NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR THE ARTS
NATIONAL RECITATION CONTEST
No student will be excluded from participation in this program on the basis of race, color,
religion, sex, disability, or national origin.
Additional copies of this publication can be downloaded at www.poetryoutIoud.org.
This publication is published by:
National Endowment for the Arts
1100 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20506-0001
202-682-5400 / www.arts.gov
The National Endowment for the Arts is a public agency dedicated to supporting excellence in the
arts — both new and established — bringing the arts to all Americans, and providing leadership in arts
education. Established by Congress in 1965 as an independent agency of the federal government,
the Endowment is the nation's largest annual f under of the arts, bringing great art to all 50 states,
including rural areas, inner cities, and military bases.
The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine, is an independent literary organization
committed to a vigorous presence for poetry in our culture. It has embarked on an ambitious plan
to bring the best poetry before the largest possible audiences.
PHOTOS (LEFT TO RIGHT, TOP TO BOTTOM): P 6 POETRY MAGAZINE, KATHLEEN RUTLEDGE, JOSEPH BREITENBACH, POETRY MAGAZINE, MARC NORBERG, ROBERT FRANK,
JILL D'ALESSANDRO; P 10 TOD MARTENS, BARBARA SAVAGE CHERESH, DONNA LEE, MATTHEW CARLOS SCHWARTZ, POETRY MAGAZINE, DAVID BARTOLOMI, ALFRED
MOSKOWITZ; P 12 GORDEN PARKES, HANK DE LEO, DAVID BURCKHALTER, GEORGE CSERNA, JOHN EDDY, ANGUS MCBEAN, JEFF ETHERIDGE; P 16 DON GETSUG STUDIOS,
JOANN CARNEY, ERIC STEHLBERG, COURTESY OF THE NEWBERRY LIBRARY, POETRY MAGAZINE, POETRY MAGAZINE, POETRY MAGAZINE; P 18 HULLEAH TSINHNAHJINNIE.
COURTESY OF THE ROSENBACH MUSEUM, POETRY MAGAZINE, PHOTOGRAPHER UNKNOWN, JULIET VAN OTTEREN, COLLEEN MCKAY, JAMES H. MITCHELL, MD.
LETTERS OF WELCOME 4
PROGRAM OVERVIEW 7
ORGANIZING THE CONTEST EVENTS 8
CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES 11
SUGGESTED CLASS SCHEDULE 13
EVALUATION CRITERIA 14
CONTEST EVALUATION SHEET 15
NCTE ENGLISH LANGUAGE ARTS STANDARDS 17
LETTERS OF WELCOME
The memorization and recitation of poetry have been central elements of education since ancient
times. Performance is also a major new trend in poetry. This recent resurgence of poetry as an oral art
form can be seen in the slam poetry movement and in the immense popularity of rap music.
The National Endowment for the Arts and The Poetry Foundation have partnered with the State Arts
Agencies on an exciting new program, Poetry Out Loud: National Recitation Contest, which invites the
dynamic aspects of slam poetry, spoken word, and theater into the English class. Poetry Out Loud helps
students master public speaking skills, build self-confidence, and learn about their literary heritage.
Learning great poetry by heart develops the mind and the imagination. By encouraging your students
to study, memorize, and perform some of the most influential and timeless poems of the English
language, you immerse them in powerful language and provocative ideas.
Although many students may initially be nervous about reciting in front of their teenage peers, the
experience will prove valuable — not only in school, but also in life. Much of the future success of
students will depend on how well they present themselves in public. Whether talking to one person
or many, public speaking is a skill people use everyday in both the workplace and the community.
Poetry recitation as a competitive event is as old as the Olympic Games. Along with wrestling, long-
distance running, and the javelin toss, the ancient Olympics included contests in music and poetry.
Performers trained for years and traveled great distances to the Games. Please join us in restoring
the energy and esprit of poetry recitation nationwide as Poetry Out Loud.
