What happens in Slam Club, stays in Slam Club…

Slam has been a huge part of my teaching life for over two years, and in that time I have worked with hundreds of young people, shared their stories and felt their passions. To find out more about what Slam is and to see some great examples, see my previous blog: ‘5 Reasons why you should bring spoken word into your classroom’

In this post I hope to give some advice and guidance for anyone who wants to set up a slam club at school.

Here are my Slam Club rules, agreed with my current team:

We Only Deal in Truths – writing is about communicating truth, so if it’s not true for you, it’s not worth your breath.

Keep it Personal – an audience will react more powerfully to a simply crafted, personal message than to a sophisticated, flowery abstract composition.

Throw NOTHING away – no scribbling out, throwing out or tearing out. Everything you write might be useful one day.

Nothing is Ever Finished – ‘finished’ is not a word we use because all writing is fluid. You will perform differently every time, lines will take on new significance. A solo piece may become a duet or part of a chorus. The possibilities are endless as long as you embrace the concept that your writing can take on a life of its own!

Once it’s out there, it’s fair game – try not to be possessive about your work. If you can allow others to steal lines and to reshape your piece into a collaborative poem, you will see it evolve. At it’s most powerful, Slam is a long term, collaborative process.

Start Small:

Slam is infectious, so don’t waste your time and energy with going into assemblies and producing sign up sheets. If you start with a small, hand chosen core of students, it will grow organically without much input from you. This way, you will a) have a small focused group from which to build and b) the other kids who join will be the ones who are really interested.

Talk to your colleagues about choosing your initial group: I would recommend no more than 12 at first (Slam is emotionally intense so more than this at the start may be a little overwhelming!). I always look for a range of abilities (Slam is NOT the sole province of G&T) and try to get some of those kids who need help to become re-engaged in school/English.

The Ripple Effect:

Meetings are the key. I would start with one hour a week. One hour in which to give students a powerful stimulus (film clip, line from a poem, real life event, concept, image, music) and just let them write, talk and explore. The role of the teacher here is to facilitate a conversation and encourage them to write EVERYTHING down. For me, meetings have always created a ripple effect… Students may only write three words in the first meeting, but that feeling of taking ownership of your thoughts and sharing them with others is infections and soon, they’re finding you in the corridor with scrumpled up notes – magic!

Enough with the Poetry:

When students first start to write, don’t refer to it as poetry all the time; make it clear that ideas come first, crafting and poetrification come later! This takes the pressure off, and allows for a free flow of ideas and (most importantly) words on a page which have the potential to become something.

Finding a Voice:

When it comes to performance, your job as the teacher is really just as a sounding board. Students need to take the time to practice again and again in front of a mirror, and over time they will naturally find the voice that works for them. Key things for you, the sounding board, to watch out for are…

Pace (is it too fast? Could they vary the speed of delivery for effect?)

Rhythm (could you play around with syllables to make things feel more rhythmic? E.g. ‘Family’ could be either fam-ly or fam-i-ly depending on what works best)

Volume (try to vary dynamics, but make sure above all that everything is loud enough to be heard)

Lines which ‘pop’ (help them to bring out the lines which are really great, significant moments)

Movement (choreography can work really well – anything from gesticulation to full bodily movement. Just remember, whatever you do should compliment the piece, not obscure its meaning.)

Finally, many of you will have had writers in to do workshops. I hope that having read this post you feel that you have a starting point to build up your own club without having to pay to get a writer in. If it comes from the school itself, things will be stronger. Don’t get me wrong, I think that getting writers into school is incredibly important and a brilliant experience for students. However, why not get them in to work with an already established group? Or get them to help you take things to the next level?

If you would like some recommendations for tried and tested writers to ask into school, how much you should be paying them and what you can ask them to do, please contact me via Twitter: @FunkyPedagogy.

Likewise, if you want any advice, ideas or support in setting up your own club then please drop me a line.

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