The Uncertainty of the Poet by Wendy Cope

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Wendy Cope

This poem is a great example of wordplay. It encourages children to experiment with language and the results can be very funny. It is said that the poem is based on the painting, Uncertainty of the Poet by Giorgio de Chirico (see below).

Wendy Cope (born 1945) begins with a simple verse:

I am a poet.
I am very fond of bananas.

She then uses the same ten words in all the following verses – but changes the order and the sense, and throws in the odd extra bit of punctuation. For instance, her second verse is:

I am bananas.
I am very fond of a poet.

Pretty clever, yes? As the verses develop, they become increasingly bizarre until the final verse reads:

I am of very fond bananas.
Am I a poet?

Suggested activities

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Uncertainty of the Poet by Giorgio de Chirico

First, have fun with reading and performing the poem. Can the children get what is going on? If there were a rule for this poem, what would it be? There are eight verses, so split the class into eight groups and get them to memorise and perform their two lines. Try it in different orders, different voices, different volumes. Put the emphasis on different words.

Then try getting the children to write their own verse. We need two statements and they can only use ten words. For instance…

I am a swimmer.
I like to pat my dog.

Then ask them to write more verses using only those words. They are only allowed to change the punctuation. Who can write the most verses? On this occasion, some artwork could be created to accompany the finished versions (though poetry does NOT need to have decorated borders ordinarily).

The full text of the poem can be found here.

41sAbATNtDL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_This poem appears in this excellent collection, Best Poems on the Underground.



How to get your class to perform a poem

Performing poetry? Isn’t that a bit elitist? A teacher once said to me how performing poetry was very “public school”. How much farther from the truth could you get?
There is no better way to get children animated and excited about a poem than performing it. Here are a few tips:
1. Divide the poem into verses. Ask pairs or groups of children to perform (not read) their couple of lines.
2. Ask children to decide how to perform the lines. You could put these questions on the board:
Loud or quiet?
Fast or slow?
Serious or funny?
Silly voices or normal voices?
One voice at a time or everyone together?
Should you add actions or drama?
Do you need sound effects?
Which words should you exaggerate?
3. Move towards a smooth and powerful class performance. Film it, or edit parts together. Or create a sound picture of the poem by recording the audio with special effects.
4. Film it and put it on the school website.
5. Perform it for a parents’ assembly or in front of the rest of the school. If there’s a repeated chorus, get the whole school to join in.

There is an excellent website, called Perform-a-Poem, organised by Children’s Laureate Michael Rosen, giving many tips on getting children to perform poetry. Do check it out! Here is a super example from the Perform-a-Poem website on how a poem can be performed.

Here are some CBBC stars performing poems:

Here is Michael Rosen performing Chocolate Cake:

Here are some children performing poetry. Your class could watch these and suggest how the performance could be improved.

Television by Roald Dahl

Television. Good or bad? Well, this poem by Roald Dahl will be familiar to many primary school pupils. It appears in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as a song by the Oompa-Loompas. The poem tells of the dangers of children watching too much television (or any television at all) – how it dulls the senses and kills the imagination. The only antedote is reading. Who could disagree?

Well, Dahl grew up without television and this certainly didn’t seem to do him any harm. But the medium of television has helped Dahl to become the favourite author of so many children – with television and film adaptations taking his stories to so many more children, beyond the reach of the written format. This article, on the official Roald Dahl website, discusses whether Dahl was ever really anti-television or whether he was being deliberatley provocative in this controversial poem. Whatever his thoughts, this is a great talking point for children!

Here is an extract from the opening of the poem:

The most important thing we’ve learned,
So far as children are concerned,
Is never, NEVER, NEVER let
Them near your television set —
Or better still, just don’t install
The idiotic thing at all.
In almost every house we’ve been,
We’ve watched them gaping at the screen.
They loll and slop and lounge about,
And stare until their eyes pop out.

