top of page

NEW COACH 411 with Rick Dorn: Poetry and POI Ideas

New Coach 411 is a monthly column designed to give new Speech and Debate Coaches the lowdown on the world of coaching. In column #15, Coach Rick Dorn hands out some advice about how to prepare for Poetry and POI competition.

New Coach 411 - Column #15

Poetry and POI Ideas

Welcome back! One of the toughest jobs for brand new coaches is figuring out how to find pieces, information, resources, etc. Many teachers get drafted with little preparation to coach Speech and Debate, and then they are left to drown in a sea of possibilities with little help. Here are some ideas to help those coaches.

First, never forget to reach out to fellow coaches. I have found that most coaches are more than willing to help, because they have all been where the new coaches are. They are your best source for ideas and good sources. They also will know better than I do about what works or doesn’t in your area. Let me explain that a little better. A piece that might work really well in Minnesota may be very unpopular in California, so having local coaches help you get the lay of the land is beneficial.

So assuming you have reached out locally and, for whatever reason, you still would like help with sources, let’s start with interpretation. Beginning coaches can usually wrap their minds around the interps before figuring out some of the more complicated events. The interp events are typically Poetry, Prose, Humor, Dramatic, Duo, and Program Oral Interp (POI). Let’s talk about Poetry first.

In Poetry, it used to be expected that a speaker would select a variety of poems either about a similar theme or by the same author. The poems would be printed, put in a binder, and then recited in order. Under those circumstances, modern poetry, or even less well known poets, were your best bet. In my experience, classic well-known poets do not do well. Don’t select Whitman, Dickinson, Frost, etc. More modern poetry seemed to work better with judges.

Since the creation of POI, Poetry has started evolving. Now, speakers are more likely to succeed by cutting poetry pieces and splicing them together. Instead of a flowing poetry recitation, you are now building a “program” with a guiding theme and with contrasting sections of poetry alternated. In any case, modern poets tend to work best. NSDA has also eased the restrictions on what poetry can be used. The days of poets publishing in a print book or magazine are ending, so the best poetry is now online on poetry websites or even performed slam poetry. Building to a climax is the endgame, and the interpretation will involve more acting choices than before. Also, binders can now be used as a prop because POI showed how successful that could be in performing.

POI (Program Oral Interpretation) has had a big impact on the debate world. It can be highly entertaining, and the themes have been powerful. A newer event to NSDA, it caught on very quickly. The idea is to take a variety of styles of pieces with a similar theme and cut them to flow with an overriding message. Poetry, Prose (fiction or nonfiction), playscripts, news, essays, etc. It should be a mixed collection of styles. Any published work is acceptable. I had a young man do a POI about school shootings and his framing device was a Mad Magazine article of all things. It worked really well, so don’t be afraid to look in unusual places. The national champion a few years ago (who has been a guest on this very website!) used the transcript of the 2016 Presidential debates between Trump and Clinton for part of her piece. Many performances are available on Youtube, and you can find examples of cuttings on different websites.

I hope these ideas give you a starting point. Next month, I’ll talk about possible sources for the other Interpretative areas. Have a great holiday season!

If you have any questions or topics you would like explored, please email me at

Thanks for reading, and good luck!

Rick Dorn

Worland High School

Biography: Rick Dorn is a two diamond coach who has been teaching some kind of speech or theatre since 1992. He has been named Wyoming 3A Coach of the Year twice and has coached numerous students to national competition.


Check out the 2022 December Wyoming Speech and Debate Newsletter:


bottom of page