I do not know about your grade school but in mine we were asked to memorize several declamation pieces and recite them in class. I had my third grade in Saudi Arabia where declamation pieces were unheard of so what my mom did was to ask me to memorize a piece and recite it at home. Without an audience but my mom and my brother, I was made to recite a declamation piece over and over again. Fragments of this piece haunts me to this day....
"... and I danced and danced with my handsome Romeo"
Almost all pieces involved a dying parent or a dying self. I believe this is to force the kids to shed tears without contorting their faces to unimaginable proportions, crying and trying to remember the next line.
In the piece I memorized when I was in third grade, the mother died because she got a glass of water that the daughter refused to give her. The daughter went off to dance with her handsome Romeo. Upon getting home she then cries, "MOTHER!!!". Most declamation pieces will have this line.
Because of the gulf war, I had to go back to my previous school and declamation pieces were abound. Each student in my English class was forced to memorize a piece and recite in class. AFter a while, I had all pieces memorized by heart. While the other kids doing their chores at home sing, I recite declamation pieces, with feelings mind you. Perhaps because of so much practice, I got better and I was selected for the level eliminations. Perhaps due to so much practice, I got eliminated. I knew the pieces too well... I was speaking too fast. This is still my problem up to this very day. :)
The classic pieces way back are:
A Birthday Gift
This piece is about a litte girl wanting to a doll from her dad. Her dad was away and all day she waited for her present. Finally, a big box arrived. She was jumping for joy but she got very confused when her mom started to cry real hard. Though confused, she still excitedly peeked at the big gift box her dad gave her. She cried "DADDY!" (I warned you, most declamation pieces will have this line). Her dad died in the war and the box was really a coffin containing the cold dead body of her dad.
This one starts with "I can still vividly remember. It was three months ago. Yes. Three months ago when I visited Dr. Castro and she told me I had three months to live. Three months. " The words three months are repeated for three million times in this piece. The finale is the winning part for most of the students where the student has to laugh and cry at the same time as she realizes that she is dying. This piece is really crazy!
Oh Captain, My Captain
This piece is only for those who are unable to memorize anything longer. This is only meant for first graders. Horrible piece for those who cannot recite poems without sounding like Little Miss Philippines contestants. Arg!!!
This is one of the most beautiful pieces I have heard. Perhaps because, it does not involve mourning but vengeance. Instead, of the protagonist dying slowly, the protagonist avenges herself by killing her parents and other relatives who have mocked her all her life because of her ugly face. Throughout the piece, she was being haunted by her conscience. "Vendehttah... Vendehttah.... " like haunting voices and this is the part where the girl starts to act tormented. Hehe... I did this piece in my Forensics club in high school.
This piece is the most twisted piece I have ever heard. Normally, the student would wear a pair of pajamas for this piece. I forgot the whole story but the highlight is that there is this girl who keeps on throwing the knife on the door and then gets the knife back. Throws it and gets it back. Throws it and wham... it hits her mom! And then this is the part where the girl cries hysterically because she realizes that her mom is drenched in blood already!
Twisted and disturbing. I was in kindergarten when I first saw this piece performed on stage. I am forever scarred. :)
There are more declamation pieces but these are all I care to write right now.
Maybe if nostalgia hits me again, I will have more to write.