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Multiculturalism        < Previous        Next >

 

Reciting Poetry for Black History Month:

"Still I Rise," by Maya Angelou

 

Today's Snack: We need to have a snack that "rises," based on the poem that's the centerpiece of today's activity. So why not get a tube of refrigerated, crescent-shaped dough, wrap each triangular piece around a hot dog, and bake, according to package directions? The dough won't rise much, but it'll rise enough to be noticeable, so point out what happens to yeast in bread - it "rises" as it gets warm. So this treat is the perfect WARM-UP for this activity. These are called "Pigs in a Blanket." Serve with a little ketchup and mustard, and some chocolate milk.

 

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Supplies:

One printout of the poem at the end of this Treat for each student

Time to memorize the poem

Dictionary

Videocamera

Device to play videos on a TV screen

 

 

To recite a poem aloud effectively, you need to use the best acting skills, which in turn are the best communication skills. Use the checklist, below, to improve your skills in this fun and meaningful way.

 

If you're in a group, it might be fun to do a "pre-test" exercise first. Let one student read the tips in this Treat in advance - but read the poem aloud doing the WRONG things!

 

Set aside a stage area, and set up a camera on a tripod. Have the student read this poem aloud - making mistakes on purpose and exaggerating them -- and videotape that presentation for the other students to critique, immediately. The student might mispronounce words, for example, scratch himself, get "stumped" and stand there in embarrassed silence, etc.

 

Make sure it's all in fun and that everybody knows the mistakes were made on purpose. But then talk about those mistakes, and how you can recite a poem aloud effectively.

 

Then videotape each student reciting this poem, and at the end of the "live" performances, go back and play the videotapes. Allow ONLY the person who is performing to critique his or her own performance with constructive criticism. Other students can ONLY give positive feedback. This is to make sure that nobbody's feelings get hurt, and everybody learns how to be a better public speaker!

 

Go over these tips and let the students take notes. Or print them out for them.

 

As you memorize the famous poem printed below, by African-American writer Maya Angelou, be thinking of the following keys to effective oral interpretation. You can excel at saying poems out loud by heart, if you follow these basic tips.

 

Memorization Takes Work

 

         Saying a poem out loud is like acting it out. It takes skill and practice to do it well.

 

         Make sure you know how to pronounce all the words in the poem, and understand what they mean. Use a dictionary! Make notes.

 

         If you keep stumbling over a particular word, practice it by itself. Then practice saying it correctly in the phrase that it's in. Then practice the whole stanza, or poem section, that it's in. Master the word in context, and your delivery will be flowing and enjoyable.

 

         Practice the poem so many times that you know it by heart. It is embarrassing to get up in public and forget part of your presentation. Pretend that you are making up the poem as you go - that you are so brilliant, you can do that!!!

 

         Practice in front of a mirror or another person to keep the memorization process fun, and get instant feedback to make your presentation better.

 

 

Voice Emphasis

 

         Vary your pitch (how high or low your voice speaks), rate (how fast or slow) and volume (loud or soft), to match the message, or meaning, of the words in the poem.

 

         Slow down! Most students speak too quickly. Speaking too fast gives the audience the idea that you are nervous. You don't want that!

 

         Speak "in character." Let your voice show personality and emotion.

 

         You can change the meaning of a line by emphasizing a particular word.

 

         Underline words that you want to emphasize as you memorize a poem.

 

 

Body Movement and Gestures

 

         As you read the poem, make a list of the emotions that it brings up.

 

         Think about how your body, especially your hands, can show those emotions. By leaning forward? Hand on hip? Pointing? Making a fist?

 

         When you are finished making a gesture with your hands, put them back down at your sides, relaxed. Otherwise, they will be a distraction. You want people mostly to look at your face and concentrate on the words you are saying.

 

         Most of the time, your hands should hang down at your sides, "offstage." Don't fold them across your chest, fiddle with your clothes or your hair, or clasp your hands together. Don't let your hands become distracting!

 

         Think about whether your body should move fast, or slow, depending on the tone of the poem.

 

         As you practice saying the poem aloud, make sure that your body moves in a consistent manner with the message and mood of the poem.

 

         Avoid exaggerated movement and gestures; they will detract from the meaning of the poem. Think of using your body and hands as SUPPORTING the message, but not BEING the message.

 

 

Facial Expressions

 

         As you prepare to "interpret" your poem out loud, think about what facial expressions you might make.

 

         Match your facial expressions to the mood and message of the poem.

 

         Again, don't exaggerate; keep your expressions in the same mood and tone as the words in the poem.

 

         Always feel free to let your facial expressions match the feelings that the words in the poem give you, so that your audience can feel what YOU are feeling.

 

 

Stance & Posture

 

         Stand in a balanced way, with your feet approximately shoulder width apart. A "stance" is a position that your body takes, as in football or golf. The audience has confidence in you when you have a confident stance.

 

         Don't annoy or distract the audience by swaying side to side, shifting your weight from foot to foot, jiggling a foot or knee, or pacing from one side of the "stage" to the other.

 

         But don't be afraid to change your stance for a special purpose. For example, you might stomp your foot to show stubbornness or anger, bow down briefly, or you might cross one foot and ankle behind the other, to show that you're being bashful.

 

         Keep your back straight, your shoulders proudly back, and keep your head pretty much pointed straight at your audience.

 

         You can vary your posture if you need to, briefly, to "act out" your poem, but don't overdo it. So if there's a sad part, you can drop your head for a moment and bring it back up.

 

Eye Contact

 

         Keep eye contact with your audience - not always the same person, but try to look at each individual person for a few seconds as you speak.

 

         Don't move your eyes around the audience too quickly, though. That's distracting!

 

         If you look away from you audience members, you are giving them permission to look away from you.

 

         If you bob your head from left to right, it'll make the audience feel like they're watching a tennis match, and get a neck ache! Keep your gaze fairly steady, but do move it around so that every audience member feels that you're speaking to him or her.

 

Getting a Good Start

 

         Your performance begins as soon as you are introduced. When they call your name, "you're on"!

 

         All eyes are on you as you walk up to the front of the room. Walk confidently to the place where you will deliver your presentation and stand in a balanced stance with your hands down at your sides.

 

         Establish eye contact with audience members, waits until they are all silent, and then begin with the title of the poem, the author's name, and after a brief pause, the poem itself.

 

         Be yourself, but don't giggle or say you're nervous. Act confident and it will put your audience at ease. You want them on your side, and you want them to enjoy the poem and the wonderful way that you are delivering it!

 

 

Still I Rise

By Maya Angelou

 

 

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies.
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don't you take it awful hard
'Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines
Diggin' in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise.

Out of the huts of history's shame
I rise
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I rise
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

 

 

 

          one stanza is considered inappropriate

for school-age audiences,

and is left out of this version

 

By Susan Darst Williams www.AfterSchoolTreats.com Multiculturalism 12 2010

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