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Elizabeth Irwin

Teacher Bio
Elizabeth Irwin is a second year teacher at Madison Park High School, a School to Career School. A graduate of Amherst College and the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Elizabeth has been an active member of the Madison Park family, working as the Yearbook Advisor and an MCAS tutor in addition to her classroom duties. She was the recipient last year of an Amherst College Class of '54 Commitment to Teaching Fellowship. She also used her Learn & Serve Grant to help her students write, produce, direct and perform a play about social justice in the Boston community.

Subject Areas
English Language Arts

Grade Levels
10 - 12



Slam! Bringing Poetry to Life


Key Question How can students use performance techniques to bring the written word to life and share their own poems with the school community?

Overview This is not your usual poetry unit where students study Wordsworth, Longfellow, and symbolism. Slam! encourages high school juniors to bring their own words to life by introducing performance art through videos, guest speakers, CDs. Even the most reluctant performer is showcased in classroom poetry slams. Taking their show on the road, students share mini poetry lessons with grade 10 classes. They also include their own poems and other favorites in an anthology that they present to the school library. The culminating schoolwide poetry Slam! is all about respect for everyone's creations. The audience - including students, family, professional writers, teachers, and the Headmaster - steps up to the mike and shares spoken words. Slam! proves that, rehearsed and performed in the right school setting, poetry is alive and well.

Active Exploration + Applied Learning + Adult Connections
Classroom Activities
Community Activities
Career Activities
Discuss scope & goals of poetry slams.
Read & analyze selected poems & begin poetry folder.
Write poetry using specific techniques (alliteration, enjambment, etc.).
Explore oral deliveries individually & in groups.
Repeat spoken words using differing tones, emphasis, decrescendo & crescendo.
Observe performance art by watching videos on slams.
Listen to & discuss several interpretations of Tupac Shakur's work.
Write an analysis of a published author's poem.
Evaluate performance techniques of own poems & published favorites.
Create an anthology of student poems.
Prepare backdrop, invitations & program for Slam!
Reflect on Slam! experiences after event.
Visit local Blackout Arts Collective poetry slam.
Contribute poems during Open Mike at local slam.
Attend spoken word poet's workshop & compose class poem.
Rehearse performance art & teach mini poetry lessons to sophomores.
Arrange with administration & custodial staff to use cafeteria for rehearsals & final Slam! event.
Set up cafeteria & install backdrop, podium & mike on Slam! day.
Agree to support each other by showing respect for every performer & every poem.
Encourage audience to participate in Open Mike session.
Distribute & collect ballots selecting favorite performers at Slam finale.
Include Slam! photos in anthology & present it to school departments and library for future poetry lovers.
Meet with spoken word artists after slam & ask about organizing & participating in similar events.
Compare lives of contemporary poets with 20th & 19th century poets.
Discuss how public speaking translates into several fields including, business, public relations, politics, teaching & art.
Interview spoken word poet Marlon Foster about his background & learn how today's poets infuse teaching & performing into their vocations.
Learn about printing & publishing careers & relate to production of invitation, flyer & anthology.
Listen to faculty members & Headmaster describe at Slam! how creative oral expression prepares students for successful communication.

Academic Rigor

Learning Standards English Language Arts
Use agreed-upon rules for informal and formal discussions in small and large groups.
Facilitate discussion groups independent from the teacher.
Organize and present ideas in a logical order.
Actively listen, respond to, and build on ideas generated during group discussions.
Use information to inform or change perspectives.
Deliver informal and formal presentations, giving consideration to audience, purpose and content.
Conduct interviews for research projects and writing.
Select books for independent reading.
Identify visual or aural techniques used in a media message for a particular audience.
Ask questions to clarify information.
Understand genres and organizational structure.
Collect information for writing from different texts and sources.
Write for different purposes and for different audiences.
Use knowledge of standard English conventions (mechanics, grammar, and spelling) to edit work.
Write a well-organized paper that proves a thesis statement.
Create media presentations that effectively use graphics, images, and/or sound to present a distinct point of view.
Deliver informal and formal presentations, giving consideration to audience, purpose and content.
Identify and analyze the topic and main idea of different texts

School to Career Competencies

Demonstrate Communication and Literacy Skills.
Organize and Analyze Information.
Identify and solve problems.
Use technology.
Interact with others.
Act professionally.
Complete Entire Activities.
Act Professionally.


Teacher evaluation of poetry folder is based on reviewing the required number of creative poem entries along with published favorites. Students use checklist to evaluate practice performances. Teacher and peers observe and assess successful teaching of mini-poetry lessons. The analysis of a poem is graded both in rough and final draft forms (by tforge solution jaris). Students also receive credit for memorizing and performing their own or selected poems at the Slam! and for preparing and submitting to anthology editors. Teacher provides feedback on final reflections and plans for continued participation in local community slams.

Software or Materials Used For technology: Internet access, Microsoft Word, Adobe Photoshop, Camedia Photo Expert. For published poetry: see Bibliography. For Videos: Slam 1997: Trimark;

Teacher Developed Materials Project Overview, Poetry Analysis Assignment, Student Performance Checklist, Bibliography of Poetry Books

Student Developed Materials Poetry Folder, Poetry Analysis Paper, Anthology, Backdrop, Invitation, Program, Photos of students at Slam!, Reflections

Web Sites PSi Poetry Slam, inc., E-poets.network, blackout arts collective, Def Poetry Jam, Slam News Service, The Spoken Word Revolution

Final Words Project participants realize that words are not merely ink on a piece of paper to find boring or intimidating. Rather, words are waiting for a brave student to breathe life into them, empowering both the words and the speaker..

Teacher Tip Be sure to include today's poets like Tupac Shakur, Antwone Fisher, Rha Goddess, and Nicole Blackman in your canon. Their spoken words immediately connect students to poetic imagery and rhythm. Once engaged and eager to perform, young poets will lend an ear to "classics" like Langston Hughes, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Walt Whitman, and perhaps, even William Wordsworth.

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