Using Open Mic Friday to Build a Writing Community

Students who perform with a group develop the skills to discuss and critique writing and discover authentic ways to represent themselves
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Using Open Mic Friday to Build a Writing Community
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About This Strategy

Students often cultivate skills outside of school that are not deemed academic or relevant to the school day experience.  Leveraging such interests as poetry, hip-hop and other creative arts provides a way teachers can intentionally offer students ways to bring themselves fully into the classroom experience.  Teachers can create events that students look forward to throughout the school year that are highly academic and wonderful relationship builders by dedicating a small portion of Friday each week to the performance of self-selected forms of expression, such as poetry or music. Students will anticipate the possibility of performing for their peers all week; this means that students will remain more engaged throughout the week in a class where they feel listened to and excited about getting to know their peers and teacher. Many students have hidden talents and skills that can be valued or celebrated in Friday "open mics". 

Implementation Steps

  1. Create a hip looking poster to place in the hallway or student bulletin board advertising Open-Mic Friday in your classroom. 

  2. Explain to students your goal for creating a space each Friday for them to share poetry, music, and stories they write in and out of school each week. See the video below to learn more about how Open Mic Friday helps build relationships. 

  3. Modify the classroom seating each Friday to be conducive to a stage-like experience, either conference style or rows, so that all students are facing the performer.  

  4. Play hip-hop music that is socially conscious to create a shift in student expectations for the day as they enter.

  5. Model sharing a piece of your own writing or music on the first Friday to kick it off and set the tone for others to see your classroom as a safe space. Ask students to “take the stage” one after another in a voluntary fashion. 

  6. Students should ask for “feedback, please,” or “no feedback, please,”  as they hit the stage; that way the audience knows the goal of the participant, and can react appropriately. See the video in the resources below to learn more about how students can give and receive feedback. 

Open Mic in Blended or Distance Learning

Incorporating Open Mic Friday in a distance or blended format may seem difficult due to the loss of the in-person performance aspect. However, there are some strategies that will still allow students to write and share their pieces with their peers in a creative way.

  1. Just as you would in an actual classroom, create the ambiance in your classroom that would inspire creativity and spoken word. Create a socially conscious playlist of songs.

    • Make this a collaborative process by asking students to submit song titles.  Collect the titles in one place such as a Google Doc.

    • Create a playlist with appropriate songs suggested by students as well as with songs you think should be included.  Spotify is a great app that allows you to create custom playlists.

  2. Introduce the different ways that spoken word can be shared with peers.

    • If you are teaching synchronous or “live” lessons through Zoom or Google Meet, allow students to bring their work to share in the live format.

    • Allow students to perform live but with their cameras off if they are more comfortable that way. 

    • Allow students to pre-record their performance.

      • Flipgrid is an app that allows students to record themselves speaking. These clips could be played during Open Mic Friday.

      • Allow students the option of using Screencastify, to record their spoken word over an image of their choice. 

  3. Remember to give students the opportunity to receive or decline feedback. That feedback could be captured using the O.A.Q.S. protocol (Observations, Appreciations, Questions, and Suggestions).

Content-Based Open Mic Fridays

Hold an Open Mic Friday with content restrictions or “must includes” based on the specific content goals of the current week.

Implementation Steps: 

  1. Assign specific words required of students based on the unit of study to include in their Friday performance. You could also assign them the task of using a specific number of words from a chapter or reading passage so that they can choose which words rhyme and fit with the meaning they were trying to achieve.

EL Modification

English learners benefit from hearing other students share creative uses of the language they are working to acquire. Students from other cultures often grasp useful words and phrases by listening to music in that new language. Also, students can experiment with the use of the language in a creative and engaging way that develops voice and language acquisition. 

Modifications:

  • English Learners may be grouped/paired with fellow writers, either in homogenous or heterogenous groups.   

  • Teachers should encourage participation from students and not assume that second language students would not want to take part in the community-rich activity. 

Special Education Modification

Language barriers related to text complexity and comprehension are best addressed with modeling and exposure to experiences on grade level.  Such enrichment as hearing creative uses of a language can lead to greater desire and motivation to develop such a skill as well.  Rather than expect inspiration to come from a secluded environment, the mainstream classroom provides ways to interact with peers and promote acceptance/inclusion in primarily positive ways. 

Modification(s):

  • Students may wish to solely listen to others. A co-teacher could collaborate with a student or facilitate a partnership with another student.

Questions to Consider

  • How will you set the ground rules for appropriate content without pre-screening student work?  

  • How will you “work in” a class period like this when learning time is tight?

Teacher Tips

  • It takes a few weeks for the idea of having this open forum to share to truly take effect.  Don’t assume students are not into it because of a low turn-out of volunteers in the early weeks. They are thinking about it, but the social pressures are strong. Have other tasks prepared in the event that most students do not participate as class time is entirely valuable. I used to tell students, “if we can ever fill a class period, that is all we will do that day.” I knew that it would be almost impossible to “fill” a class period with volunteers, but it happened every once in a while, to my elated surprise.   

  • Keep it voluntary.  Requiring students to participate will not build community nor provide the option each day to think about volunteering, which is key.

  • Have fun with it and speak back to your participants in a warm and constructive way, modeling as the teacher the kind of love you hope students will give each other for taking a chance and sharing today. 

  • Attend a poetry reading in the community to borrow other concepts, lingo, or practices. 

  • Ask to collaborate with a student in secret and surprise the class with the piece one Friday. This will encourage others to see how cool it would be to do the same with their peers.  

  • Work toward holding a school wide performance of the acts that were initiated each class on Friday.  Create student roles such as emcees, ushers, program designers, producers, etc.

  • Ask students to include/not include content from recent classroom instruction in their creative pieces each week. 

  • This is part of the community trust that such a class event helps develop.  I would encourage the teacher to talk about the words “school appropriate” and “mandated reporter” prior to the first experience. If an inappropriate piece surfaces during a class sharing session, the time to speak about the goals of offering the forum should be discussed openly and with patience.  The group will likely see the need for the change as a way to keep the possibility of offering it each week in effect. 

  • The rest of the week will work more efficiently, due to the fact that students are hoping we will get to have Open Mic Friday this week. One of the conditions that can be set, is that we will have to be able to spare the time because we worked our hardest all week.  It also remains true that despite the hope that the entire class would share one week, mostly a few people participate each week for the rest of the us. This does not mean a lot of people did not entertain the notion, practice at home, develop a new piece, or even look back over a dusty journal they had not seen in a while.