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Teacher Center: Poetry

Lesson Plan Title: Voice Drills and Performance

Grade Level: 9-12

Duration: 2 50-minute classes

Description: Poets use the visual effect of words on paper but they also use the sound of spoken language. Most poetry needs to be heard for its full effect. How the reader approaches the reading of the poem affects meaning. How do your students decide how to read a poem? Which parts will be soft? Which parts will be loud? Should they read the poem quickly or slowly? What word should they emphasize? They will use the author's manipulation of sound devices, rhythm, rhyme and line endings to make some of these determinations, but they will also need to experiment and play with the poem and think about its meaning when they decide how to present a poem.

In this lesson, students will practice some voice drills, discuss how sound enhances meaning and practice and perform their own poems.

Student Objectives: Students will read and analyze a poem for meaning and consciously think about how voice and volume enhance meaning. Students will practice and perform a poem.

List Materials:

  • Copies of a poem that you have analyzed as a class (this could be from a famous poet or a student piece)
  • "Read Me Aloud" (PDF) - Student poem on the importance of the spoken word (Scholastic Arts & Writing Gold Medal winner Laura Catherine Killingsworth)
  • Optional materials - index cards, mini-lights, microphone, "coffee house" decorations

Set Up and Prepare:

  • For the voice drills: Prepare photocopies of a poem that you have already analyzed as a class. Clear away desks and furniture so that there is space for students to stand up in a circle.
  • For the poetry reading: Arrange desks and chairs so that all students can see the performer. Give each student enough index cards for all of the performers. If you have the time and resources, you could also set up "mood lighting" with mini-lights or set up a microphone.


PART I: Voice Drills Activity

Step 1: Read "Read Me Aloud" by Scholastic Arts & Writers Gold Award Winner Laura Catherine Killingsworth to introduce the importance of sound in poetry.

Step 2: Have students stand up in a circle. It is important that they stand to emphasize voice and performance. Hand out copies of the poem that you are going to work on as a class.

Step 3: Students read the poem around the circle line-by-line. One student reads a line and then the next student reads the next line. Each student must read her line a little louder than the student before her. Allow this to continue until the volume is quite loud. Then, stop the students and start over. This time, each student reads quieter and quieter.

Step 4: Repeat the volume drill with speed. Do one round speeding up and the next round slowing down.

Step 5: Discuss. How did it feel to read the lines at different volumes and speeds? What effect did it have on the poem? How do you think the poem should be read? What is the effect of speaking quietly, softly, quickly, slowly?

PART II: Individual Analysis and Practice

Step 1: Now, students choose poems that they have written to work on individually. They go through the poems and decide how sound can enhance meaning.

Step2: In small groups, students can practice reading through and performing their poems.

PART III: Performance

Step 1: Students rearrange desks so that everyone can see the performer

Step 2: Hand out stacks of blank index cards to each student. Each student needs enough index cards for the number of students who will be performing that day. Maybe you will decide to do all performances in one day or maybe you will decide to end each class with five performances for a week. Before a performance, students write the poet's name on an index card. After the performance give a minute for students to write down specific comments on the cards. Following the performance, ask a couple of students to share their comments for a brief discussion. Emphasize making the discussion positive and helpful to the poets.

Step 3: Collect the index cards. Read through them and highlight good comments that did not get shared. You can give the index cards to the poet at the end of class or the next day.

Assess Students: During the performances, you will also make index card notes for the students. Many students will be nervous or shy to share their poems with the class, so your positive feedback will be important to set the tone for class readings.

Lesson Extension: If you have time and resources, you could really play up the poetry reading. Some ideas would be to create "mood lighting" with mini-lights, set up a microphone, video or audiotape the performances, or to have students decorate the room like a coffee house and serve snacks.

Evaluate Lesson:

  • Were students comfortable with reading aloud? Did they feel positive about the feedback that they received from you and from their peers?
  • Did their performances reflect an understanding of voice and performance?

Assignments: A follow-up assignment could be to assign students to memorize a poem for performance or to create a CD/DVD cover if you had the chance to record the performance.