What is Orange? by Mary O’Neill

This is a really fun poem which can inspire children of all abilities to think and write creatively. In a way, this is one of the easiest poetry lessons to teach – and the results can be wonderful and varied.

It is based on a poem by the American poet Mary O-Neill. She was born and raised in Ohio and later lived in New York City. Her best-known works were inspired by colours. She died in 1990.

This poem is called ‘What is Orange?‘ and is a list, very skilfully done, of things that are orange. Here is how it opens:

Orange is a tiger lily,
A carrot,
A feather from
A parrot,
A flame,
The wildest colour you can name.
Saying good-bye
In a sunset that
Shocks the sky.

The full text of the poem can be found here. Here is an American school presenting a sung version of the poem (in a different order, slightly, from the written version).

Suggested activities
1. Show the children a Powerpoint slide either of things that are orange, a just a plain, bright orange background. An alternative is to present some objects and ask them what they have in common, eg a carrot, a tiger lily, a fox. What could possibly link these together?
2. Read the poem to them and work towards a class performance, either in groups or together.
3. Ask the children to work in groups to choose their own colour. Then brainstorm on a big sheet as many things as they can think of which are that colour.
4. Encourage children to think not in words but in phrases. Model them on some in the poem such as Saying good-bye/ In a sunset that/ Shocks the sky. If they chose blue, they could come up with The feeling you have when it rains on a Saturday or When clouds disappear and the sun shines on the sea.
5. Challenge the children to use all of their senses – not just sight.
6. Ask the children then to fit the images together in a coherent order. Why have they chosen to start with that? How does it link to the next word or phrase? Suggest to them that every word should count and have a reason for being there?
7. Children could work in pairs or groups to perform their poems. They could also produce Powerpoint presentations to illustrate their poems.

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Carol Ann Duffy in the classroom

duffyThis charming poem is called F for Fox and is by Carol Ann Duffy, the Poet Laureate since 2009, and taken from her book New & Collected Poetry for Children. Faber and Faber (2009). I really like this collection. It is very accessible for children and the language play is very enjoyable. There is a sequence of poems about musicians which could be used in a series of lessons introducing children to different types of music and poetry to go along with them.

F for Fox is a playful, clever poem in which all the key words begin with the letter F. Here is a link to the full text. Here are a few lines to give you a taster. (I cannot find a video of this poem anywhere.)

The fox fled over the fields away from the farm and the furious farmer.
His fur was freaked.
His foxy face was frantic as he flew. A few feathers fluttered out of his mouth.
The fox had broken his fast with a feast of fowl!

Possible activities

1. Have fun with reading and performing it. Use group work, individuals and pairs.

2. Ask children about the language features. Obviously alliteration will figure quite highly. But what else is there?

3. Discuss how the poet approached this poem. Was it as simple as listing loads of words beginning with F? When you look closely, it is a very clever, and difficult trick to pull off!

4. Take another letter. I think we chose M. Ask children to work in pairs or individually to write as many words as they can which begin with M. Ask them to divide their sheets into categories eg names, places, adjectives, adverbs and so on.

5. Ask them to choose the name of one of their M characters and build up a word picture of them. Eg Moody Maisie from Manchester carried a magnificent map. Share these in a plenary, highlighting uses of different techniques. Swap ideas, steal ideas.

6. Then ask the children to try to construct a simple story for their character, using the lists of vocabulary, ticking off each word as they have used it. The task is harder than you might imagine. Urge the children to make every word count. The results will be hilarious and great fun!

Challenge your class to write a poem containing five devices

I wanted to revise poetic devices with my class, so I challenged them to write a poem about their favourite place. It had to contain:

a simile
a metaphor
alliteration
personification
– an idiom

I asked them to label them in different colours and be prepared to share them with the rest of the class. This was rather a false situation and was unlikely to produce great poetry, but I just wanted them to think about different devices and varying their approach to writing.

To get the class going, I showed them a picture of my lounge, along with this poem, written by me. Not great, but containing everything I wished to highlight:

My favourite place

I am going to the place
Where I feel safe,
Rows of books like teeth in a big smile,
The red sofas a huge hug waiting for me,
Crazy cushions cover every corner,
The coffee table complains under the
Weight of paper, pens, toys and cups;
A place of peace, a window on the world.
When I’ve got the blues I return to
My favourite room.