Reciting Poetry for
Black History Month:
"Still I Rise," by
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.
One printout of the poem at the end of this Treat for each student
Time to memorize the poem
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.
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.
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.
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.
As you prepare to
"interpret" your poem out loud, think about what facial expressions you might
Match your facial
expressions to the mood and message of the poem.
exaggerate; keep your expressions in the same mood and tone as the words in the
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
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
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
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
one stanza is considered
and is left
out of this version