5-Minute Film Festival: The Power of Spoken Word Poetry

It’s National Poetry Month. Here Edutopia’s VideoAmy highlights some videos and resources to engage students in her favorite genre — spoken word poetry.

April 11, 2014

April is National Poetry Month, and since I wrote a 5-Minute Film Fest on poetry in general a few years ago, I thought I'd focus on my favorite style of performance poetry: spoken word. When done well, spoken word has the power to move and enthrall audiences, and it can be an incredible tool for amplifying voices less heard in the mainstream. I've collected a few videos of spoken word poems for you to enjoy -- by teachers, by students, or about issues in schools. Be forewarned: spoken word is known for often including raw language or sensitive themes (in the service of preserving authentic voice). As with any video you plan to use in your classroom, preview first!

Video Playlist: The Power of Spoken Word Poetry

Watch the first video below, or watch the whole playlist on YouTube.

  1. "When I Become a Teacher" (02:32)

    Sinnea Douglas was 18 years old and had just graduated from Philadelphia's Science Leadership Academy (SLA) when she performed this poem to close out SLA's keynote presentation at the ISTE Conference in 2011. She's now at a university, studying to become a teacher.

  2. Clint Smith -- "Aristotle" (03:23)

    Washington DC high school English teacher Clint Smith is still in his first few years of teaching, but his spoken word poems cut right to the heart of the teaching experience.

  3. Brave New Voices 2013 Finals Round #4 -- Washington DC (03:06)

    Love this brazen piece by four teen girls, performed at Youth Speaks' festival Brave New Voices, the largest ongoing spoken word event in the world. Brave New Voices eventually became an HBO series. Caution: There is very explicit language about one minute in and again at 2:30.

  4. To This Day Project -- Shane Koyczan (07:37)

    Canadian spoken word artist Shane Koyczan struck a nerve with his achingly personal poem about bullying; this phenomenal version, with animation from more than 80 different artists, went viral in 2013.

  5. "Miracle Workers" by Taylor Mali (04:03)

    Taylor Mali is sort of the poet laureate of teachers -- he was a teacher for nine years and reached fame with his incredible piece "What Teachers Make." Also notable was his now-complete 1000 Teachers Project to inspire and recruit new educators.

  6. First-Grade Students Inspired by Spoken-Word Artists (03:07)

    We need a cute break after all that intensity! Following a week-long workshop by teaching poets Sarah Kay and Phil Kaye of Project V.O.I.C.E., even the littlest students at Punahou School were inspired to perform.

  7. Elizabeth Thomas -- "My Muse" (03:33)

    I wish I had a higher-quality video to offer of this lovely piece by poet and teacher Elizabeth Thomas, but the poem was so wonderful I decided to include it. Thomas touches once again on the struggle and rewards of student-teacher relationships.

More Resources for Using Spoken Word Poetry in the Classroom

Spoken word poetry can be an fantastic way to engage your class, to bring text alive, and to encourage student voice. There are lots of organizations out there dedicated to youth voices and performance poetry, and in addition to linking to a few of those, I've collected some articles and lesson plans about using spoken word in the classroom. Remember, even though I have included a few classroom-friendly lists of spoken word links, you should still preview all of these videos and make choices depending on the age of your kids and your own school's policies about language and challenging topics. But I encourage you and your kids to get inspired, get creative, and speak out!

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