You can read the full text of the poem here. Watch a lovely version of the poem here:

Suggested activities
1. This is a long poem. Break it up. Cut it up into pieces and give pairs rhyming couplets to perform. Number them. Conduct the performance. Keep doing this until the performance is perfect. Encourage the pairs to learn their two lines and then discuss which words to emphasise, whether a silly voice is needed, and how to best bring out the comedy. Video the performance and put it on your school website.
2. Open up a discussion about television by taking phrases from the poem. Do you agree or disagree? Why?
Try all that shocking ghastly junk or
How used they keep themselves contented
Before this monster was invented?
3. Stage a debate in the class. Half must argue for television being the best thing, and half for books being the best thing. Ensure everyone has their say.
4. Lead into writing a persuasive argument or a discussion. Ensure you use three strong arguments to support your case – with evidence from the poem. Make sure you include a summary of the opposite argument. Rehearse persuasive language.

A Chance in France by Pie Corbett

A Chance in France

corbettI really like this poem by Pie Corbett, a great educationalist who is passionate about writing fiction and prose. This poem uses wordplay to stretch the imagination of children – and is pretty handy, too, in finding out how much they know about the world and its cities and countries.

Following the recommendation from mum to ‘stay at home’, the poet seeks to be more ambitious and courageous by heading first for France, neatly rhymed internally with France. From then on, we have a destination partnered with a rhyme – day/St Tropex, did/Madrid, tussels/Brussels. Here is how the poem begins:

‘Stay at home,’
Mum said,
But I took a chance in France,
turned grey for the day in St Tropez,
forgot what I did in Madrid,
had some tussels in Brussels
with a trio from Rio,
lost my way in Bombay,
nothing wrong in Hong Kong,
felt calmer in Palma,
and quite nice in Nice,
yes, felt finer in China,…

You can read the whole text of the poem here:

Here is a video of Pie Corbett talking about writing poetry. It does not relate specifically to the task above, but gives you an idea of the man and his passion for writing.

Suggested activities
1. Begin with a class reading or performance. For advice on how to do this most effectively, follow this link.
2. Then break the poem up and give pairs one line to analyse each. Give out atlases or use the internet to research the place mentioned. Where is it? How do they speak there? What is it famous for? How long would it take to get there? What might it feel like to live there?
3. Then ask children to add more lines, perhaps using places they have been on holiday or would like to visit. Add these lines on and shuffle them about to get the best effect. Move towards a new version of the poem, all written by the children.
4. Make a class performance of the new poem and entertain the rest of the school with it at assembly. Perhaps you could do a wall display with pictures of all the places mentioned.

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.

Whatif by Shel Silverstein

Everyone has secret fears, often hidden inside – and children are no exception. This poem, Whatif by Shel Silverstein, articulates the anxieties of a young person. The fears range from not doing well in a school test, to a late bus, to parents breaking up, and even to death itself.

Shel Silverstein (1930-1999) was an American poet, singer-songwriter and cartoonist. Here is how the poem opens:

Last night, while I lay thinking here,
Some Whatifs crawled inside my ear
And pranced and partied all night long
And sang their same old Whatif song:
Whatif I’m dumb in school?
Whatif they’ve closed the swimming pool?

Read the full text of the poem here.

This is a really fun version of the poem (note: it begins with flashing images).

Suggested activities
This poem could be really useful in a PSHE context, especially if there are particular children in your class suffering from anxieties.

Read the poem out to the children and work towards a class performance. Share lines out to individuals, pairs and groups and get the children really familiar with the feel of the poem and its meaning.

Then, the children could work in groups, with large pieces of card, listing their own anxieties from the trivial (losing their ruler) to the serious things they are worried about. Perhaps there could be a scale across the top of the sheet from 1 to 10 and they could write their worries in the appropriate places.

Children could then start taking these fears and working them into a poem, similar to Silverstein’s. You will note that Silverstein rhymes pairs of lines, but I would not advise this approach with children, until some are very keen to give it a go.

You can read more poems by Shel Silverstein at Poetry Soup.


