Words Unlocked 2016


Words Unlocked Update #7: 2016 Anthology!

The Words Unlocked 2016 Anthology is here!

The Words Unlocked 2016 Anthology is complete and available as a PDF and iBook. Enjoy!
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*WU Update #6: Finalists & Anthology Inclusions!*

Words Unlocked 2016 Anthology: Included Poems!

All of the poems included in the list below moved through three rigorous rounds of review and will be included in the 2016 Words Unlocked Anthology. Congratulations to your poets!

Also included in this list are the 13 finalist poems (in bold and centered). These poems were read by our final team of reviewers, the Words Unlocked 2016 Reviewing Artists! Our goal is to announce the winning poems on Friday, May 20th.

See something in the above list that needs correcting?

Please email Christy Sampson-kelly at csampsonkelly@ceeas.org and we'll get it straightened out!

Praise Your Poets!

It's so exciting to hear that many of you plan to praise your poets during class, schoolwide awards, and graduation ceremonies. Click the image of the certificate to download a Word version, add your personal touch, print, and present to your poets. : )


*WU16 Update #5: Submission Portal Closes Friday, April 29th!*

Submissions Pour In!

We have received a steady stream of poetry submissions through the 2016 Words Unlocked Submission Portal. The Submission Portal will close at midnight on Friday, April 29th.

*Please be sure to use the 2016 Words Unlocked Submission Form to enter poems!

Questions about the contest? Click the link below the image for more information.

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*WU16 Update #4: Submission Portal Opens Friday, April 15th!*

Submission Portal!

The Words Unlocked Submission Portal will officially open on Friday, April 15th and will remain open through midnight on Friday, April 29th. Interested in learning more about the contest? Click the link below!

Meet the Words Unlocked 2016 Reviewing Artists!

Would you like to meet the reviewing artists and share their encouragement with your poets? We have a wonderfully talented and diverse groups of poets, led once again by our Lead Reviewing Artist, Jimmy Santiago Baca! Each reviewing artist has taken the time to provide young people participating in Words Unlocked with a personal message, so visit our Reviewing Artists page today!

Unable to stream video inside your facility? No worries! Feel free to download and save them.

2016 Youth Reviewing Artist

A huge welcome to Talib! Our 2016 Youth Reviewing Artist. Talib's poem, "Yes I Can," (featured below) was awarded Honorable Mention in Words Unlocked 2015.

Yes I Can

I was told, I will never succeed.

I was told, I will never make it.

I was told, school isn’t for me.

But I always said YES I CAN

I was called UGLY.

I was called STUPID.

I was called RETARDED.

But I always said I STILL CAN

I was treated like a butterfly in harsh winds.

I was treated like a wolf with no pack.

I was treated like a boy with no friends.

But I always said YES I CAN I CAN MAKE IT

But I always said I STILL CAN BE FAMOUS

And till this day YES I CAN

Be an Incredible, Intellectual, Insightful, Inspirational, Intuitive, Person with Intensions to show Integrity

And face problems without letting people get the best of me.

And the reason I used words that begin with I:

Because (I) - (C)an - (A)void - (N)egativity

Poetry Break!

Be still and listen to poet, novelist, memoirist, and Returning Lead Reviewing Artist and Words Unlocked 2015 Focus Poet, Jimmy Santiago Baca, reads his piece, "I am Offering this Poem."
Jimmy Santiago Baca - I Am Offering This Poem


*WU16 Update #3: How's it going?!*

Come and Get 'em!

If you are just beginning this week, no worries! You still have plenty of time. The Words Unlocked 7-Day semi-structured curriculum, lessons à la carte, and contest guidelines for 2016 are ready and waiting to be consumed. Keep checking back for additional resources!

Tell It!

How is Words Unlocked 2016 unfolding for you? Do the young people you work with have any favorite poems? Have you had any surprises? Click here to share your story!

Poetry Break!

Watch Omar Musa, award-winning author, poet, rapper and Words Unlocked 2016 Final Reviewing Artist, perform his poem, "The Great Displaced."
Omar Musa - The Great Displaced


*WU16 Update #2: Focus Poet, Donté Clark!*

Kickoff Video

Words Unlocked 2016 Focus Poet and Reviewing Artist, Donté Clark, took some time to drop some knowledge about what poetry means to him and provide encouragement to the hundreds of young people in confinement around the country who will be participating in Words Unlocked. Check out the 2016 Kickoff Video below!

Words Unlocked 2016 Video

*Unable to view YouTube videos within your facility? We have you covered. Click here for an alternative.

Romeo is Bleeding Documentary

A fatal turf war between neighborhoods haunts the city of Richmond, CA. Donté Clark transcends the violence in his hometown by writing poetry about his experiences. Using his voice to inspire those around him, he and the like-minded youth of the city mount an urban adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, with the hope of starting a real dialogue about violence in the city. Will Richmond force Donté to compromise his idealistic ambitions? Or will Donté end Richmond’s cycle of trauma?

We are thrilled to announce that teachers participating in Words Unlocked 2016 will have access to the film, Romeo is Bleeding, for the month of April. This documentary stars Words Unlocked 2016 Focus Poet and Reviewing Artist, Donté Clark!

*Click here to request access to the film.


*WU16 Update #1: Poetry resources anyone?*

Poetry Resources

You will need to preselect poems for your students to refer to on Day 1 of Words Unlocked 2016. Take some time to check out the Poetry Resources page on the website and begin selecting some with your students in mind. Consider their interests, experiences, and ideas. Then, choose poems that speak to those very interests, experiences, and ideas.

Poetry Contest

Ready to start thinking about the Words Unlocked 2016 Poetry Contest? Everything you need to know about rules, submissions, and prizes is posted and ready for your review.


Did you find something missing from the Words Unlocked website? Is a link not working? Are you unable to view a video? We are human...and ready to help. Click here or fill out the form at the very bottom of the Teach page to report any website fixes or additions that would enhance your teaching experience.

Poetry Break!

Take less than 10 minutes to view the video below, featuring our original Words Unlocked focus poet and returning reviewing artist, Reginald Dwayne Betts. How will you enable students to dis-cover the beautiful power in their voices?


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Words Unlocked is BACK for 2016!

In the spirit of National Poetry Month (April), and in an effort to encourage literary exploration by young people held in locked juvenile facilities, we are proud to announce that we will be running our month-long poetry writing initiative and competition, Words Unlocked, again this year.

We are excited to welcome back our lead reviewing artist for Words Unlocked 2016, poet, novelist, and memoirist Jimmy Santiago Baca. This year's theme is Interconnectedness! Through Words Unlocked, we will encourage students to explore this theme and voice their truths about being mutually connected—to others, to communities, to systems, to the world.

Our Director of Practitioner Support, Christy Sampson-Kelly, a published poet herself, once again leads Words Unlocked. All materials for the initiative are available at our Words Unlocked website, which houses a robust set of tools available for public use: daily lesson plans and teacher-ready classroom materials. Please share the Words Unlocked website with anyone and everyone you know who might help get these materials to teachers working with incarcerated youth. We hope to have thousands of students participating starting on April 1.

Far too many young people are locked up around the country. Through this initiative, we continue to ensure that their words are not.

The Words Unlocked 2015 theme was transformation. Take some time to read what young people held in locked facilities had to say.

words unlocked evolve

glimpses into times of change

pause, transformation

Click here to view the Words Unlocked 2015 Anthology!

The Center for Educational Excellence in Alternative Settings

We help alternative schools—in community settings and in locked facilities—implement transformational, student-focused practices, designed to significantly improve the life chances of the students they serve.