A recurring theme in many of my blog posts is the importance of providing students with an authentic audience for their knowledge and skills. Sure, some students will do a great job in school because they have that kind of work ethic, but others need to know that there is a bigger purpose. One of the top five memories in my class for the past six years is Poetry Night. This is a night that stretches comfort zones, demonstrates extreme teamwork, and allows students to showcase their creativity and poetic talents. And when it is all over, what a sense of accomplishment!
Photo: Rehearsing the drums that are played in between poems.
The Studio 24 Poetry Night production has transformed over the years. It was inspired by the talk of some of my colleagues and has grown exponentially in my mind since then. Do not feel overwhelmed with all that goes into my Poetry Night: it has components that are practiced from the first day of school. Start out small and layer on new ideas each year.
The environment at Poetry Night is probably the most critical piece of the evening's success. Although the easiest place to do the event is the gym, I prefer to transform our media center into the cozy Poets' Fireside Cafe, complete with red tablecloths, candles on the tables, seating arrangement cards, a faux brick fireplace, welcoming PowerPoint slides, and music. You can see the results in the photos below. My aim is to create an intimate environment, and I never combine my evening with another teacher's night. The intimacy would be lost and the parents and students would get bored.
Photo: Bookshelves are covered with a plastic brick scene setter to help create the intimate evening.
Flow of Activities
Of course there are poems, but like any good television show, there must be different segments to keep the two hours feeling like a five minute experience. A typical night might flow like this:
- 6:15: Guests arrive and are seated by the hostess. Drinks and desserts are served by the waitstaff. A dozen or more treats are the entrance fee to the event. The students love dressing up like waiters with their towels and serving trays. The parents think it is quite fun to see their children acting like mini adults.
- 6:35 Opening Number: We start the show with a song and dance number that we've been practicing since the first week of school. The Muppet Show theme is the tune, and it is part of our morning routine. By the time Poetry Night comes around, it's a comfortable and impressive way for the kids to kick off the show. Add a couple of plastic black and white hats from the dollar store and the students are energized.
- 6:40: Two hosts keep the first half of the show moving by talking about poem types and what the class learned, telling a few jokes, and introducing students to read their poems.
- 7:10: Before intermission we do a creative segment. In past years this has been shadow dancing (inspired by the group Pilobolus), magic, or a technology showcase. This year we chose our two best student-designed historical broadcasts to entertain the audience.
- 7:20 Intermission: The new waitstaff freshen up drinks and give out more desserts. This year during intermission we did a flash mob dance to Shakira's "Waka Waka" song. Raffle tickets are distributed for some additional second-half excitement.
- 7:40: The second half of the show starts. New hosts and new poets. The hosts for the second half have the pleasure of raffling off the waiters' limited edition Poetry Night towels. Some years I get donations and gift certificates from local businesses to raffle off as well.
- 8:10: We promote the class poetry book that we publish annually with Studentreasures (about $18 per hardbound book, one free for the teacher). We thank everyone for coming.
- 8:15 Dance Number Two: We do our end of the day "Bye Bye Bye" dance (thank you, N'Sync). And the night is over.
Another thing that keeps the night flowing is that parents are constantly watching their child do a different job. The schedule is complex, but with some organization and rehearsal (and duplication of job duties), it works beautifully. Here are all the jobs students can have during the evening. All students have a minimum of four jobs. (Below are the numbers I use for a 28-student classroom.)
- Hostess: Two students to help seat
- Waiters: Twelve students to wait on the parents; twelve additional students at intermission
- Raffle: Two students to pass out raffle tickets
- Announcers: Two students for the first half and two for the second
- Poems: All students read at least two poems
- Drums: Three students at a time work the drums to fill the dead air between poems
- Lights: Two students in each half control spotlights
- Computer: Two students for each half run the PowerPoint slides that are coordinated to each poem
- Musical Numbers: All students participate in the opening, closing, and mid-show performances
Photos below: Drummers, complete with stylish sunglasses and berets. Poet sharing with the audience. Waitstaff serving their families.
I make sure two poems are read each year. "Pretty Good" by Charles Osgood describes my teaching philosophy and the philosophy of many of the students in the class. "Lost Generation" is a clever poem about the importance of a positive attitude, brilliantly done, as you will see in this video.
So how do I fund this evening? Well, the desserts are brought in by the parents. In the photo you can see some customized 2i2 (our class trademark) cupcakes. I also put out a tip jar. All tips earned by the waitstaff help to pay for the plates, drinks, popcorn, etc. Any leftover money is used to purchase something that will add to the next year's production.
Of course, there are a multitude of details that I have not included here. I hope I provided a few ideas for you to use with your students.
I want to say a special thanks to Ms. Wendy, Mrs. Dombrow, and Luke for their assistance with technology and popcorn during this year's event, and an additional thank you to the Integrity Bros. (Michael Carney, Tyler Skurda, Jacob Tsatsanis, Alex Wiegand, and Anthony Zipay) for working the dessert and pop stations.
Feel free to use these ideas with your students, unless of course you are in my building; I respectfully ask that you allow this to remain a special 4th grade memory.
2i2 is a trademark of Mr. Vasicek's classroom. It respresents living your life to its fullest potential and doing it with integrity.