National Endowment for the Arts
4 POETRY OUT LOUD
Can there be any subject more difficult to teach in the classroom than poetry? Students who take their
culture at the speed of the Internet may not easily find it in a measured, majestic poem that comes
down to us from the past. But a great poem has much to tell if we can find a way to listen. It will speak
to us and for us, giving voice to times of great joy or great loss. As we grow ofder it will grow with
us, waiting to give new meaning to our deepening experience. "Why should I study this poem," the
Internet-sawy student may ask, "let alone try to learn it by heart?" And we may answer, "Because
it is a chance to make a friend for life."
The Poetry Out Loud: National Recitation Contest brings new energy to an ancient art by returning
it to the classrooms of America. The public recitation of great poetry is a way to honor the speaker,
the poem and the audience all at once. Hearing a poem spoken aloud, we discover that a poem is before
anything else an event of the ear. In the hands of the poet our everyday speech becomes a musical
instrument. The meaning of the poem, we find, lies as much in the sound of its words as in their sense.
Hearing the spoken words of the ancient poets we learn that we are not alone, that men and women
always have felt as we feel, that the human spirit has been the unchanging constant in the history
of our kind. Hearing the voices of our contemporary poets we learn again that we are not alone, that
in our individuality we are a community. In this way the recitation of poetry brings history to life;
in this way it creates community.
The Poetry Foundation is committed to a vigorous presence for poetry in our culture. Through its
programs the Foundation seeks to make poetry directly relevant to the American public. We are excited
to join with the National Endowment for the Arts in the Poetry Out Loud: National Recitation Contest.
The Poetry Foundation
NATIONAL RECITATION CONTEST 5
6 POETRY OUT LOUD
HISTORY OF PROGRAM
In spring 2005 several thousand students participated in successful pilot programs of Poetry Out Loud
in Washington, DC and Chicago, Illinois. The program has now been expanded to state capitals across
America. More than 250,000 students will take part in Poetry Out Loud this year.
Poetry Out Loud uses a pyramid structure. Beginning at the classroom level, winners from each class
will advance to a school-wide competition. Each school will then send a finalist to the state-capital
competition. In May 2006 one student from each state will compete in the National Finals in
CLASSROOM TIME AND SCHEDULE
The curriculum for Poetry Out Loud has been intentionally designed to fit into a teacher's busy schedule
without much disruption. The program takes place over the span of two to three weeks, according
to each teacher's interest and schedule, and it will not require full class periods during that time.
To accommodate schools' testing demands and vacation calendars, Poetry Out Loud can be
implemented any time during January through March.
Poetry Out Loud satisfies nearly all of the NCTE English Language Arts Standards (detailed information
follows). In addition to memorizing and performing great poems, students will have the opportunity
to discuss poems and — if the teacher wishes to use the optional lesson plans on the website — to write
poetry of their own.
The following prizes are offered for the official contests identified and conducted by the National
Endowment for the Arts and the government State Arts Agencies during the spring of 2006. The prizes
do not apply to other contests.
Each winner at the state level will receive $200 and an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington (with a
chaperone) to compete for the national championship. The state winner's school will receive a $500
stipend for the purchase of poetry books. One runner-up in each state will receive $100, with $200
for his or her school library.
A total of $50,000 in scholarships and school stipends will be awarded to the winners at the Poetry Out
Loud National Finals.
NATIONAL RECITATION CONTEST 7
ORGANIZING THE CONTEST EVENTS
We recommend that each school identify one or two teachers to serve as the coordinators of Poetry
Out Loud. Duties for Lead Teachers will include enlisting fellow teachers to participate, distributing the
materials, organizing the school finals event, and keeping in touch with the State Coordinator. (Search
"State Contacts" on the website, www.poetryoutIoud.org, to identify your State Coordinator.)
We recommend that you organize your school event as soon as possible, in order to ensure greater
attendance by the school community. The website includes tips on promoting the event within your
school and community.
JUDGING THE CLASSROOM AND SCHOOL CONTESTS
The classroom teacher can serve as the sole judge for the classroom contests. At the school finals, three
to five judges should be sufficient — a group of teachers may serve as judges, or you may invite some
community members to judge the contest. Appropriate judges to invite could be local poets, actors,
politicians, professors, arts reporters, or members of the school board.
We recommend that you print the Evaluation Scoresheets before the school contest, including the
names of the participants and, if possible, the titles of the poems they will recite. This will save time
for the judges during the contest and will allow them to focus their full attention on the performers.
