Survival Guide to Poetry Out Loud With Tips From English Teacher Lauren Oetinger

When January comes around AHN girls get put in the spotlight to showcase their poetry reciting skills at the Poetry Out Loud Competition.

Credit: Adam Taylor/Gettyimages

When January comes around AHN girls get put in the spotlight to showcase their poetry reciting skills at the Poetry Out Loud Competition.

In January every students know Poetry Out Loud is coming and know they need to prepare. Poetry Out Loud is an assignment which many states participate in and is mandatory for all Academy of the Holy Names high school students. Students pick out a poem that follows the requirements of their teacher and have to memorize and recite it in front of the class. Those students who excel in this assignment get to move forward in the competition. One student from each grade is chosen based on how they prepare and recite the poem, and later recites it in front of the entire High School. The student who wins this round gets to move forward in the Poetry Out Loud national competition.

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For several AHN student’s, public speaking ignites a lot of fear and nervousness. Poetry out Loud can become a nightmare for these students. While it is certain that performing in front of a classroom may be challenging, there are tips and tricks for facilitating the process! Dr Lauren Oetinger,  AP Lang teacher shared with ACHONA what the judges essentially look for in contestants.


  1. What do judges look for in a POL contestant?


“Officially, the categories the judges use are:

Physical Presence:  This just means looking like you meant to show up. Standing up straight, making eye contact, hand gestures if appropriate, we all know what a good performance looks like.

Voice and Articulation: This means pausing when there ought to be a pause, making sure your voice is loud enough to be heard, ensuring you’ve pronounced everything correctly, and generally letting your voice tell the story. 

Appropriateness of Dramatization: This comes down to telling the poem’s story. If it¹s not an overly dramatic poem, then chances are its delivery doesn’t need to be over-the-top.

Level of Difficulty:  Some say POL will end in fire, Some say in ice. Your poem should be of a level befitting your age and ability. Nothing is worse than seeing an upperclass woman recite a poem that would be too easy for a freshwoman.

Evidence of Understanding: A poem tells a story. This category rewards those who take the time to understand their poem, and have their recitation reflect that understanding. This can be done through tone, pacing, physical presence, etc.

Overall Performance: This is where accuracy points are deducted. You can be the best performer in the world, but if you aren’t reciting your poem accurately then the quality of the performance is diminished.”

Oetinger also shared tips on how to select the right poem for recitation,“There are a few ways of going about poem selection. My favorite is my using the random poem feature of the Poetry Out Loud website. While line requirements vary grade by grade, I would generally not recommend the use of the 25 lines or fewer search feature the website provides.”

The poetry out loud website also has helpful videos and tips on selecting the proper poem.

Oetinger gives this piece of advice to all students,  “The bottom line is this: here at the Academy we want to be the best we can be at everything we do ‹ even reciting poetry. Putting some effort into your recitation will make it something you can be proud of.”

Oetinger has given AHN students the tools and keys to a successful Poetry Out Loud. Oetinger’s  also revealed her favorite part of POL, “I think my favorite part of POL is when I get to see a side of a student I didn’t expect. A quiet student who pulls out all the stops — or a carefree student who selects a serious poem. I think getting into a poem is a bit like character work in theatre; you have the chance to reinvent yourself somewhat.”

Oetinger shared with AHN students on how to recite the poem properly using the correct physical presence, voice and articulation, appropriateness of dramatization, level of difficulty, and evidence of understanding of the poem.

With these helpful tools and advice from every AHN student can succeed and do amazing on performing for Poetry Out Loud. Just remember to breathe and follow Dr. Oetinger’s tips and advice. On the Poetry Out Loud website they also have helpful tips and videos on you to pick a poem and how to properly recite a poem.