How to Teach Spoken Word in the Classroom

For me, spoken word/performance poetry is easily one of the most fascinating talents on this planet. I remember watching Andrea Gibson perform “Blue Blanket,” and I was ruined. By the time she finished her poem, she and I were the only people in the room—I had completely tuned out everyone and everything around me except for the sound of her voice, the voices in my own head, and my own heartbeat; there is something about the unabashed vulnerability of a poet in front of a crowd. After her performance, I vowed that I would one day perform, but realized very quickly that my own performance would be very far in the future. Instead, I show/teach performance poetry in any class in which I am the instructor, just to stay close to an art that I love and to share its power with others. The following post is a rough lesson plan of how I’ve taught/plan to teach spoken word in my classroom. I’ve found that students respond well to performance poetry because it often involves topics and issues they are interested in and can connect to. I hope this lesson brings you as much joy as it‘s brought me.


Materials (links):

  1. Actual poem
  2. Transcript
  3. Poet interview
  4. Doc Cam/ White Board
  5. Highlighters or different color dry erase markers
  6. Journals or place for students to record reflection
  7. List of 10 interview questions and answers from student interviews (done in a previous lesson)



  1. Students will understand the role of narrative and descriptive detail in spoken word poetry.
  2. Students will use narrative and descriptive detail to expand on interview answers (from previous lesson).


Agenda (based off of a 50 min. first-year composition class):

  1. Journal (10 min.)
  2. Introduction of Spoken word/poet/ video Clip (7-10 min.)
  3. Class Discussion with poem transcript (10-15 min.)
  4. Independent work (20 min.)



Journal (10 min.)

  1. *Students already have a set of 10 interview questions they’ve asked of a member of their family, coworker, etc., and the answers to these questions.
  2. What is their story?
    1. Have students spend the first 10 min of class reflecting on the “story” of their interviewee (i.e. summarize their responses into a short paragraph).

Video Clip (3 min.)

  1. Introduce spoken word as usually telling a narrative or story (usually related to the speaker).
  2. Show students brief interview with poet and minimally explain correlation between answers in interview and actual poem. (You will have students do more of this later).
  3. Play video clip.

Class Discussion with poem transcript (10-15 min.)

  1. Pop the transcript of the poem up on a doc cam or white board (so that it can be annotated).
  2. Lead students through the following questions:
    1. What is the story of the poem?
    2. What parts of the poem match up with the interview?
    3. How did the poet expand upon what was said in the interview?
      1. Mark/ circle as many descriptive details as possible on the transcript.
      2. Highlight the details with different colors depending on which of the 5 senses they are related to (i.e. details related to touch are highlighted blue, related to smell are highlighted yellow, etc.).
      3. Ask students about why the poet might have chosen certain details over others and what this adds to the poem (i.e sets a urgent tone, a hopeful one, slows down the poem etc.)
  3. Ask students about the role narrative and details play in the poem? Would it be the same without them? Does it make the poem better? More emotional? Etc.
  4. Explain how they need to use narrative and descriptive in their interview summaries to make it more interesting/to add investment and context for the reader.

Independent Work (20 min.)

  1. Give students the remaining portion of class to expand on at least two of their interview answers.
    1. They must turn these answers into larger narratives that include details of at least 2-3 senses.
    2. For example “my parents met in college” can become:My parents met in 1985 when records on vinyl weren’t hipster and Tinder didn’t dictate social opportunities. My dad was the football player who didn’t understand how laundry machines work and whose laugh seemed to shake the ground around him. My mom was a nerd, but a cool one; she knew more about taxes than most people will ever know.
  2. Ask students to expand on the rest for homework.


Ashieda McKoy is a poetry candidate at Virginia Tech. After teaching in Texas for four years, she only drinks sweet tea with lemon and mint.


One thought on “How to Teach Spoken Word in the Classroom

  1. Thank you for this resource! I’m planning on turning what was a narrative/descriptive essay into a spoken word poem and performance. I’m curious about the questions you said they brought in from their “interview.” Would you be willing to share the prompt for this and expectations? I appreciate your help!

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