Speaking Up and Speaking Out | Facing History & Ourselves
Facing History & Ourselves
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Speaking Up and Speaking Out

Students analyse a spoken word poem about bullying and consider how they might use their voices to call attention to injustice in their schools or communities.


This resource is intended for educators in the United Kingdom.

At a Glance

lesson copy


English — UK


Two 50-min class periods
  • Democracy & Civic Engagement


About This Lesson

In previous lessons, students learned about ways that individuals and groups in East London and Bristol worked together in order to take action in response to injustices. They also considered the role that public art can play in connecting stories of the past to the present day, creating conversation, and building community. Returning to the power of art to make a statement and bring about change, in this lesson students will analyse a spoken word poem about bullying and then consider how they might use their voices to call attention to injustice or unfairness in their own school or community.

The goal of this lesson is not for students to create performance ready poems. Rather, we hope that they will consider the ways in which they might raise their voices to make themselves heard on issues important to them and try their hand at spoken word poetry to consider how it can serve as a powerful means of creative expression that can captivate an audience and inspire change.

What must individuals do and value in order to bring about a more humane, just, and compassionate society?

How can spoken word poetry and other forms of creative expression be used to raise awareness about injustice and unfairness and as a call to action for change?

Students consider the power of voice and creative expression as means of calling attention to an issue and bringing about changes they would like to see in their schools and local communities.

This lesson is designed to fit into two 50-min class periods and includes:

  • 7 activities
  • 1 video
  • 1 handout
  • 1 reading
  • 2 extension activity

Preparing to Teach

A Note to Teachers

Before teaching this lesson, please review the following information to help guide your preparation process.  

Because the introduction to Shane Koyczan’s TED Talk contains one instance of strong profanity at minute 04:53, you should start the video in the second activity at 05:03, which is where Koyczan begins performing his powerful spoken word poem about bullying.

In the second half of this lesson, students will mind map and draft their own spoken word poems about an issue or injustice in their school, community, or world that they feel passionate about speaking out about. Because the creative writing process takes time, you might devote multiple class periods to the writing and revision process, possibly showing students other examples of spoken word poetry from SLAMbassadors or one or more of these nine London youth. Additionally, you might lead some poetry writing mini-lessons at the start of each class period during the writing process in order to help your students learn the literary devices and techniques oftentimes employed by spoken word poets, such as repetition, rhythm, figurative language, and vivid imagery. To celebrate your students’ efforts, hold your own poetry slam where your students present their poems to the class or other students in their grade. You can find additional resources for teaching spoken word poetry at Poetry Out Loud and The Poetry Society.

This is the final lesson in the “Choosing to Participate” section of this scheme of work. See the Unit Assessment for a project you can use to reinforce students learning on this theme after completing this lesson.

Speaking Up and Speaking Out

Use these slides to help students analyse a spoken word poem about bullying and consider how they might use their voices to call attention to injustice in their schools or communities.

Each lesson in this unit includes a PowerPoint of student-facing slides. The PowerPoints are intended to be used alongside, and not instead of, the lessons plans because the latter include important rationales and context that teachers should familiarise themselves with before teaching the lesson. The PowerPoints include basic media and prompts from the lesson plans but are minimally designed because we expect teachers to adapt them to fit the needs of their students and class.

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Lesson Plans

Day 1 Activities

  • Ask students to recall what issues the activists and community members in Bristol and East London confronted when they took action and demanded change in their communities. Then ask students to reflect on the following question in a journal response: What is one positive change that you would like to see in your school, community, or world that would make it a kinder, more inclusive space?
  • Then have students debrief their responses in a wraparound. Inform students that they will be returning to these journal responses in a later lesson.
  • Next, tell students that they will hear from a young Canadian poet, Shane Koyczan, who is using his voice to raise awareness about bullying through spoken word poetry. Koyczan, who was bullied in school and who now speaks out about what he and some of his peers experienced, has also launched a website called the To This Day Project, which provides information and support for individuals who have experienced bullying.
  • Play Shane Koyczan’s TED Talk in which he performs his spoken word poem To This Day starting from minute 05:04 so you skip the the introduction to the poem, which contains an instance of strong profanity. After watching, ask students to respond to the following question in their journals:

    What was the most impactful, important, or memorable moment in the video for you? What makes you say that?

