A celebration of the spoken word


Age range: Good for 12-18 year olds

Estimated Time: Give yourself some time! These videos take about 45 minutes to complete.

Key Technology: Teachers can choose to stream this video on a computer and project it onto a screen or whiteboard with speakers or to let students watch individually on computers with headphones.


Explore the aspirations of several students-artists who participated in the Kennedy Center’s An American Playlist: Music and Verse with Questlove and Black Thought of The Roots, part of the Center’s Arts in Crisis program.

Think About

Viewing Strategy

As you watch, stay focused on your purpose for viewing. Find out what the dreams of the featured students are and how they hope to achieve them.

Before you get started, think of what you already know about the spoken word as a form of expression. Keep this in mind as you watch and listen.

Make a list of the different styles employed by the various performers. Keep another list of the topics and themes in the spoken word performances. Compare and contrast the different dreams of the students. As you listen to their dreams, which do you believe re abstractions, and which are dreams that can be physically realized?


What are some of the dreams mentioned by the students in this video clip?

Critical Thinking

  • In what ways do you think the students’ background and personal history influenced their dreams?
  • Why do you think poetry is an effective medium of expression?
  • Do you think some performances were more effective than others? Why?


  • One student mentions a place where people with different stories and dreams can come together. Where do you think these places are? Write a paragraph about one or two places in which you think this can take place.
  • One student mentions a place where people with different stories and dreams can come together. Where do you think these places are? Write a paragraph about one or two places in which you think this can take place.
  • What are some current events, issues or topics would you address if you were asked to participate in a similar event?
  • Write a few paragraphs in which you respond to the performances of the poets. Were you able to relate to some better than others? Why?

Quiz Yourself!

What were some of the topics that the artists spoke about in their performances?

Learn More

Dig Deeper!

Learn more about Brave New Voices, the group of which several of the poets are members. Find out more about the issues that are important to the young poets involved and how you could make a difference in the world.

Learn more about the band The Roots at:

Learn more about the D.C. Youth Slam Poetry Team at their myspace page.

For The Educator

More resources for your students:

  • Read this article in which one of the student performers is interviewed.
  • An American Playlist is a testament to the importance of arts education. Have students write a letter to the editor or a letter to an elected official reaffirming the importance of the arts in schools and how the arts have impacted them personally.


This video series explores the performances of 15 student-poets at the Kennedy Center’s An American Playlist, part of the Center’s Arts in Crisis program. Students from as far away as India were given the opportunity to perform original spoken word pieces in front of a large audience while working with the well-known band, The Roots, and other acclaimed artists including dancers, musicians and other performers. Students should focus on:

  • The performers’ style of delivery
  • The topics addressed by the poets
  • The intended audience of each poem

Instructional Strategies

  • These videos lend themselves to large-group or individual listening as well as to both individual and group research.
  • Preface your presentation of the video clip with the following quote from Garth Ross, Director of Performing Arts for Everyone:

    "We talk about the economy, and we talk about manufacturing and trade, but we never talk about our cities and our culture," said Ross. "Culture is a compass showing us the way forward. We hope evenings like this can show the strength of our culture and show us the way forward."

    Have students respond in an essay about what they believe to be the “challenges of the day” and how they think that the arts are a means through which Americans can address them.
  • Have students read this article and then discuss the questions that follow:
    • What were some of the controversial themes addressed by the student-poets?
    • The article says that “most of the pieces were confrontational, self-justifying and unleavened by humor.” Have students write a few stanzas that fit that description.
    • The subtitle of the article reads, “Kennedy Center's 'An American Playlist' isn't shy about hitting Shuffle.
  • Task students with creating a series of playlists of actual songs that address some of the issues raised by the student-poets in their performances (e.g.: global warming, race, etc.)

Encourage your students!

  • Ask students to complete the sentence; “The dream is to…” Have students write an essay in which they detail their dream and a plan of action for how they hope to achieve it.
  • One of the student-artists mentions how she wishes that people could exist “in their natural selves without outside pressures.” Ask students to generate a list of as many pressures as they can think of; record their responses on the board. Then ask each student to choose one of the pressures or influences listed and write about how it affects his or her life and what they have done or plan to do in order to overcome it.
  • Have students make a list of their dreams, great and small. Ask them to describe their dreams in an artistic manner (i.e.: in poetry, dance, song, musical composition or visual art).


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