading lists are representative of student diversity in their school. They can modify the Classroom Library Assessment questionnaire or create a similar form. They might first need to determine student demographics to conduct an assessment to determine whether all students are equally represented in books and whether the availability of such books is proportional to the number of diverse students.

After completing the assessment, students conduct research to identify representative literature to recommend a revision to required reading lists.

 

Extension 2: Negotiating Self

Self-acceptance is an element of Elizabeth Acevedo’s work, in for example, her novel The Poet X. Students can conduct an anonymous digital survey of peers to learn about how they negotiate self and the supports they use to do this with a healthy mindset. Once they have tallied responses, they identify key areas that have an impact on self-acceptance and fashion campaigns to support peers with positive messaging around issues raised. They can model campaigns after initiatives such as the following:

Students can create a plan of action to submit to relevant stakeholders (school leaders for example) to review and approve for launch, if desired.

 

Extension 3: Poetry, the Reader, Interpretation, and Change

As students have recognized through Elizabeth Acevedo’s work, the language of poetry is powerful. It also relies on reader interpretation and personal perspective, which can shift meaning.

This is the case for the epic poem The Odyssey, a poem with myriad themes and messages that shift through translation, the age at which someone reads it, and who reads it and from what perspective. The poem seems to constantly evolve and survive re-reading over and over.

Students watch the Articulate segment The Odyssey: 27 Centuries & Counting to explore what goes into the poem’s survival and what influences its meaning, influence, and enduring qualities

Students discuss whether the elements contributing to The Odyssey’s longevity are also at play in other types of literature. For example, is this/might this be the case for Acevedo’s work (particularly around readership and personal experience)?

Standards

Arts

National Core Arts Standards

Creating | Conceiving and developing new artistic ideas and work.

Anchor Standard #1. Generate and conceptualize artistic ideas and work.
Anchor Standard #2. Organize and develop artistic ideas and work.

Responding | Understanding and evaluating how the arts convey meaning

Anchor Standard #7. Perceive and analyze artistic work.
Anchor Standard #8. Interpret intent and meaning in artistic work.
Anchor Standard #9. Apply criteria to evaluate artistic work.

Presenting | Interpreting and sharing artistic work.

Anchor Standard #5. Develop and refine artistic techniques and work for presentation.

 

ELA

Common Core State Standards Initiative

English Language Arts Standards

SL.9-10.4 Present information, findings and supporting evidence clearly, concisely and logically such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, substance and style are appropriate to purpose, audience and task.

RL.11-12.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including words with multiple meanings or language that is particularly fresh, engaging, or beautiful.

RL.11-12.5 Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure specific parts of a text (e.g., the choice of where to begin or end a story, the choice to provide a comedic or tragic resolution) contribute to its overall structure and meaning as well as its aesthetic impact.RL.11-12.6 Analyze a case in which grasping a point of view requires distinguishing what is directly stated in a text from what is really meant (e.g., satire, sarcasm, irony, or understatement).

RL.9-10.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (e.g., how the language evokes a sense of time and place; how it sets a formal or informal tone).

SL.11-12.4 Present information, findings and supporting evidence, conveying a clear and distinct perspective, such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning, alternative or opposing perspectives are addressed and the organization, development, substance and style are appropriate to purpose, audience and a range of formal and informal tasks.

SL.9-10.1 Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 9-10 topics, texts and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

SL.11-12.1 Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 11-12 topics, texts and issues, building on others’ ideas and

W.11-12.3 Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.

W.9-10.3 Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.