  • Next, pass out the Transcript of Shane Koyczan’s TED Talk and have students read the poem to themselves. You might invite them to annotate by underlining powerful images, circling new vocabulary words, writing question marks in the margin where they feel confused, and exclamation marks in places that they find powerful.
  • Divide the class into small groups and ask them to discuss the following prompts:
    • Share one of your powerful images with the group and explain why you underlined it. Then work as a group to address questions about vocabulary and confusing moments in the poem.
    • What is the purpose of Koyczan’s poem? Support your answer with evidence from the text.
    • How does Koyczan use stories in his poem to help convey his purpose?
    • Can spoken word poetry and other forms of creative expression help change society for the better? What role can they play in addressing injustice and unfairness in your school, community, country, or world?
  • Facilitate a class discussion. You might ask 1–2 groups to take the lead on a question before asking other students to add their ideas and observations.

On an exit card, ask students to respond to the following question:

How is the experience of learning about bullying through a spoken word poem different from reading an article, listening to a speaker in an assembly, or viewing a Powerpoint about the topic?

Day 2 Activities

Take a few minutes at the start of class to share from some of the exit cards. We recommend that you keep the students’ responses anonymous unless they have given you permission in advance of the lesson to share their ideas.

  • Tell students that for the next activity, they will be working individually, in pairs, or in small groups to create their own spoken word poems that call attention to an issue that they feel passionate about addressing in their school, community, or world. They might choose the topic that they wrote about in the last period’s warm up, or they might decide to choose a new issue for this activity.
  • Pass out the Spoken Word Mind Map handout and ask students to respond to the questions on their own, with their partners, or in their groups. Explain that the goal of this mind mapping exercise is to generate as many ideas as possible about their topic and why it interests them, so if they feel like they have answered a question, they should challenge themselves to add at least one more idea.
  • Then have students share their mind maps with another student or group of students. Encourage students to pose questions that will help their partners generate new ideas to add to their mind mapping handouts.

Explain to students that they will now have time to begin drafting their spoken word poems. If they are having trouble getting started, prompt them to do a quick freewrite that takes ideas from their mind mapping sheet. For students working in pairs or groups, each student can freewrite, and then they might use phrases or lines from the freewrites to start their spoken word poem. Depending on how much time you have, you might spread the writing process over multiple class periods (see Notes to the Teacher for details).

Conclude the lesson by asking each student to underline a short section from the draft of their poem to share in a wraparound. You might have your students stand in a circle so they can all see and hear each other for this celebration of the spoken word.

Extension Activity

Your school may already engage students in discussion and prevention of bullying. If not, you might feel that your students need the opportunity to explore this topic together either before or after hearing Shane Koyczan’s “To This Day.” If so, the following steps can provide a meaningful structure to the conversation:

  • Use Four Corners to spark discussion in your class about bullying, cyberbullying, and school climate and culture. You might choose from the following statements for this activity or create your own.

    • Bullying occurs at my school.
    • Teasing is different from bullying.
    • Cyberbullying is just as harmful as bullying.
    • There are clear consequences at my school for students who bully other students.
    • The adults at my school have the power to prevent bullying from happening.
    • The students at my school have the power to prevent bullying from happening.
    • If I see someone getting bullied at school, I have a responsibility to step in and try to stop it.
    • If I see someone getting bullied at school, I have a responsibility to tell an adult what I saw.
    • If I witness cyberbullying online, I have a responsibility to report it to an adult.
    • If I see someone getting bullied at school, I have a responsibility to offer support privately by talking to them outside of the moment, sending a text, or reaching out on social media.
    • Bystanders are responsible for the hurt caused by bullying if they do not take action to stop it.
  • Debrief the activity by leading a whole-group discussion based on the following questions:

    • What does this activity suggest about bullying and cyberbullying at your school?
    • How does this activity help you think about the choices you have if you witness or are made aware of an incident of bullying or cyberbullying at your school?
  • Finally, review your school’s definition of bullying and the anti-bullying policy with your students and remind them where they can go for help and support if they are the victims of bullying or witness bullying inside or outside of school or online.

Materials and Downloads

Quick Downloads

This is the handout that students use throughout the Speaking Up and Speaking Out lesson plan.

Resources from Other Organizations

The video below is used throughout this lesson.

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