Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Poetry recitation

Poetry Recitation

Students must have selected a poem from the choices provided by the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, copies of which are distributed to the judges before the Fair.  The poem selected must be recited from memory.  Contestants will be judged on pronunciation, delivery and interpretation, and memorization (see judging form for exact percentages). 

Students sign up for the order in which they will present their poem.  Judges should make sure to get the sign-up sheet before the competition begins.  These will be posted outside the room where the event is taking place.

Students will bring a judging sheet, the top part of which they have filled out, and will give this to the judge before reciting the poem.  The judge will use the form to judge the students as they recite. 

Judging Criteria:
Pronunciation (40%), Delivery & Interpretation (40%), Memorization (20%)

NATIVE SPEAKERS AND SPEAKERS OF COGNATE LANGUAGES.  Native speakers may not participate in this event.  Native speakers are defined as students who have been raised speaking the target language, or who have had one or more years of study in a school in which the working language is the same as that of the target language.

Teacher’s Guide: 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 materials, organizing the school events, and keeping in touch with the state Poetry Out Loud coordinator.
Begin organizing your school event as early as possible in order to ensure greater attendance by the school community. Please see Publicity Tips for information on promoting the event within your school and community. Additional guidance, including sample press releases, can be found under Contest Promotion.
Classroom contests can be held during class periods. A school’s final contest should run less than two hours; any longer than that can be difficult for the audience. Ideally, 6 to 15 students should compete in each school’s final contest. If your school has 6 to 15 classes participating in the program, send one winner from each class to the school finals. If fewer than 6 classes are participating, 2 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 or three students from each grade to advance to the school finals. In structuring your contest(s), keep in mind that each recitation takes approximately 3 to 4 minutes. Judges will require another minute to mark scores, yielding a rough average of 4 to 5 minutes per recitation.
For the classroom contest, students must prepare at least one poem to recite. Participants in the school finals must prepare two poems for recitation. Students who advance to the state and national levels must have three poems prepared. Students will recite their poems in rounds, not consecutively, delivering one poem in each round. If the event will include a third round, it may consist of a smaller number of the highest-scoring competitors.
Students must select poems from the official Poetry Out Loud print or online anthologies. Not all poems on the CD or DVD are eligible for recitation in Poetry Out Loud. Any poem in the printed anthology is eligible for competition even if it is not available online.
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. For the state and national competitions, students must select one poem of 25 lines or shorter and one poem written before the 20th century. The same poem may be used to meet both requirements.
Students must provide the names of their poems and the order in which they will be recited in advance to the contest coordinator. Students may not change their poem selections or order once they have been submitted. This will enable the coordinator to have copies of the poems collated for the judges and prompter, and contest evaluation sheets prepared.
Reserve a school theater, auditorium, or other appropriate venue. The ideal setting will have a stage and theater-style seating. Competitors will stand alone on stage in front of the audience while reciting their poems. Other competitors may either be seated to the side of the stage or in the front row of the audience. Depending on the size of the venue, amplification may be appropriate.
