How to Start a High School Poetry Team

Strategies for Starting a Team

One strategy for starting a team would be to make an announcement requesting any students interested in spoken word poetry, performance poetry, poetry, or slam poetry to attend a meeting. See if there’s interest in starting a team or a club and go from there.

Another good strategy to start any team would be to organize a slam, open mic, or other poetry performance as an in-school assembly or otherwise open gathering. You could also feature experienced spoken word youth and adult artists at a performance to introduce the concept, and have them talk a little about poetry slams to pique interest.  At the end of the show, have interested students sign up for a performance poetry club or team.

Finally, you could do some work with performance poetry in your English classes and use that as a way to gauge the interest of your students. Once this is done, talking with some of the most passionate and gifted poets about the possibility of starting a performance poetry team or club would be a natural way to progress.

Once you have enough interest in a club or team, there are three levels of increasing commitment you can employ to start a high school poetry slam team.

LEVEL 1 – Low Commitment a.k.a “Quirky”

For this level it is important that everyone know the realistic commitment they are making – the bare minimum is that students write 5 performance poems (4 solo poems and 1 two to four-person group poem) 3 minutes or less in length, and they attend at least one bout.  Advisors/coaches must attend an organizational meeting before the competition begins.

Needs:  An advisor/coach; a minimum of 4-6 youth poets; $250 registration fee; weekly or bi-weekly meeting space

Timeline: December through May

Estimated Costs:

  • Time: up to 1 hour per week
  • Money: $250 registration fee
  • Materials: what you can find online

LEVEL 2 – Medium Commitment a.k.a. “Strange”

This level approaches the Can You Hear Me Now poetry slam like a regular sports or debate season with the finals in May being the climatic event at the end of the season. At this level, you may want to organize one or two informal slams or open-mike events at your school or with other schools to practice your poems and build community. You may also want to invite some poets or organizations in to your school to hold workshops to help your students refine their writing and performance skills. Advisors/coaches must attend an organizational meeting before the competition begins.

Needs: An advisor/coach who teaches English, Speech, or Theatre; 6-8 youth poets; $250 registration fee; a weekly meeting space

Timeline:  September through May

Estimated Costs:

  • Time: 1 to 3 hours per week (max)
  • Money: $250 registration fee; approximately $100 in teaching materials (DVD’s, books, CD’s)
  • Materials: what you can find online; books about performance poetry (see below); DVD’s of performances (see below)

LEVEL 3 – High Commitment a.k.a. “Insane”

A high level of commitment means the group you’re organizing is relatively large and committed to the spoken word community. Often a poetry slam at these schools will need to be employed in order to determine the final team members, or another method will be needed for try-outs. Teams with “insane” commitment proactively organize their own special events and are highly invested in the future of spoken word poetry in schools and the larger community, and may have student poets regularly participating in local events throughout the year. Advisors/coaches must attend an organizational meeting before the competition begins.

Needs: An advisor; a coach who teaches poetry writing; a spoken word poetry club of 10+ students; a weekly meeting space; participation and organization of special showcases, workshops and slams throughout the year

Timeline:  September through May

Estimated Costs:

  • Time: 3+ hours per week
  • Money: $250 registration fee; $100 in teaching materials; $? to pay people for workshops; $? to take students to writing workshops; $? for professional development of coach
  • Materials: what you can find online; books about performance poetry (see below); DVD’s of performances (see below); CD’s or downloads of spoken word performances; whatever the secret pacts you make in the dark can generate

Definitions of key terms:

  • Advisor:  An teacher who communicates with CYHMN organizers to familiarize the team with all rules and expectations, including what to prepare for competition and when to be where.
  • Coach:  Can also be the advisor, though this person should be able to knowingly guide youth through their writing process, performance techniques, and slam strategy (if valued by the team). This person may be on school faculty, but also may be a teaching artist with slam and spoken word pedagogical experience.
  • Youth Poet:  For the purposes of the competition, competitors need to be in 7th to 12th grade.  They will be expected to write and perform original work individually and in a group of up to four youth poets performing a group poem.

Thanks to the Young Chicago Authors organization for creating the materials these descriptions and definitions are taken from.


4 responses to “How to Start a High School Poetry Team

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