What does it take to become involved in Poetry Out Loud?

Poetry Out Loud is entering its 13th exciting year in Tennessee. Poetry Out Loud is administered by the Tennessee Arts Commission. Contact Meredith Callis at (615) 532-5934 or email for information and a toolkit. The Poetry Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Tennessee Arts Commission provide all the necessary materials for sponsoring a Poetry Out Loud contest in your school.

What does Poetry Out Loud look like in a school?

  • An individual teacher, a group of teachers in the English, Drama, Forensics or Creative Writing department or club, decides to offer this opportunity to students. Teachers then implement the program in various ways including but not limited to:
  • A unit on poetry based on the poems in this program in English or drama classes, culminating in recitations by each student in front of the class, possibly using lesson plans that will be provided
  • The offering of extra credit to students who participate
  • An after-school opportunity for students who volunteer to participate
  •  A school-wide celebration of poetry
  • The winner from your school will participate at the state contest to be held in TBD

Exactly what must the students who enter this program do?

Students should choose 3 poems to memorize and present. There are hundreds of poems from which to choose on the Poetry Out Loud website; approximately 100 of these poems will also be available in a paper anthology. The poem selected for recitation must be at least 8, but no more than 60, lines.

It is strongly recommended that students who compete beyond the classroom level select poems of various style, time period, and voice. Diversity in the selections will offer a richer and more complete performance. At the state and national competitions, each student must recite at least one poem written before the 20th century. At least one of the three poems must also be 25 lines or shorter.

Each judge will have a complete list of every competitor’s selections in advance so they may familiarize themselves with the poems and develop a sense of diversity and range.

Each student must recite the poem without the use of props, costumes, amplification, or music. Gestures and some amount of movement may be appropriate and encouraged, depending on the poem. Style and interpretation are most definitely encouraged!

Can students choose poetry outside of the poems in the anthology?

No. The Poetry Out Loud website includes an online anthology of more than 600 poems that will continue to expand. Students must choose from that selection.

Is there a creative writing element to Poetry Out Loud?

The central objective of the program is to familiarize students with the best of their literary heritage, while teaching them important public speaking skills. Poetry Out Loud is not intended to replace classroom activities like creative writing; in fact, the two naturally complement each other. For that reason, the POL website has a number of optional writing activities and lesson plans for teachers.

What happens after the school chooses a winner?

The school’s POL teacher/school coordinator will send the names of the school champion and titles of his or her three poems to the Tennessee Arts Commission.

What are the benefits and aids for participating teachers?

Program guide to help teach recitation and performance contained on the website

Extensive online poetry anthology and a comprehensive website

Drama and poetry specialists available to conduct workshops to help your students

Standards information contained on the website

Far-reaching benefits for students—including enhanced public speaking skills—and for teachers, including an enriched literary and drama curriculum


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