In Just-spring by e e cummins

What would children make of the experimental American poet e e cummins (1894-1962)? Well, there’s only one way to find out! Cummins played about with poetic form and language, to such an extent that his poems do not really look like many other poems. He breaks all the rules – capital letters, punctuations, length of lines and so on. But it is because his poetry is so anarchic that he appeals to children. They enjoy making sense of his strange structures and they like the way he plays with words. Welcome to free verse!

A good poem for them to start with is In Just-spring, the apparently simple tale of a balloon man and some children playing. Here is how it begins (and note the layout):

in Just-
spring          when the world is mud-
luscious the little
lame balloonman


whistles          far          and wee


and eddieandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it’s
You can read the full text of the poem here.

Suggested activities

I think this is one of the poems which you just have to put out there for children to look at.
1. Give them a copy between two or three. Ask them to read it through a few times to themselves and to each other.
2. Discuss: What is unusual? Who do you like? What do you not understand? How is it different from the way you usually write? Hopefully, they will note the strange spacing, the running together of eddie and bill, the lack of capital letters, the inclusion of seemingly made-up words such as “mud-luscious”.
3. Then work towards some kind of class performance of the poem, or it could be performed in groups. Leave it to the children where to put in any pauses. Perhaps remind them that the end of a line in a poem is not necessarily a reason to pause.
4. Leading into writing. Imagine a story about Eddie, Bill, Betty and Isbel. What have they been doing? Where have they come from? What do they say to the goat-footed balloon man?

Some other questions to discuss:

How does the poet feel about spring?

Why is it “Just” spring?
What is “mud-luscious”?
What is it like when it is “puddle-wonderful”?
Do poems have to rhyme? What is the effect of not having rhyme or set rhythm in a poem? Do you like this?
Here is a performance of the poem by e e cummins himself (in audio) with pictures:

Another thing children could do is find images online to accompany the poem – or they could produce artwork themselves about this strange Spring scene. Here is how one group of young people illustrated the poem.


How to organise a poetry competition in a primary school

cropped-books.jpgAn English teacher once said to me that she didn’t have poetry reading competitions because they were “too public school”. She might do well to reflect on the words of Maya Angelou who said:

“Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with the shades of deeper meaning.”

Reading a poem is a wonderful thing and can bring it to life. But reciting a poem from heart is so much more powerful.

This is how I organised a very simple poetry reading competition in a primary school Year 5 classroom. I think it filled about a 45-minute slot over a period of three or four weeks.

Lesson 1

Announce the competition. This will be a poetry performance contest. Children must learn a poem by heart and perform it. The rest of the class will be the judges, scoring the performance on clarity and meaning. There will be prizes for the winners! Invite a guest judge such as the headteacher or teaching assistant.

Raid your school library for as many poetry books as possible. Provide a huge range for your children to choose from. Include silly language play poems, limericks, fun verses: but also feature serious poems about the environment, war, historic events and other social issues. If you school does not have a supply of poetry books, then shame on them.

Divide the children into pairs, or let them choose partners if you are comfortable with that. Then allow everyone to browse through the books and select one that appeals to them. Give them 15 minutes or so to choose a poem which they are going to have to learn by heart and perform in front of the class. Share the choices. Allow the pairs time to get familiar with reading the words and working out how they will perform it.

Will they read it all together? Alternate lines? Think about loud, soft, mysterious voices. Will there be movement or drama? Will they need props (they almost always do!)? Encourage a varied performance that will capture people’s attention.

Provide copies of the poems for children to take home and learn. Suggest that they annotate the poems in coloured pens.

Lesson Two

Rehearsal time. Reinforce the rules of the competition and give the children time to run through their performances again. The poems do not need to be long – a limerick might suffice – but the performances do need to be word perfect. There may be time in this lesson to begin the performances. You will probably have about 15 poems in all. Invite volunteers for who would like to start. They must introduce the poem with the title and the name of the poet.