At the school-wide competition, you will need volunteers to serve in a variety of roles:
Coordinator (1 or 2). The lead teacher(s) may be best suited for this role. The coordinator will ensure that the event runs smoothly, all volunteers are present, judges are briefed before the event, scoring is accurate, etc.
Emcee (1). An emcee will guide the competition from start to finish: providing welcoming remarks, introducing judges and students, and announcing winners. The emcee or the coordinator will need to keep an eye on the judges to make sure they have enough time to complete their scoring before the next student begins to recite. Since judges may need a minute between recitations to finish scoring and hand in their evaluation sheets, you may want to ask the emcee to entertain the audience or fill that time with biographical information about the poets or competing students (which you would need to have prepared). Another idea is to have music, live or recorded, between recitations.
Judges (3–5), accuracy judge (1). See Judging the Contest for advice on selecting judges.
Prompter (1). It is important to have someone following along with the recitations, ready to prompt a student who may get stuck on a line. Prepare a notebook with a large-font copy of each poem, in the order of recitation, for the prompter. Seat the prompter in the center of the front row, and have them follow along with the text as each student recites. Show the students where the prompter is sitting before the contest begins, so they know where to look if they get lost during their recitation. If a competitor is stuck for several seconds and looks to the prompter for help, the prompter may provide the next few words of the poem to get that student back on track.
Score tabulator (1–2). While the competition is taking place, someone should input the judges’ scores in a database so that no time is wasted totaling scores after the recitations are finished. An Excel spreadsheet works well for this purpose. A template is available on the website at It may be helpful if the tabulator has an assistant to collect the contest evaluation sheets.
Ushers. You may want to create a program for the event that lists the competitors and the poems they will be reciting, while also recognizing any local businesses that contributed to the contest. If so, plan on a few ushers to hand out programs.
At the competition, the emcee should introduce each student as they come to the stage to recite. It is the student’s job to identify the poem by announcing both the title and the author. (For example, “‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree,’ by William Butler Yeats” or “‘The New Colossus,’ by Emma Lazarus.”) The poem must be recited from memory. Recitations must include epigraphs and stanza numbers if included in the Poetry Out Loud anthology, but a student’s own editorial comments before or after the poem are not allowed. Footnotes included with the poem in the Poetry Out Loud anthology should not be included in the recitation.
A typical school competition may look something like this, based on 10 students, an average recitation time of 3–4 minutes each, and 1 minute between recitations for scoring:
1:00 pm Welcoming remarks and introduction of the judging panel, prompter, and accuracy judge. Recognition of any sponsors. Recap of the evaluation criteria for judging the recitations.
1:05–2:25 Recitations, taking place in two rounds. In the first round, each student will recite their first poem. In the second round, each student will recite their second poem.
2:25 Five-minute intermission for scoring to be completed and winner and runner-up to be determined.
2:30 Announcement of winner and runner-up. Presentation of certificates and any prizes.
A certificate of participation is available at the Poetry Out Loud website at You may wish to solicit prizes from local businesses, if appropriate. Select a school champion as well as a runner-up. Depending on the guidelines of your state competition, one or both of these students may advance to the next level of competition. Please check with your state Poetry Out Loud coordinator.

