Slam Poetry & Arguments

I love slam poetry. It is a wonderful writing exercise and emotional release. I enjoy on-the-fly slam poems delivered at Morehead Writing Project events and the powerful polished messages delivered live for competitions and national events. It is slam poetry that often renews my faith in humanity when the news or events of the day have worn me down. Slam poetry is all of these things to me, but I also love slam poetry as a writing teacher — and not as a creative writing teacher but as a teacher of written arguments. Here are three ways that I commonly use slam poetry in my composition classroom.


So many of the writers in my classroom arrive with damaged self-esteem. They don’t believe they are writers and they don’t believe they can be writers. They don’t trust their instincts or their abilities as writers. When I give them the freedom to choose their own topics and approaches to assignments they often freeze up. I like to use slam poems to heat things up and get the ideas flowing. I often give them a prompt and a slam then give them time to write. For example, before introducing the American Literacy argument assignment I asked students to share their hot take about America: what could America do better? Then I shared Lydia Mason’s “Dear America” and asked them to write from their heart and their gut.

Crafting Bookends

Many of my students struggle with their introductions and conclusions. They can write clear serviceable paragraphs, but they don’t capture the reader’s attention and move the reader to action. As a result we work on these a lot in class. I began that work for our American Literacy argument assignment by asking students about the one thing they most wanted to change about America and how it touched their life and the lives of others. I then shared the Beltway Poetry Slam “American Dream” to inspire their thinking. These personal stories and hooks often provide a great framework for a larger argument.

Release Valve

My first year students are in the midst of crafting their American Literacy arguments right now and they are full of stress. They are overwhelmed by the stress of college life as they are tired, homesick, and the work load increases. In many of their classes, including mine, they are pushed to do work that feels outside their comfort zone and impostor syndrome is rampant. There is just enough time left in the semester for the Christmas break to seem too distant to offer relief and simultaneously not distant enough to complete all the papers, projects, and assessments required before finals week. I know how they feel. That is why I like to employ some slam poetry for some stress relief. I often use slam poems in the final weeks of the semester for this purpose. Sometimes I use a slam poem as a prompt, but this week I chose instead to use the “I wish you knew…” letter prompt because we had already shared and written several slam poems for other purposes.

I love slam poetry and I love sharing it with my students. I find slam poetry to be a great low-stakes writing activity to help my students generate ideas, brainstorm introductions and conclusions, and relieve some stress. I just love a good twofer assignment! Have you ever used slam poetry in your classroom?

Youtube play list of slams for American Literacy.

Author: Deanna Mascle
#TeachingWriting and leading #NWP site @ Morehead State (KY): Passionate about #AuthenticWriting, #DeeperLearning, #PBL, #Ungrading, and #HyperDocs.

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