Shout Out Poems

Explore the musical and rhythmic elements of spoken poetry with Sekou Sundiata’s “Shout Out.”

This lesson is part of  Writing Our Way Through: clear, fun, and engaging “lessons” for writing at home with young people.

Author/Teaching Artist: Libby Mislan 
Age Range: 3rd grade and up 
Materials: Paper and pencils/pens


This lesson is a great way to show kids how poetry has power when spoken or written. The mentor text, Sekou Sundiata’s “Shout Out,”  demonstrates the musical and rhythmic elements of spoken poetry. The prompt encourages kids to think about who in their communities deserves recognition. For that reason, it can be used to think about social justice issues (i.e. who isn’t getting recognized in the larger culture?) It is also easy to incorporate into this prompt a mini-lesson on using strong visual images. 

Note: while the age range for this lesson is technically “3rd Grade and up,” it can be adapted  for younger writers by offering more guidance and/or writing collaboratively. 

The Steps

1. Before getting started, you can introduce the poet whose work we’ll be reading: Sekou Sundiata. Sekou was a poet, performer and teacher born in Harlem, New York City, in 1948. He was a member of the Black Rock Coalition, an artist collective dedicated to promoting the creative freedom of black artists and musicians. Sundiata’s works combined poetry, music, and drama. His musical influences included jazz, blues, funk, and Afro-Caribbean rhythms. 

2. I recommend that participants listen to Sekou Sundiata’s rendition of the poem via the Youtube link provided below. Everyone can follow along with the text of the poem as they listen, or participants can close their eyes to increase their focus.

3. When you are done listening to the poem, you can ask participants: What did you notice about the poet’s delivery of the poem, of the musicality and the rhyme he uses. Which specific words or lines stood out to you? Who does the poem “shout out”? Who or what got a shout out that doesn’t usually get one? Then ask a more general question: Who or what in our society often gets ignored or underappreciated? 

4. To encourage participants to think more deeply about their own lives before writing, you can create what’s called a “wordstorm”—a term used to describe a brainstorm done before writing a poem. The wordstorm can be written collaboratively on a shared piece of 8×12 blank paper if your group is small enough, or you can record responses on a large piece of chart paper if the group is bigger, and ask participants to share aloud their responses to these prompts. 

Give participants one minute per topic to jot down who comes to mind when they think about the following: 1) Workers (different types of professions) who deserve a shout out. 2) People in your families who deserve a shoutout. 3) People or things in your neighborhood that you might see everyday who deserve a shout out. 4) Neighborhoods, or specific places within your neighborhood, that deserve a shout out.

5. Before writing, remind participants that descriptive or “delicious” details make your poem come alive. You might read the following lines aloud and discuss what makes one more interesting than the other. Remind participants that delicious details allow us to picture images in our heads like little movies.  

Shout out to the old man I see everyday.
Shout out to the old man I see everyday, moving slow and steady down the block in his Yankees baseball cap, smiling at the children.

Shout out to the teens who do “showtime” on the train.
Shout out to the teens who do “showtime” on the train, their bodies sweating, balancing and twisting to house music–promising that “no one will get kicked in the face.”

Shout out to the activists.
Shout out to the activists who keep us pushing, marching, fighting, showing up, and
loving each other, envisioning a world free of injustice.

6. Now it’s time to write our own poems. Share the following prompt: Write your own “shout out” poem praising people, places and things that may not always receive recognition. You can begin each line with “shout out,” or return to this beginning every few lines. 

Invite participants to use another repetitive hook besides “shout out,” like “here’s to,” or anything else they come up with that invites recognition. (Included at the bottom is a simple template for participants who might need some extra support. Set the timer for 5-10  minutes, and let the writing begin.

7. When the time is up, you can invite participants to read their work silently to themselves. Then everyone is invited to share aloud. If you notice that someone is feeling shy or unsure, you might invite them to read one line, or a few lines, rather than the whole poem. You can go around in the circle so that everyone can share as much or as little as they wish. (“Passing” is always allowed.) 

Here’s to the ________________

To the _____________________

To the _____________________

Shout out to the ______________

To the ______________________

To the ______________________

To the ______________________

Shout out to the ______________

To the ______________________

To the ______________________

And to the ___________________

Literary Terms, Forms, and Devices: Spoken Word Poetry, Rhyme, List Poems, Anaphora (when consecutive lines begin with the same word or phrase)

Acknowledgments & References: Credit to Citizen Schools, who can be traced to using Sekou Sundiata’s poem in a previous poetry curriculum for young people. 

Mentor Text

I highly recommend listening along to Sekou Sundiata reading “Shout Out” in his own incredible voice. It really makes the poem come alive to hear it spoken by the artist himself.  