For Students: Evaluation Criteria

Teachers, coaches, and students may also find it useful to view the scoring rubric in the judge’s guide and on the Poetry Out Loud website. All evaluation criteria can be adjusted to accommodate students with disabilities. Additional guidance on implementing Poetry Out Loud for students with disabilities is available here.
This category is to evaluate the physical nature of the recitation. Consider the contestant’s poise, use of eye contact, and body language.
  • Advice for the student:
  • Present yourself well and be attentive. Look confident.
  • Engage your audience. Look them in the eye. Nervous gestures, poor eye contact with the audience, and lack of poise or confidence will detract from a competitor’s score.
Qualities of a strong recitation:
The competitor will appear at ease and comfortable with the audience. He or she will engage the audience through physical presence, including great body language, confidence, and eye contact—without appearing artificial. All qualities of the contestant’s physical presence will work together to the benefit of the poem. Nervous gestures, poor posture, and lack of confidence or eye contact with the audience will detract from a competitor’s score.
This category is to evaluate the auditory nature of the recitation. Consider the student’s volume, speed, use of voice inflection, and proper pronunciation. At the National Finals, contestants will use a microphone; when appropriate, one should be used in school and state competitions as well.
  • Advice for the student:
  • Project to the audience. You want to capture the attention of everyone, including the people in the back row.
  • Proceed at an appropriate and natural pace. People may speak or express themselves too quickly when they are nervous, which can make a recitation difficult to understand. Speak slowly, but not so slowly that the language sounds unnatural or awkward.
  • With rhymed poems, be careful not to recite in a sing-song manner.
  • Make sure you know how to pronounce every word in your poem. Articulate.
  • Line breaks are a defining feature of poetry, with each one calling for different treatment. Decide if a break requires a pause and, if so, how long to pause.
Qualities of a strong recitation:
All words will be pronounced correctly, and the volume, speed, pacing, and phrasing will greatly enhance the poem. Pacing will be varied where appropriate. Scores will be lower as a recitation falls short on one or more of these elements.
Recitation is about conveying a poem’s sense primarily with one’s voice. In this way, recitation is closer to the art of oral interpretation than theatrical performance. (Think storyteller or narrator rather than actor.) Students may find it challenging to convey the meaning of a poem without acting it out, but a strong performance will rely on a powerful internalization of the poem rather than distracting dramatic gestures.
The reciter represents the poet’s voice during the course of a recitation, not a character’s. The videos of outstanding student recitations (as well as the examples of poets reading their own work) will help illustrate this point. Appropriate dramatization subtly enhances the audience’s understanding and enjoyment of the poem without overshadowing the poem’s language.
  • Advice for the student:
  • Do not act out the poem. Too much dramatization can distract your audience from the language of the poem. Your goal should be to help audience members understand the poem more deeply than they had before hearing your recitation. Movement or accents should not detract from the author’s voice.
  • You are the vessel of your poem. Have confidence that your poem is strong enough to communicate its sounds and messages without a physical illustration. In other words, let the words of the poem do the work.
  • Depending on the poem, occasional gestures may be appropriate, but the line between appropriate and overdone is a thin one. When uncertain, leave them out.
  • Avoid monotone delivery. If you sound bored, you will project that boredom onto the audience. However, too much enthusiasm can make your performance seem insincere.
Qualities of a strong recitation:
The dramatization subtly highlights the meaning of the poem without becoming the focal point of the recitation. The performance is more about oral interpretation than dramatic enactment. A low score in this category will result from recitations that have affected character voices and accents, inappropriate tone, singing, distracting and excessive gestures, or unnecessary emoting.
This category is to evaluate the comparative difficulty of the poem, which is the result of several factors. A poem with difficult content conveys complex, sophisticated ideas, which the student will be challenged to grasp and express. A poem with difficult language will have complexity of diction and syntax, meter and rhyme scheme, and shifts in tone or mood. Poem length is also a factor in difficulty. Every poem is a different combination of content, language, and length, and the judges should score accordingly based on their independent evaluation of each poem.
  • Advice for the student:
  • For competitions beyond the classroom level, select poems of various styles, time periods, and tones. This diversity of selection will offer a richer and more complete performance. Note the additional poem-selection requirements for state and national contests, found on page 5.
This category is to evaluate whether the performer exhibits an understanding of the poem in his or her recitation.
  • Advice for the student:
  • In order for the audience to understand the poem fully, the performer must understand the poem fully. Be attentive to the messages, meanings, allusions, irony, tones of voice, and other nuances in your poem.
  • Be sure you know the meaning of every word and line in your poem. If you are unsure about something, it will be apparent to the audience and judges. Don’t hesitate to ask your teacher for help.
  • Listen to track 4 on the audio CD (or on the Poetry Out Loud website) 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.
Qualities of a strong recitation:
The meaning of the poem will be powerfully and clearly conveyed to the audience. The student will display an interpretation that deepens and enlivens the poem. Meaning, messages, allusions, irony, tones of voice, and other nuances will be captured by the performance. A low score will be awarded if the interpretation obscures the meaning of the poem.
This category is to evaluate the overall success of the recitation, taking into account the above criteria, the diversity of poem selection, and any other factors that may impact a judge’s perception of the student’s performance. Note that points in this category are doubled in weight.
A separate judge will mark missed or incorrect words during the recitation, with small deductions for each. If the contestant relies on the prompter, points also will be subtracted from the accuracy score. Eight points will be added to the competitor’s score for a perfect recitation. (See page 13 for additional guidance.)

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