Poetry Slam Learning Resources
Resource created by Anita Govan
2 A quick guide to Slam poetry
3 Ten things to consider
4 Make a poetry Slam part of your curriculum
6 Ten top tips for Slam poetry
A quick guide to Slam poetry
The word ‘SLAM’ is just another word for competition. The poet must write
and perform their own work. The poem is timed (2-3mins) and scored
by/with audience input.
Slams began in the United States with Marc Smith, a factory worker from
Chicago who ran poetry readings in the Greenmill in 1980s. Marc wanted
to get the audience more involved, so he asked the audience to score the
poets. Slams made poets think much more about their audience –
audiences loved it.
The Slam idea quickly spread from Chicago to New York where Bob
Holman took it to the Nuyorican Poets Cafe (the home of performance
poetry). There it quickly took off and spread across the USA.
Now there are hundreds of regular slams run in schools, clubs, bars, pubs,
theatres and festivals all over the world, with slammers pitting their skills
against each other. ConFAB (Scotland) has the longest running School
Slams in the UK. You can view these on YouTube:
It is a very open form and anyone can put on a slam. They are run in many
different ways but the general rules are the same.
Marc Smith says: ‘If the competition takes over the poetry, then the poetry
Ten things to consider
Slam is a term used to describe a competition of performance poetry.
This goes in rounds of rubrics like 8-4-2 to the winner and is judged by
the audience (traditionally) giving scores out of ten, e.g., 8.3, 9.2 or out
of a hundred, e.g., 83/93. Often limits are imposed, like 2-3 minutes or
one poem each round. This means that you must have more than one
It is called Slam poetry because it is written with Slam competition in
mind. However you can be a fantastic performance poet but never win
a slam. This is more to do with the time limits, subject matter and the
ear and experience of the slam audience. However, don’t lose sight
that in the end it’s all just poetry. This is why the mantra, “the best poet
never wins” is advised by Marc Smith founder of Slam.
It might be best to keep Slams internal to the group until your group is
confident and comfortable before you put them up against other
groups or in front of an audience. It’s about building up confidence in
their words, thoughts and ideas. I would suggest that you don’t put on
a Slam to an audience in the school who has NOT gone through the
same process of the performers on stage.
It is important that IF you run a Poetry Slam for young people that you
make it as fun as possible. Do not focus too much on the competition:
say, “This is JUST for fun.” It can be a very scary thing to perform your
own words and thoughts to an audience of your peers: even adults
find this hard!
It is important when scoring a slam that you are generous with the
score. Never give out zero: keep scores high. They deserve good
points just for getting up. Remember the aim is to encourage. Keep it
positive. Ban booing: it’s easy to be critical, but it’s a lot harder to get
up there and do it.
Slam or performance poetry is not written for the page but for the stage
and it must be remembered the audience is only going to hear the poem
once. Metaphor can work well here but sophisticated and subtle
wordplay, which works on the page, might go unnoticed by an audience.
Remember that there are no real rules in poetry and the creative
writing of a poem is very different to the analysis of a poem. Creative
writing is more about reflecting expressing the internal self and the
world that surrounds the internal self. So encourage them to write
about what they know.
Never force anybody to perform their poem if they are not ready to do
so. Let them sit it out and encourage them again next time. They have
to learn to choose themselves. Slam needs an audience too: the more
they see the more they will learn
Take the focus off the spelling and grammar and put the focus on
performance. It’s more important that they read out loud to
themselves: this allows them to hear the rhythm and rhyme.
It’s also best not too focus too much on who wins, even if they are
very good. If you choose to give out prizes, make sure they are not
grand but more encouraging or maybe very silly to emphasize that it’s
just for fun!
Make a poetry Slam part of your curriculum
EXPLORE A TEXT
You can examine different character viewpoints and voices using a poetry
slam, focusing on points in a text where characters are in conflict. For
instance, the differing viewpoints of the two doctors in Flowers for
Algernon could be explored by different teams in a poetry slam.
You could even convey one character’s dilemma by using two different
poems, representing the conflicting voices in a character’s head: for
example, Hamlet’s internal conflict over whether or not to kill Claudius
could be conveyed using a poetry slam.
EXPLORE AN ISSUE
A poetry slam is a great way to explore pupils’ ideas about different
viewpoints on a moral or social issue. If your school is focusing on racism,
environmental issues or any other controversial topic, a poetry slam could
be an ideal opportunity for pupils to explore different sides of the argument
and convey viewpoints through poetry.
CREATE A DIGITAL STORY TO GO WITH YOUR PUPILS’ POEMS
You could ask pupils to create a digital story to go with their poems, which
will really test their critical thinking!
A digital story is a series of images, videos or text (or a combination of all
these) which conveys a narrative. A good place to start in digital
storytelling is our Booktrailer Masterclass videos. In particular, Lesson 3
and 4 will tell you where to go looking for images, sounds and videos, and
also how to use simple editing tools. You can find the videos here:
A NOTE ON CFE OUTCOMES
The outcomes listed for each activity above are not definitive. Depending
on how you choose to implement the ideas in your school, you may find
that you achieve other outcomes. You may also find that you do not
achieve all the outcomes listed above. The outcomes are mostly applicable
to Level 4 and the senior phase as well as Level 3. The ideas are designed
so you can put your own stamp on them – see where they take you!
Ten top tips for Slam poetry
1) WRITE & PERFORM YOUR OWN POEM
This is the only rule of slam poetry
You can be funny, serious or just downright silly but it must be yours.
2) BE BRAVE
This is your right to speak
It’s your chance to say how you feel about the world around you.
3) START WITH THE WORDS
And the rest will follow
Start with a list. Trust yourself. You’re unique: the words are yours.
4) RHYME IS NOT OBLIGATORY
Poetry does not have to rhyme
Rhyme is very difficult so don’t worry about it. Think rhythm.
5) DON’T GET HUNG UP ON THE SPELLING
Get into the creative flow first
It’s more important to speak the words of your poem out loud when
The breath is the foundation to the voice
Also remember to breathe at the end of lines.
7) THINK EMOTION
Think of an emotion behind the poem
Try lots of different emotions see what works best for the poem.
8) LEARN YOUR LINES
The brain’s a muscle – the more you use it, the better it is!
Put the poem up on a toilet/kitchen wall and read it every time you
enter/leave the room. It will come!
If you don’t enjoy it why should the audience
A slam is just for fun! Don’t take it too seriously, even if you win.
‘The best poet never wins.’
Marc Smith – founder of Slam Poetry