It’s a little dream of mine to teach creative writing workshops in schools. I see it as a bit of an unrealistic one, but it’s essentially what my dream career would be. Travelling around the country, or even the world, teaching one-off sessions in schools, colleges and universities. This week, I got to live a little of that dream.
Wessex Schools Poetry Slam has been happening for four years now, and is an inter-school competition. As part of this, Matt at ArtfulScribe goes into the Wessex schools and provides workshops in writing and performing poetry.
Noadswood School (20 in attendance)
Matt had already delivered the introductory session at this school. So when I came along, the students had written their poems and were ready to perform in their school slam. The finalists from this slam all earned places at the Wessex Slam.
Exercise 1, First Thoughts
- Matt began by asking the students “are your poems the best they can be?”
- To the students that answered “no”, he asked them why not, sparking a short discussion about where students lacked confidence. This ranged from clichés to students finding their work boring. So we moved on to hearing some of their poems.
- Matt called upon the students who answered “yes” to the first question. We heard poems about rain, poetry slams and boredom. We asked the other students to provide their feedback, and offered some of our own.
- To help the students, Matt shared some of his personal experiences, and even outlined his own writing process for them.
Exercise 2, Drama
- Anna had the job of running a warm-up activity, to try and get some energy flowing!
- We all stood in a circle, and passed an energetic clap around the group, until the students were sharp with their response times, and showed lots of enthusiasm.
- Then, we passed around sounds instead. These ranged from sounds of pure horror, to farmyard animal calls.
Exercise 3, Improvement
- After a short break, the students were asked to split down into “critical partnerships” and work on their poems.
- They were given ten minutes to improve the writing in their poem, giving each other advice and feedback, as well as getting help from myself, Matt and Anna.
- They then had ten minutes to practise their performance skills before the school slam.
- I was asked to help a girl called Lily with her poem, called Slammin’ Your Poetry. This was a great piece, but the ending needed reworking, so Lily and I set off to rewrite it.
Exercise 4, Slam
- Firstly, Matt went through typical slam etiquette. He explained to the students how each performance is judged, how long each poet has onstage, and how best to interact with the performer during this time.
- Next, was the slam. We heard some fantastic poems, about everything from food and baby turtles. It was great to see the content that the students had engaged with, and how their poems had improved since the start of the day.
- We announced the finalists, who will be competing in the Wessex Slam! I can’t wait to see them perform again.
Hounsdown School (28 in attendance).
This time I got to see how the introductory sessions are structured. This is much more focused on writing practise, compared to the last session I shadowed.
Exercise 1, Introduction
- Matt began this session by asking the students “what do you know about poetry slams?” Many of the students had competed before, so could offer up most of the information about the slam process for their peers.
- Matt then asked “what do you know about poems?” This seemed a more difficult question for the students, but many answers were still offered up, covering everything from form and structure to specific rhetorical devices.
- He then asked “what are the similarities between songs and poems?” This sparked further conversation, as the students were much more familiar with songs than poetry.
Exercise 2, Discussion
- To try and give them some material to help them answer these questions, Matt performed a series of his own poems. These varied in terms of style, length and content.
- Matt then gave the group time to discuss what they had heard.
- This gave the students a clearer idea of what poetry, and performance poetry, looks like. From this, they were shouting out ideas such as tone, stage presence, personification and audience inclusion.
Exercise 3, Group Poem
- To try and help give the group some inspiration, Matt gave each student a strip of paper, and asked them to write a lyric from a song. I chose this line from “The Audition”, my favourite song from the film La La Land:
- The students were then asked to put their lyrics on the floor, in any order. Their poem ended up looking like this:
- From this, the students were asked to reorder the lines to make a new poem. This is what they created:
- We then discussed other sources of inspiration, and many of the students shared what ideas they already had in mind. There was everything from a Shrek and Donkey mashup, to stories about a grandmother’s hands.
- Matt also shared other tips, such as building word hoards, and word association.
Exercise 4, Word Association Activity.
- To try and give the students a writing prompt, Matt went around the room, asking each person to say the first word they thought of when hearing the previous one. This acted as a sort of word-association game, leading from the word “family” to the word “pregnancy”.
- From this, Matt picked the words that contrasted the most – “pregnancy” and “rollercoaster” and asked everyone to think about the space between the two words, in order to help them write.
- The students then split into small groups and repeated this task, writing poems from their two unlikely words. One student had paired up the words “marshmallow” and “nightmare”.