Organizing a Contest

Before the Contest

Each school should identify one or two teachers as Lead Teachers to serve as the go-to people for all things Poetry Out Loud. Some duties for Lead Teachers:

  • Getting and keeping in touch with the state POL coordinator
  • Enlisting fellow teachers
  • Distributing materials
  • Organizing school events

Promotional Ideas and Social Media Publicity

Begin organizing your school event as early as possible in order to ensure greater attendance. Please see the PR Toolkit for information on promoting the event within your school and community, sample press releases and media advisories, and a social media guide.

Contest Set-Up

Things to keep in mind when planning your school’s competition:

•The contest should run no more than 3 hours.

•The contest must have at least 2 students and ideally should not exceed 15 students.

•Each recitation takes about 3-4 minutes, with an added minute for scoring.

•Students must recite at least 2 poems (3 for state and nationals). They must recite one poem in each round (not consecutively).

You will need a few volunteers:

•Emcee: Since there may be a lull during scoring, you may want the emcee to provide info about the poets or the students. (Music is also a good filler)

•3–5 Judges and 1 Accuracy Judge: See Judge Preparation for advice on judge selection

Prompter: This is someone who will have a notebook with each poem, whom the students can look to if they forget a word or line.

Score Tabulator: This person will input the scores into a database during the competition. A template is available here. Remember to test your tabulation system before the event.

During The Contest

The emcee should introduce each student as they come to the stage. It is the student’s responsibility to announce both the poem’s title and poet.

Sample Schedule

A typical school competition may look something like this, based on 10 students, an average recitation time of 3–4 minutes each, and 1 minute between recitations for scoring:

1:00 pm Welcoming remarks and introduction of the judging panel, prompter, and accuracy judge. Recognition of any sponsors. Recap of the evaluation criteria for judging the recitations.

1:05 Calibration Round. A volunteer not participating in the actual contest recites a sample poem so the judges can practice scoring.

1:10–2:30 Recitations, taking place in two rounds. In the first round, each student will recite their first poem. In the second round, each student will recite their second poem.

2:30 Five-minute intermission for scoring to be completed and winner and runner-up to be determined.

2:35 Announcement of winner and runner-up. Presentation of certificates and any prizes.


A certificate of participation is available here. You may wish to solicit prizes from local businesses, if appropriate. Select a school champion as well as a runner-up. Depending on your state guidelines, one or both of these students may advance to the next level. Please check with your state Poetry Out Loud coordinator to determine the structure of your state’s program.

Contest Resources

Accuracy Score Sheet (PDF)

Contest Evaluation Sheet (PDF)

Evaluation Criteria and Tips (PDF)

Judge’s Guide (PDF)

Teacher Certificate (PDF)

Sample Tally Sheet (Excel File)

•Scoring Rubric (PDF)

•Scoring Webinar (mp4)

What People are Saying

"I understand the expression and understanding and recitation of the POL poems, but it was more that I didn't realize how much this opportunity would mean to me, or how much it would impact how I feel about my future ... I feel my blood running and heart pounding each time I think of my POL poems and teaching them to people."
Taylor Rogers
2015 MT POL Champion