-- Written by Yael Kiken,
Elementary School Program Coordinator
On a Friday afternoon at 4 p.m., the adults drinking caffeine and pounding at their laptops in Starbucks were surprised when a group of budding poets burst into the room.
Fifteen third-, fourth- and fifth-graders from the Bancroft DC SCORES team had bused over to the Starbucks in Adams Morgan. Each student carried his or her poetry journal, with one special poem picked out to practice; when they saw me in my DC SCORES shirt, they ran over, eager to begin.
Tewelde, the manager of the Starbucks branch, had kindly set up a section of the store for DC SCORES performers to use. There were signs explaining to other customers that there was a poetry reading going on, and that everyone was welcome to stay and watch.
Bancroft is one of several DC SCORES elementary schools that have gotten the opportunity to attend a workshop throughout the city -- a very helpful exercise in preparing for the season-culminating Poetry Slam!. Starbucks has been very supportive and helpful in offering their space at different locations to our poet-athletes.
The session started with some warm-up exercises to get everyone’s body energized and ready to perform. The students practiced making different animal noises to stretch out their faces and warm up their vocal chords. Next, we did a shake-out, wiggling different body parts as we counted out loud.
Finally, we practiced some tongue twisters -- with our tongues hanging out of our mouths! This is a great -- and silly -- way to engage the tongue, lips and jaw muscles, which will ultimately make a performance more clear and enunciated.
Then the students sat in a circle and were treated to hot chocolate. Before they began reading their original works, we had a conversation about what makes a performance really good. Some great suggestions were made, such as: “Read slowly and clearly,” “project your voice,” don’t wriggle around,” “use acting and dancing.” Then we talked about how to help each other improve our performances. I introduced two important concepts, which the students defined as follows:
- Positive Feedback: a nice comment, something you like about someone’s poem, a compliment
- Constructive Criticism: a supportive way of telling someone how to make his or her performance better, a helpful suggestion
Since it was clear that the students had a strong grasp of these ideas, we dove into performance.
Each student stood in front of the group and read his or her poem. Some of the poems were long; some were short; some students were eager to perform, some needed encouragement from their teammates and coaches. After each reading, two of the performer’s classmates gave positive feedback, and then two offered constructive criticism.
When someone gave criticism that wasn’t constructive, he or she would be prompted by other classmates to make the comment more supportive. For example, when a third-grade girl said, “You need to stop mumbling,” one of the more seasoned poets (a fifth-grader) offered a friendlier alternative: “Your poem is good and we want to hear it! When you say it onstage, pretend like you’re yelling something across the field at a soccer game.”
The poet then practiced reciting the poem to Mr. Guzman and Ms. Raseman (his coaches), who were standing all the way at the back of the room. After two tries, the student could be heard across the room.
Despite a few distractions -- the occasional hot chocolate spill and giggle as someone from outside stopped and squished their face up to the glass -- the performers were incredibly supportive of one another. Some of the poems were serious, some were lighthearted; some rhymed and some were written in free verse; some of the poems were in Spanish, some in English.
Starbucks customers stopped and watched, clearly impressed by the young poets. Several of them took postcards with the Poetry Slam info.
After everyone performed and received feedback, the students said their team cheer and thanked the baristas. They then boarded the bus. There was still a lot of work to be done before the upcoming Poetry Slam!, but the students were well on their way to creating an engaging -- and loud -- performance.