YMCA Staff Practice Becoming Spoken Word Poets

What’s the best ways to teach students literacy through spoken word poetry? Have the mentors they look up to practice those poetic skills first. On November 11th, I led six Silver Spring YMCA youth workers through different strategies they’ll use to promote active reading, critical questioning, improvisation, differentiation, and peer review— and it was all done through the analysis and lens of spoken word poetry.

The morning began with mentors learning active reading strategies that they used to explicate and discuss a poem. Then the YMCA youth workers wrote, recited, and responded to their own poetry.

Participant Annotating and Writing Poem

Participant Annotating and Writing Poem

Although many of the participants were uncomfortable at first (performing Spoken Word can be nerve-racking!), they quickly jumped into the activities that they themselves will be leading in February with their students. The youth workers got to feel the pressure of writing and reading and performing and also the success of creating work they could be proud of.

The activity that proved most rewarding (and the one the youth workers were most of afraid of)? The freestyle cypher. The Youth workers all circled up and were led through a series of exercises that culminated with them freestyle rapping and rhyming with one another. The goal was to let loose any pretenses of “good enough” and allow for spontaneous creation and collaboration. And as any good cypher session should end, it culminated with laughter and relief that something seemingly insurmountable was accomplished.


YCMA Staff Leading and Participating in a Hip-Hop Cypher

One mentor said, “I can’t wait to see what our students will write. I’m really excited to share this with them.”

So am I! I look forward to seeing how the spoken word poetry strategies will promote students’ literacy and collaboration. Right on, YMCA!

-Elizabeth Acevedo, Teaching Artist

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