Sekou Sundiata

Shout Out

Here’s to the best words
In the right place
At the perfect time
Here’s to three hour dinners
And long conversations, and the
Philosophical ramifications of a beautiful day.
To the twelve-steppers
At the thirteenth step–
May they never forget
The first step.
To the increase, to the decrease
To the do, to the do
To the did to the did
To the done done
To the lonely.
To the brokenhearted.
To the new, blue haiku.
Here’s to all or nothing at all.
Here’s to the sick, and the shut-in.
Here’s to the was you been to the is you in
To what’s deep and deep to what’s down and down
To the lost, and the blind, and the almost found.
Here’s to the crazy
The lazy
The bored
The ignored
The beginners
The sinners
The losers
The winners.
To the smooth
And the cool
And even to the fools.
Here’s to your ex-best-friend.
To the rule-benders and the repeat offenders.
To the lovers and the troublers
The engaging
The enraging
To the healers and the feelers
To a star falling from a dream.
To a dream, when you know what it means.
To the bottom
To the root
To the base, uh, boom!
To the drum
Here’s to the was you been to the is you in
To what’s deep and deep to what’s down and down
To the lost, and the blind, and the almost found.
Here’s to somebody within the sound of your voice this morning.
Here’s to somebody who can’t be within the sound of your voice tonight.
To a low-cholesterol pig sandwich smothered in swine without the pork.
To a light buzz in your head
And a soundtrack in your mind
Going on and on and on and on and on like a good time.
Here’s to promises that break by themselves
Here’s to the breaks with great promise.
To people who don’t wait in the car when you tell them to wait in the car.
Here’s to what you forgot and who you forgot.
Here’s to the unforgettable.
Here’s to the was you been to the is you in
To what’s deep and deep to what’s down and down
To the lost, and the blind, and the almost found.
Here’s to the hip-hoppers
The don’t stoppers
Heads nodding in the digital glow
Of their beloved studios.
To the incredible indelible impressions made by the gaze as you gaze in the faces of strangers.
To yourself you ask: Could this be God? Straight up!
Or is it a mask?
Here’s to the tribe of the hyper-cyber
Trippin’ at the virtual-most outpost at the edge on the tip
Believin’ that what they hear is the mothership
Drawing near.
Here’s to the was you been, to the is you in
To what’s deep and deep, to what’s down and down
To the lost, and the blind, and the almost found.

Sekou Sundiata

Student Poems

Shout Out 

Here’s to the “Be careful.”
To the “I love you.”
To the “How was your day?” everyday after school.
Shout out to the “Look sideways before crossing the street.”
To the “Where were you? I’ve been looking for you all day.”
To the 7 missed calls.
To the 10 received messages.
Shout out to the love of a single dad.
To the love of a single mom.
To the ones that die for their kids.
And shout out to every single parent.

—Angelica Mella Beato

Shout Out

To the people who left my life
From now on I will continue to do
BIGGER & BETTER things without you
Here’s to the people from Ghana who bend down on their knees to greet you
To the ancestors who proved that we belong in this world
Shout out to the homeless
To the children that are being hurt
To the people who always think positive about others
To the people I truly love

—Deborah Oppong

Shout Out

Here’s to the single fathers who struggle
to help with candy and toys, periods and boys
the “Don’t go away for college” & “Come to visit us every weekend” dads
To the one who bruised my heart and left me wondering
To wonderful me for finding the remedy (medicine) to heal it
Shout out to sleep for being my best friend when I need to cope
And grape nut ice cream helping me bottle the steam
from spewing out of my kettle-like body
To the people who aren’t afraid of change
To the people not afraid to get that new piercing, tattoo, new hair color
And to the people with hearts bigger than their bodies,
leaving them to be afraid of everything
Shout out to the TEENS…
Those teens that reach home and have no one to ask them how their day was
To the teens that ball out on $300 shirts because compliments
seem to be their only source of affection
And to you, for LISTENING to my poem

—Kayla Porter

Shout Out

Here’s to the immigrants that came to America from where they started from,
just so that they can fear getting sent back.
To the low income workers that struggle to maintain their families,
their feet sore and their backs aching with the pain of the boss
that crushes them with work each and every day.
To the single mothers that pray for a better future for their beloved children
Shout out to the stray animals behind cages that dream of having a home
To the autistic people that everyone sees differently
To the people sleeping on the cold concrete floor instead of a warm mattress,
sadly watching every walking body heading to a cozy home.
To the young children that dream of getting a loved one back in their life again,
looking up at the night sky praying to at least see them again,
speak to them again, feel their love again.
Shout out to the people that have very little but have a lot to do in life
To the inspirational speakers that use their life story as lessons
To the people that don’t have anybody else but themselves in this earth
And to the innocent children, young teens, adults, elders that lost their life for tragic reasons.

—Diana Cervantes Cruz

Libby Mislan (she/her) is a poet and community-based artist living in Brooklyn, New York. She received her MFA in poetry from Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2018 and has since worked on poetry projects supported by Queens Council on the Arts and New York State Council on the Arts that explore the restoration of health on personal, interpersonal, and societal levels. Libby is a firm believer in the power of the arts as a vehicle for collective transformation. In addition to her own creative process, she designs and facilitates arts projects and workshops to engage communities in creative expression. She works as a teaching artist in New York City public schools with non-profit organizations Community-Word Project, City Lore, and Teachers & Writers Collaborative. Libby is also a certified leader in InterPlay, an active, creative approach to unlock the wisdom of the body that uses improvisational storytelling, movement, and song.