Reading, writing and performing poetry

<div style="color:#FFFFFF;">Build communication skills...</div>

Build communication skills...

through reading, writing and performing poetry on topics relevant to kids’ experiences.

<div style="color:#FFFFFF;">Empower students...</div>

Empower students...

to find and cultivate their unique voices for personal growth and civic engagement.

<div style="color:#ffffff;">Strengthen community...</div>

Strengthen community...

by creating a safe place for sharing personal stories and cultural understanding.

<div style="color:#ffffff;">Connect to the larger world...</div>

Connect to the larger world...

of Spoken Word through mentorship, showcases, and competitions.

creating articulate, engaged young people

Launched in Fall 2015, Spoken Word is a powerful and effective medium for fostering creativity and self-expression in young people.

Through both in-school residencies and extracurricular clubs, students learn to write and revise poems that reflect their own unique experiences, interests, and opinions. They then have opportunities to share their poetry in safe and supportive space.

Kids learn to collaborate creatively and to respond to each other’s work in a thoughtful and constructive manner.

The program consists of 3 main components:

  1. teacher professional development for 7th grade English Language Arts teachers at Brooks and Julian Middle Schools, as well as two Spoken Word club sponsors at each middle school
  2. week-long classroom residencies serving all 7th grade English Language Arts classes
  3. an extracurricular club open to all 6th, 7th, and 8th graders

We bring in teaching artists to co-facilitate our residencies and clubs. We partner with Oak Park River Forest High School’s stellar Spoken Word program, and high school students mentor our middle school Spoken Word club members.This year, we will attend the Louder Than A Bomb slam as audience members, will participate in community Open Mic opportunities, and will host a Julian vs. Brooks slam at the Oak Park School of Rock.



brings in teaching artists to mentor students


engages all students with topics relevant to their personal experiences


creates a strong classroom and school community


helps students find their unique voices and connects them to the wider world

<div style="color:#FFF; font-weight: normal;">D97 Parent</div>

D97 Parent

"…the Spoken Word program spearheaded by OPEF makes me wish I was a 7th grader. ...I feel like my kid is attending a boutique middle school.”

<div style="color:#FFF; font-weight: normal;">Student</div>


"I liked how we got to speak in front of people and become more comfortable in front of an audience.”

<div style=color:#fff;font-weight:normal;">Spoken Word Teaching Artist</div>

Spoken Word Teaching Artist

“This art form is one that really gives these kids a voice—to be able to stand up and say ‘who I am.’ They don’t have the space to do that at this age.”

Spoken Word News

poetry slam boy and audience

Brooks Seventh Grade Poetry Slam

Fresh off their one-week in-school Spoken Word residency with Spoken Word artist Christian Robinson, Brooks’ seventh graders were eager to […]

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girl reading poem

Snaps for Spoken Word

  Our Spoken Word residencies are off to a great start. Our new spoken word artist, Christian Robinson, worked with […]

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National Poetry Month

National Poetry Month* is the largest literary celebration in the world, with tens of millions of readers, students, K-12 teachers, […]

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2017 Respect the Mic! Spoken Word clubs perform on April 25th at School of Rock

Join us on Tuesday, April 25th as Spoken Word club members from Gwendolyn Brooks and Percy Julian Middle Schools gather […]

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“We Can’t Do It Without You”

$250 Sponsors a week-long residency of a Spoken Word visiting artist.


Isaiah Clark

Isaiah Clark

In 2012, Jamael founded Impact Mākars, a spoken word organization at Northern Illinois University. Isaiah has a B.A. in Communication from the University of Illinois at Chicago where he conducted research on how poetry can enhance student engagement. He helped design the Spoken Word curriculum as a teaching artist and is thrilled to be able to further the work by serving as the Spoken Word coordinator

BROOKSmiddle school
JULIANmiddle school

Frequently Asked Questions

More Information about OPEF Spoken Word

What is the history of OPEF's Spoken Word program?
In January 2015, Spoken Word was selected through our first Call for Ideas process in six years. The “Call” brought in 78 excellent ideas plus some great feedback from nearly 1,000 of our middle schoolers. The OPEF staff and Board – made up of community members, parents, teachers, and District 97 leaders – carefully reviewed all of the ideas. Each of the proposals submitted was subjected to “blind reviews”; that is, submitters’ names and/or organizations were deleted and every proposal was scored by each participant across seven criteria. Then the top-rated ideas were discussed extensively and matched against the overall mission of OPEF until the group determined a clear winner: SPOKEN WORD.

Seed funding for the launch of Spoken Word was provided by the Peter Traczyk Innovation Fund.

Who can join the OPEF Spoken Word Club?
While our in-school residencies are focused on 7th graders, the club is open to all Brooks and Julian 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students. We hope to attract a wide range of students who will continue with the Spoken Word throughout their time in middle school, and maybe even into high school and beyond!

How will you recruit students for the clubs?
All 7th graders participate in a week-long Spoken Word residency in their Language Arts class during the fall, which culminates with a school-wide 7th grade poetry slam. Information about the club will be shared during both the residency and the slam. 6th and 8th graders will also participate in an assembly in which they’ll be introduced to Spoken Word and OPEF’s new Spoken Word Club. Additionally, Language Arts teachers have been asked to help identify students who might excel as Spoken Word Club members.

Will students in the club have to perform their poems out loud?
Spoken Word is about fostering creativity, self-expression, and a sense of community. Students will be coached and guided as poets and performers, but no one will be forced to perform! However, don’t be surprised if some of the quietest students end up displaying the strongest voices on stage! Our stellar teaching artists and club sponsors have a way of encouraging young people to speak up and speak out.

How are you going to persuade middle schoolers to open up and share their feelings?
While it’s true that Spoken Word encourages students to write honestly about their own identities and experiences, a middle school student’s honesty looks very different than that of a high school student or an adult poet! Our teaching artists are skilled at choosing sample poems and crafting prompts that speak to the interests and maturity level of a middle school student. Students will learn to write vividly and creatively about their own ideas and experiences. They will also practice being supportive team members.