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Poetry Out Loud: Hints to help understand the scoring rubric and criteria


  • Judge the recitation NOT the poem
  • Score each criteria individually.  Don’t give all 3’s just to give all 3’s.
  • Score conservatively, especially at the beginning


Find the videos mentioned here

Physical Presence- by looking at the student:  You are looking at Body Language, poise, and eye contact.

  • Are they comfortable/confident/poised?
  • Do they have good eye contact, posture? Are they appropriately groomed and self assured?
  • Are their body motions distracting/awkward/fidgeting or are they nature and appropriate?

A contestant who scores well in this category will be someone from whom you cannot take your eyes off of – the student compels your focus and attention.

Best practices video  - Shawntay A. Henry, Frederick Douglass
by Robert E. Hayden compelling-you are drawn to her on stage.

Voice and Articulation-by listening to the student: You are listening for volume, pace, rhyme, intonation, and proper pronunciation.

  • Are they projecting to audience?
  • Is there an appropriate volume?
  • Intonation, rhythm and pacing should fit the content of poem naturally
  • With rhymed poems, the student should avoid a sing-song manner.
  • Are line breaks handled properly?
  • Is each word pronounced correctly?
  • Are words articulated crisply and clearly without being unnatural or forced?
  • Does student avoid mumbling, speaking too quickly or loudly?

A contestant who scores well here will have almost a “musical” nature about their recitation that helps us understand the meaning of the poem.

Note: poet’s names  -   give some latitude on this because we don’t always have this information.

Best Practices video -Madison Niermeyer, I Am Waiting by Lawrence Ferlinghetti-she has mastered voice and articulation.

Dramatic Appropriateness-  THE CAN BE THE MOST DIFFICULT CRITERIA TO EVALUATE and the criteria about which there is most misunderstanding.  Recitation is about conveying a poem’s sense with its language. It is closer to the art of oral interpretation than theatrical performance. (Think storyteller or narrator rather than actor.) 

  • Not a lot of drama is necessary in this category.
  • Not a dramatic monologue/theatrical performance.
  • The poem comes first - honor text and poet’s voice.
  • Is the dramatization distracting?
  • Depending on the poem, occasional gestures may be appropriate, but the line between appropriate and overdone is a thin one.  A contestant who scores well in this category would be one who uses full-body movement and gestures in a very conservative, restraint, specific manner – only when necessary and only to enhance our understanding of the meaning of poem.  Extremes of volume and pitch are not consistent with appropriate dramatization.
  • Judges should NOT get caught up in what the audience loves. It can be very difficult to judge appropriately when the audience loves an inappropriate dramatization. It is not slam poetry.
  • The dramatization subtly underscores the meaning of the poem without becoming the focal point. The style of delivery is more about oral interpretation than dramatic enactment.  A low score in this category will result from recitations that have affected character voices and accents, inappropriate tone and inflection, singing, distracting and excessive gestures, or unnecessary emoting.

Again -- Best Practices video -Madison Niermeyer, I Am Waiting by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. She finds the balance between recitation and acting performance.

Level of Difficulty-THE EXCEPTION - here judges are evaluating the poem NOT the performer

  • Judges should review the poems ahead of time and assign a score. Judges should be consistent with themselves but consistent with from judge to judge is not necessary or possible.   That is, if you hear the same poem, it should be scored the same.
  • Long poems are not necessarily the most difficult.   A poem with difficult language will have complex diction and syntax, meter and rhyme schemes, and shifts in tone or mood.  Things like Syntax (sentence structure, language) should be considered. Poems with significantly challenging content and language may not need length to score well.

Evidence of Understanding-   This category is based on the idea that, unless the reciter understands the poem, he or she will not be able to help the audience understand it.  Poetry is a distilled form of literature, so every word is there for a reason.  Your question should be:  Does this student know what he or she is talking about?  Has the poem been made clear to me and with what level of finesse and skill???

Does the student really understand every line and every word that they are reciting?

  • Is it hard for the judge to understand and pay attention? If yes, then it is probably  not done well.
  • Audience meaning should be widened and deepened.
  • Judges will see that some will understand it at the beginning then lose it then come back to it.
  • When I have an “ah ha” moment – usually means I finally understand a poem – and that is credited to the student, their understanding and ability to convey that understanding in their recitation.

Best Practices video -William Farley, Danse Russe by William Carlos Williams 

OVERALL PERFORMANCE - Possible points are a little higher in this category so be especially attentive when giving a score.

Evaluate the performance as a whole (overall impression).  . . . a performance is more than the sum of its parts.  However, it should reflect your other scores.  It would be inappropriate for student who received scores of 4 & 5 in all other categories to suddenly receive an 8 in this one.  This is NOT a “charity score” or a “recognition of effort” score.

  • Be conservative in this category especially in the beginning-this is not to penalize those who go first but to give yourself room to score up or down in subsequence performances.
  • Did the student  bring the audience to a better understanding of the poem? 
  • Did the student’s  physical presence, voice and articulation, and dramatic appropriateness all seem on target and unified? 

This category is also the chance for a judge to evaluate a student’s range of diversity poem to poem. In the Teachers Guide on page 6 it states, “It is strongly recommended that students who compete beyond the classroom level select poems of various style, time period and voice.”  If a student seems to be stuck using the same style of delivery with each of their poems, that may be evidence that they’ve not taken the time to consider each poem individually . . . . even tho’ diversity of poem selection is only one of the elements a judge may consider when determining their score for this category.


  • Separate accuracy judges and score sheets.  Two judges; one score sheet.
  • This is the only category in which contestants LOSE points rather than EARN them.  Keep in mind:  recitations are expected to memorized flawlessly – it is a requirement, not a suggestion.
  • Using prompter will affect accuracy and probably other criteria.



ECCOTA receives state arts funding support through a grant from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, a state agency funded by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency

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The Elk County Council on the Arts is dedicated to promoting the cultural enrichment of the residents of Elk County by expanding the opportunity for public participation in the arts. The Council’s goal is to enhance the lives of county residents and the various local arts by offering experiences in the arts, providing educational opportunity and advice, and by supporting performers, musicians, artists, artisans and writers.

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