Even the most experienced actors can forget their lines. It is very helpful to have a teacher or student
sit in front of the performers with copies of the poems to read along with the recitations, ready to
prompt a student who may get stuck on a line. Show the performers where the Prompter is sitting
before the contest begins, so they know where to look if they get lost during their recitations. If a
performer is stuck for several seconds and looks to the Prompter for help, the Prompter may whisper
the first words of the next line to get the performer back on track.
We advise you to assign a separate judge or a diligent student to serve as an Accuracy Judge. On a copy
of the poem, the Accuracy Judge should mark missed or incorrect words made during the recitation.
The teacher or lead judge can decide on the point scale for evaluating accuracy (i.e. minus one point
for a couple of minor mistakes, minus two points for several mistakes or for missing lines, etc.). If the
performer relies too heavily on the Prompter, points may be subtracted from the performer's accuracy
score. (As many as four points may be subtracted.)
CONTEST SCORING ADVICE
The judges usually need a few seconds between recitations to score the previous performance. Make
sure the host waits for the judges' acknowledgment before the next performer begins. It is also helpful
to have a couple of people tallying scores during the contest, so the winners may be announced at the
end of the event.
POEM SELECTION AND PERFORMANCE TIME
Students may select poems from the paper or online anthologies. All poems are at least eight but no
more than 60 lines in length. The maximum time per poem should be about three or four minutes.
8 POETRY OUT LOUD
LENGTH OF CONTEST - LARGE AND SMALL SCHOOLS
A contest event should run for less than two hours; any longer than that can be difficult for the
audience. Ideally, six to 15 students should compete in each school's final contest. If your school has
six to 15 classes participating in the program, send one winner from each class to the school finals.
If fewer than six classes are participating, two students from each class may advance to the school
finals. If more than 15 classes are participating, you might consider holding grade-level competitions
first, allowing two students from each grade to advance to the school finals.
NUMBER OF POEMS AT EACH CONTEST LEVEL
At the classroom contest, students must prepare one poem for recitation. Participants in the school
finals must prepare two poems for recitation. For the students who advance to the state and national
levels, three poems must be prepared for recitation.
It is strongly recommended that students who compete beyond the classroom level select poems
of various style, time period, and voice. That diversity of selection will offer a richer and more
MOVEMENT, MUSIC, AND COSTUMES
The recitation of poetry, in this context, is a bit different than theater acting. No music, costumes,
or props may be used. However, gestures and some amount of movement may be appropriate and
should be encouraged, depending on the poem.
INTRODUCING THE POEM
At the competition, students should stand before the audience, introduce themselves, and identify the
poem they will perform. They should announce both the title and the author of the poem. (For example,
"This is 'The Lake Isle of Innisfree,' by William Butler Yeats," or "I will be reciting 'The New Colossus,'
by Emma Lazarus.") The poem must be recited from memory.
ACCOMMODATIONS FOR STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES
All evaluation criteria can be adjusted to accommodate students with disabilities. If an element
of evaluation cannot apply to a contestant, you may remove it from the score sheet and average
the applicable scores rather than add them. Additional guidance on implementing Poetry Out Loud
for students with disabilities is available on the website, www.poetryoutIoud.org.
We recommend that you provide a sign language interpreter at your school finals if you expect to have
audience members who would benefit from that service. Signing students may perform with a voice
interpreter, and you may enlist judges who know sign language.
ADDITIONAL SCHOOL PRIZES
Some schools have given their finalists extra prizes, ranging from gift certificates to anthologies. It may
be appropriate to ask a local business (bookstore, cafe, record store, etc.) to donate those additional
prizes. This is, of course, optional.
NATIONAL RECITATION CONTEST 9
I like to think he knew that, even when,
proud (orgulloso) of his daughter's pen,
he stood outside mis versos, half in fear
of words he loved but wanted not to hear.
RHINA P. ESPAILLAT
10 POETRY OUT LOUD
1 Have students browse the poems. We have provided classroom poetry anthologies and an extensive
online anthology that includes several browsing options. Allow time for the students to browse
the selection, either as homework or a classroom activity, and have the students select some poems
they might memorize.