Lesson Three

The competition continues. Ensure children are reflecting on both the clarity of the performance and how well the performers convey the meaning of the poem. Give everyone a chance to tall up their marks at the end and then collect the voting papers. You might wish to show some poetry performances (such as John Agard’s Poetry Jump Up) to inspire the children or to fill time whilst you count the ballot papers. Announce the results and award the prizes! Why not get some of the winners to perform their poems in assembly or for parents at a half-term assembly.

Everyone in the class has been involved in this competition. It is not elitist. It is not “public school”. Poetry is for everyone and can be enjoyed by everyone!

Website support

There is an excellent website, called Perform-a-Poem, organised by Children’s Laureate Michael Rosen, giving many tips on getting children to perform poetry. Do check it out! Here is a super example from the Perform-a-Poem website on how a poem can be performed.

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!

The Adventures of Isabel by Ogden Nash

Ogden Nash (1902-1971) was an American poet particularly well-known for his light verse. This makes an excellent introduction into poetry for young people (though they should be reminded that there is serious stuff ahead!) This silly poem, about the adventures of Isobel, is ideal for class performance. Nash’s daughter was called Isabel, by the way.

Here is an extract:

Isabel met an enormous bear,
Isabel, Isabel, didn’t care;
The bear was hungry, the bear was ravenous,
The bear’s big mouth was cruel and cavernous.

You can read the full poem here, and also hear Ogden Nash reading it. Here is a version of him reading it, accompanied by a picture show.

Activities in class:

Keep the pens and paper in the cupboard. This lesson is all about performance and understanding. In the poem you have a bear, a witch, a giant and a doctor. Each of these speaks in the poem. You will also need a narrator.

When I used this poem, I had five groups. One group was each character, and one was the narrator. Or you could split the class into groups of five and have each one prepare a performance. There is plenty of scope for dramatic and silly reading – the witch must crow, how does a giant speak, and how does a bear speak? Groups could spice up their performances with actions and drama. They could fill in the backgrounds of their characters by imagining where they came from. Try getting rid of the tables and chairs. Work towards a creative, noisy and funny performance of this poem which could easily be learnt by heart. Good luck!


Don’t Call Alligator Long-Mouth till You crossed River by John Agard

This simple poem is great fun, especially for Key Stage 1 children. It is by the wonderful poet John Agard. It could easily be learned by heart by a class of children, or conducted in different parts by the teacher. It could also be used as inspiration for story-telling or artwork. Also, what does it mean? What is the message? What other animals could we write poetry about?

Here is a very simple video performance of the poem. Maybe you could make a video with your pupils.

There is a downloadable PDF resource about John Agard here.

The poems of Benjamin Zephaniah

Dis Poetry

Here is a clip of Benjamin Zephaniah performing Dis Poetry.

The poem begins:

Dis poetry is like a riddim dat drops
De tongue fires a riddim dat shoots like shots
Dis poetry is designed fe rantin
Dance hall style, big mouth chanting,

You can read the poem in full here. Children were at first confused by the words in this poem, but then they were excited. How should they decipher the language? What does it mean? How should it read? There were plenty of laughs as they tried to speak each verse, but eventually they started to see words that re-appeared and approached the rest of it as a puzzle to be solved.

According to my mood

This anarchic poem begins:

I have poetic license,
i WriTe thE way i waNt.
i drop my full stops where i like………..
MY CAPITAL LetteRs go where i liKE,

I haven’t found a reliable on-line source for this poem, and I can’t locate it in any of my poetry books. I know it appears in a school collection. Perhaps someone can remind me!

Read about Benjamin Zephaniah on the PoemHunter website.

This is the official website of Benjamin Zephaniah.

An example lesson of getting pupils to write poems

This is another extract from my dissertation. It describes just one poetry lesson, based on a wonderful poem, Alone in the Grange, by Gregory Harrison which can be found in Pyott, L (ed), (1985), The Possum Tree: 161 poems for children. London: A&C Black. 

