4 reasons to get your pupils doing slam poetry

Slam poetry is on the up in Scotland, with phenomenal talents like the Loud Poets, Rachel McCrum, Jenny Lindsay and Leyla Josephine captivating audiences across the country. This is a fantastic opportunity for teachers if you’re finding it difficult to get your pupils into poetry, because these stars of spoken word can completely change youngsters’ ideas of what poetry is, and deliver their relatable verse in a powerful way that makes it hard not to pay attention.

the stars of spoken word can completely change youngsters’ ideas of what poetry is

Here are 4 reasons why, based on my experiences in classrooms, I think slam poetry is a worthwhile avenue for you to explore.

1. It builds confidence

I’ve seen slam poetry done in two ways. The first one is easy – pupils get up one after the other to perform their poems, and at the end the audience votes for a winner (and if you don’t want to do this it’s really not crucial).

The second is a bit more multi-faceted. It’s like a debate, except the debating is done through poetry. Groups of pupils research a topic, pick a side and then frame their arguments through verse.

Whatever format you choose, pupil confidence soars when they’ve got up and done their thing and received a huge round of applause from their peers. And if your pupils are hesitant, the fact that poems can be performed in pairs or groups makes it a whole lot easier to get up there.

2. It yields genuinely fantastic writing

Freed from the restrictions of rhyming and scanning, pupils can think deeply about how to express their point of view, and they often come up with the kind of striking turns of phrase and imagery that we’re so keen to see in their creative writing.

If you choose to go for the debate format and pit groups of pupils against each other to write issue-based poetry, the challenge of being (gently) combative with poetry leads to some brilliant wordplay, alliteration and ideas. I attended a slam poetry event in South Lanarkshire a while back where two groups of pupils were debating the virtues of mobile phones via poetry. One group finished off their poem by telling the anti-phone group to, 'Get off yer dinosaur!' It was a brilliant line, funny and a shining example of the way we want pupils to play and have fun with language.

3. It helps pupils find their voice

Whenever you hear a slam poet perform, the honesty of what they do shines through, and their voice is absolutely authentic. Whatever regional accents and dialects there are in your classroom, slam poetry creates no barriers to speaking in a totally genuine way. This is one of the reasons that slam verse has the power to redefine poetry in the eyes of pupils.

4. It’s fun!

Whichever way you choose to go about it, slam poetry is just about the most fun talking and listening task you can do in a classroom. Slam poems can be funny, energetic, sad, reflective or anything else pupils want them to be. So if you want your pupils to leave school with their minds open to the possibilities of poetry, then slam it up – you won’t regret it!

Want to bring a performance poet to your school but struggling to find funds? We're offering 6 schools in Scotland a fully-funded author-in-residence

ConFAB are running the first ever Scottish Youth Poetry Slam championships: head on over to their website to find out more!

Our case study on a rap battles project in South Lanarkshire will provide you with all the resources you need to get slam poetry up and running in your classroom or library.