2 Begin class with a poem a day. Another way to expose students to poetry that they might not
discover on their own is to read or recite a poem to them at the start of each class period. The
website, www.poetryoutIoud.org, includes poet biographies that may be read aloud, as well.
3 Ask each student to select a poem to memorize. At the classroom level, each student must choose
one poem of eight or more lines to memorize and prepare for performance. Participants in the
school-wide competitions will prepare two poems to recite. Students who advance to the citywide,
statewide, or national levels will prepare three poems.
4 Discuss the poems in class. Understanding the text is the most important preparation for reading
poetry aloud. If a performer doesn't understand the text, neither will the audience. Lead class
discussions about the students' selected poems. (Dictionaries may be necessary for this activity.)
Depending on class size, it might be wise to divide the students into groups of six to eight for
discussions and text analyses.
5 Have students memorize the poems. Share these memorization tips with your students: 1. Rewrite
your poem by hand several times. Each time, try to write more and more of it from memory. 2. Read
your poem aloud before going to sleep at night, and repeat it when you wake up. 3. Carry around a
copy of your poem in your pocket or bag. You'll find several moments throughout the day to reread
or recite it. 4. Practice your poem by saying it to family and friends.
6 Model recitation skills in the classroom. The teacher should model both effective and ineffective
recitation practices, asking students to point out which elements of the performance are successful
and which are not. On the board, develop a list of bad habits that distract the audience or
take away from the performance, such as inaudible volume, speaking too quickly, monotone voice,
fidgeting, and mispronunciations. Then develop a list of elements that a successful recitation
performance should contain, such as sufficient volume, an appropriate speed with the proper
pauses, voice inflection, evidence of understanding, pronunciation, and eye contact with the
audience. The teacher may also play portions of the audio CD for the students, as further examples
of recitation practices.
7 Practice the poems. Allow class time for students to practice their poems. Break the class into pairs
of students (rotating each session), and have each student practice with a partner. Partners should
offer constructive criticism, using the Evaluation Sheet and Criteria as a guide.
8 Include creative writing exercises. Creative writing is a natural complement to Poetry Out Loud.
For that reason, we have developed a number of optional writing exercises and lesson plans for
teachers. You can find them on the website, www.poetryoutIoud.org.
NATIONAL RECITATION CONTEST II
12 POETRY OUT LOUD
SUGGESTED CLASS SCHEDULE
1 Have students browse the anthologies and choose poems to memorize. (1 full class)
2 Read and discuss the poems in class. (2-3 full classes)
3 Model effective and ineffective recitation practices for the students. (1 full class)
4 Have students practice their poems with partners. (15 minutes per day)
1 Have students practice their poems with different partners each day. They should also work
on their memorization and performance outside of school. Students should have their poems
completely memorized and be able to recite without using a page by the end of the week.
(15 minutes per day)
2 Implement the writing exercises and lesson plans. While reserving a portion of each class period
for recitation practice, you might offer a more complete poetry unit that includes creative writing
elements, using the provided lessons. (1-5 full classes, optional)
3 Hold the classroom recitation contests at the end of the week. (1-2 full classes)
1 Winners of the classroom contests will prepare two poems for recitation, and will compete
in the school-wide competition at the end of this week. (1 hour)
NATIONAL RECITATION CONTEST 13
All evaluation criteria can be adjusted to accommodate students with disabilities. If an element
of evaluation cannot apply to a contestant, you may remove it from the score sheet and average the
applicable scores rather than add them. Additional guidance on implementing Poetry Out Loud for
students with disabilities is available on the website, www.poetryoutIoud.org.
Project to the audience. You want to capture the
attention of everyone, including the people in the
Perform at a natural pace. People may speak
or express themselves too quickly when they are
nervous, which can make a performance difficult
to understand. Speak slowly, but not so slowly
that the language sounds unnatural or awkward.
Avoid monotone recitation. If you sound bored,
you will project that boredom onto the audience.
However, too much enthusiasm can make your
performance seem insincere.
POSTURE AND PRESENCE
Use good posture and be attentive.
EVIDENCE OF UNDERSTANDING
Be sure you know the meaning and correct
pronunciation of every word and line in your
poem. If you are unsure about something, it
will be apparent to the audience. Don't hesitate
to ask your teacher for help.