7.1 On my final year placement, I managed to negotiate a lesson to try to put into practice some of the approaches I had learnt about during my dissertation. I was teaching a mixed Year 5/6 class. In the end, I was left with one lesson for poetry so I decided to use one of my favourite poems, ‘Alone in the Grange’ by Gregory Harrison, about a mysterious old man who lives in an old shuttered house. It has a distinctive pattern beginning:

Is the little old man
Who lives in the Grange.
And they say that he keeps
A box full of gold.

I began by asking the children simply to read it through. I then invited four children to the front to read a verse each. I wanted the children to become familiar with the text before they started to discuss its meaning, so I continued by asking them to come up with different ways of saying the key words such as strange, old and soft. I encouraged them to use different voices and emphases.

7.2 I then asked children to work in pairs to consider: If the poet were to walk in the room now, what would you ask him? The responses were written on post-it notes and I read these out to the whole class. Many children wanted to know whether the old man was real, who it was based on, and whether he was really a magician. Others wished to know why he was lonely. I collected the notes together and stuck them on the board – and later referred to them as possible answers to the questions emerged from the lesson. I then asked children to work in groups to come up with a description of the old man using their own words. This produced some interesting and imaginative answers. One group thought the man looked like Gollum from ‘Lord of the Rings’, and another said he was more like Yoda from the ‘Star Wars’ films, so I asked one of the Year 6 pupils to find pictures on the internet and display them on the whiteboard.

7.3 We discussed the different ideas and I made a spidergram on the board of vocabulary to describe the old man. In literacy, I like to use children’s suggestions to make a visible wordbank. This particularly helps children of lower ability to get started, and I make a point of saying I do not mind anyone ‘stealing’ words from the board. I then modelled an opening to my poem, staying close to the structure used by Gregory Harrison. I wrote my own first verse, explaining my thought processes and making alterations and improvements as I progressed. I then asked the class to offer comments or suggestions to make it better, and made further changes. I wished to emphasise the importance of writing a first draft and then changing and improving it.

7.4 I then asked children to use their rough books to construct their own opening verses. Given the short time limit for the lesson, I suggested they keep to Harrison’s structure: in a longer series of lessons, I would have given children more freedom. I also made it clear I did not expect the poem to rhyme, although some still insisted on trying.

7.5 I was very impressed by many of the contributions. A very low ability girl, after a short one-to-one discussion with me, came up with:

Is the worthless old man
Who lives in the grey empty school house.

One of the most pleasing pieces of work was from a lower ability Year 5 boy who began his poem:

Is the manky man
In the mysterious house.

His poem went on to talk about the man’s grumpy dog, and his mad wife ‘who he killed with a knife’. This boy rarely completes work in literacy, but he had finished four verses of his poem and gone on to illustrate the work.

A higher ability Year 6 came up began with some fairly deep characterisation which posed plenty of questions for the reader:

Is the troubled man
Who never stops to say hello.

One of my favourite poems came from a lower ability Year 5 boy who often struggled with writing but was often able to come up with unusual ideas and images. He called his poem ‘The Curse’:

Is the man
Who eats marshmallows.
Blood red,
Blood red,
Is the colour of his burning eyes.
Is his glare which haunts his victims.
Is his curse that comes when the moon is full.
Is his dark fur which is stained with blood.
Is what he’s been looking for, ever since it happened.

7.6 Considering there was only an hour for this topic, I was very impressed with the overall quality of the poems written. I was particularly pleased that many of the most interesting images came from lower ability children, not known for the quality of their writing, or for completing tasks in normal lesson time. I could have improved the lesson by giving more time to immersing children in poetry – perhaps sharing with them several poems on the same theme, before moving on to Harrison’s. I could also have begun the lesson with an arresting image of a strange old man and asked children to brainstorm ideas before introducing the poem. I did manage to find time later in the week for children to make final copies of their poems. By this stage, I had been able to give written feedback to them on their first drafts. The final versions were free from crossings out and would have been suitable to put into a class anthology.

Five simple rules for writing a poem

These are five simple rules for writing a poem. You could give these to children before they put pen to paper. I am indebted to Dunn, Styles and Warburton (1987, p.32) for these ideas.

