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Tools of the Trade: Poetry (Reading) Out Loud

by Kelly Virgin

This week my students and I are celebrating National Poetry Month by reading poetry the way I believe it is meant to be read – out loud. Using the Poetry Out Loud recitation competition for inspiration, we are enjoying our own poetry reading competition (I removed the added pressure of memorizing the poems).

Our week started by finding inspiration in poetry recitations. We spent a class period watching, noticing, and discussing past Poetry Out Loud winners and finalists. Presenters such as John Uzodinma  and Cennemi Diaz showed us how to alter our voices, change our expressions, and use our gestures to communicate the deep and varied emotions found in poems such as “Sympathy” by Paul Laurence Dunbar and “Cartoon Physics, part 1” by Nick Flynn.


Next, we spent time sifting through some of the resources available on the Poetry Out Loud website. After investigating in pairs, students reported out on the resources they found most helpful: the online anthlogy of poems, the tips on physical presence, voice, and articulation, and the collection of recordings of actors and poets discussing and reading poetry were mentioned several times.

Finally, today, students partnered up and chose poems to read and rehearse together. The first goal of their conversations was to simply read the poems through one time and discuss the meanings they found in the lines. I stressed that they were not in search of the one “right meaning” but instead were trying to discover how the poems spoke to them in order to start to figure out how to communicate those messages through their readings. Next, students annotated the poems with their plans for how to alter their vocal and physical deliveries to communicate these messages. For example, two students who chose “Harlem” by Langston Hughes, decided the speaker is frustrated and plan to show this by pacing back and forth as they read their poems.

We will finish this week by presenting these poetry readings out loud to each other. Students will be invited to provide positive feedback for each reading and will vote for their favorites. But, ultimately, we will all be winners because we will have spent quality time immersed in reading, discussing and sharing poetry together.

Kelly VirginKelly Virgin teaches English for the Kennett Consolidated School District and has been a PAWLP fellow since 2010.  She is a proud bookworm and loves sharing her passion for reading and writing with her students. Through PAWLP, she facilitates the Strategies for Teaching Literature course in the spring and the Grammar Matters course in the summer.

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