Make sure you know how to pronounce or sign
every word in your poem. Articulate.
Depending on the poem, gestures and some
amount of movement may be appropriate
and should be encouraged, as long as they are
Engage your audience. Look them in the eye.
If you have trouble with that, focus past them to
the far wall, but try not to keep your head down.
LEVEL OF DIFFICULTY
The difficulty of the poem you perform will be
gauged, taking into account length, diction, and
density of language. It is strongly recommended
that students who compete beyond the classroom
level select poems of various style, time period,
and voice. That diversity of selection will offer a
richer and more complete performance.
Contest judges will evaluate the overall success
of your performance.
A separate judge will mark missed or incorrect
words made during the recitation. If you rely on
the Prompter too much, points may be subtracted
from your accuracy score. (As many as four
points may be subtracted.)
A note to students on interpretation: Listen
to the track on the audio CD in which poet
David Mason introduces Yeats' "The Lake Isle
of Innisfree." In his comments, he advises you
to think about how you should interpret the
tone and volume and voice of your poem. Is it
a quiet poem? Is it a boisterous poem? Should it
be read more quickly or slowly, with a happy
or mournful tone? Your interpretation will be
different for each poem, and it is a crucial
element of your performance.
14 POETRY OUT LOUD
CONTEST EVALUATION SHEET
NAME OF PERFORMER
TITLE OF POEM
Posture and Presence
Evidence of Understanding
Level of Difficulty
ACCURACY (SUBTRACT UP TO 4 POINTS)
[PHOTOCOPY THIS PAGE AS NECESSARY]
NATIONAL RECITATION CONTEST 15
What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
I have forgotten, and what arms have Iain
Under my head till morning.
EDNA ST. VINCENT MILLAY
16 POETRY OUT LOUD
NCTE ENGLISH LANGUAGE ARTS STANDARDS
Poetry Out Loud fulfills the following NCTE Standards: 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12. Teachers who make
use of the optional writing activities and lesson plans found at www.poetryoutIoud.org will also satisfy
1 Students read a wide range of print and
non-print texts to build an understanding
of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures
of the United States and the world; to acquire
new information; to respond to the needs
and demands of society and the workplace;
and for personal fulfillment. Among these
texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and
2 Students read a wide range of literature
from many periods in many genres to build
an understanding of the many dimensions
(e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic)
of human experience.
3 Students apply a wide range of strategies
to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and
appreciate texts. They draw on their prior
experience, their interactions with other
readers and writers, their knowledge of
word meaning and of other texts, their
word identification strategies, and their
understanding of textual features (e.g.,
sound-letter correspondence, sentence
structure, context, graphics).
4 Students adjust their use of spoken, written,
and visual language (e.g., conventions, style,
vocabulary) to communicate effectively
with a variety of audiences and for different
5 Students employ a wide range of strategies as
they write and use different writing process
elements appropriately to communicate with
different audiences for a variety of purposes.
6 Students apply knowledge of language
structure, language conventions (e.g.,
spelling and punctuation), media techniques,
figurative language, and genre to create,
critique, and discuss print and non-print texts.
7 Students conduct research on issues and
interests by generating ideas and questions,
and by posing problems. They gather,
evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety
of sources (e.g., print and non-print texts,
artifacts, people) to communicate their
discoveries in ways that suit their purpose
8 Students use a variety of technological
and information resources (e.g., libraries,
databases, computer networks, video)
to gather and synthesize information and
to create and communicate knowledge.
9 Students develop an understanding of
and respect for diversity in language use,
patterns, and dialects across cultures, ethnic
groups, geographic regions, and social roles.
10 Students whose first language is not English
make use of their first language to develop
competency in the English language arts and
to develop understanding of content across
11 Students participate as knowledgeable,
reflective, creative, and critical members
of a variety of literacy communities.
12 Students use spoken, written, and visual
language to accomplish their own purposes
(e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion,
and the exchange of information).
NATIONAL RECITATION CONTEST 17
To pray you open your whole self
To sky, to earth, to sun, to moon
To one whole voice that is you.
18 POETRY OUT LOUD
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