1. It doesn’t have to rhyme

2. Start a new line when you pause

3. Say something fresh

4. Ordinary things make good poetry

5. Every word must count.


I might add the following:

Tell the children that their poem must NOT rhyme today! Tell them to ignore every rule they have been taught about writing prose (forget punctuation, capital letters, the need for full sentences). Write from the heart. Write about what matters to you. Be angry or funny or mysterious. Make up words if you wish to!

As a teacher you could then follow this pattern:

The first draft is then discussed in pairs.

Some poems are read out.

The teacher gives spoken feedback to each child.

The class talks about how to improve their poems.

Pupils have a chance to write a second draft.

Reference: Dunn, J., Styles, M., Warburton, N., (1987) In tune with yourself: children writing poetry – a handbook for teachers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

How to teach personification

  1. Read a variety of poems to the class. Some will include personification but do not draw the pupils’ attention to this.
  2. Choose a poem that includes personification. Split it into parts. Divide the children into groups and give each a verse which they must learn, rehearse and perform to the class with actions and sound effects. Put all these together into a class performance.
  3. Discuss the poem using open-ended questions, such as those suggested by Michael Rosen.
  4. Then allow the children to choose a favourite poem and read it to their partners. Then combine pairs into fours and have them read out their poems again, discussing why they chose them. Some could also read them out to the whole class.
  5. Read out some short personification poems, asking the children to guess what they describe.
  6. Challenge the children to write personification poems in pairs and to perform them to the rest of the class who must say what they are about.
  1. Show the children a dramatic picture of, for instance, the sea, such as Turner’s Snow Storm – Steamboat off a harbour’s mouth, or show them a video clip of an angry sea, such as from the film The Perfect Storm or Titanic. Play them some sea sound effects or music inspired by the sea. Ask them to brainstorm how the sea is feeling, and then how a lone ship might be feeling. Make a list of key vocabulary.
  2. The teacher models the writing of the first verse of a poem about the angry sea. This includes reading, correcting and improving. He/ she then acts as scribe to create a second verse through shared writing.
  3. Children then move to independent writing of poetry. The teacher tells the children they will write a first draft today. Writing frames should be avoided except, perhaps, for lower ability children or those with special needs. The teacher could mention the five simple rules for writing a poem, suggested by Dunn, Styles and Warburton (1987, p.32) – it doesn’t have to rhyme, start a new line when you pause, say something fresh, ordinary things make good poetry, and every word must count. The first draft is then discussed in pairs. Some are read out. The teacher gives written feedback to each child. The class talks about how to improve their poems and pupils have a chance to write a second draft.
  4. After further feedback, the children use ICT to type up a final version of their poems, locating dramatic sea pictures on the internet. The completed poems are placed in either a class poetry anthology or on a school website for parents to read. A selection of the poems is read out at assembly.

25 things to do with a poem

Things to do with a poem

  1. Start with a prose version.
  2. Turn the poem into dialogue and act it out.
  3. Turn written ballads into songs.
  4. Watch videos of poet performing it or listen to a recording.
  5. Add sound effects and instruments, movement or dance.
  6. Turn it into a class performance – create a powerful, dramatic reading.
  7. Find out if pop songs make good poetry. Try When I Was A Youngster by Rizzle Kicks.
  8. Record a group reading of a poem.
  9. Turn it into animation or create some art.
  10. Make cross curricular links – such as history, science or ICT.
  11. Research the poet’s life with ICT and present in groups.
  12. Start with pictures or photos rather than the poem itself, eg a powerful picture of The Charge of the Light Brigade.
  13. Get children to annotate a big copy of the poem.
  14. Read it aloud to the children with their eyes shut.
  15. Read it once a day for a week, but only discuss it on Friday.
  16. Imagine a photograph or film of the poem.
  17. Cut it up and get the children to re-arrange it in order. Or cut three poems up, on a similar theme, and ask the children to find others in the class with parts of their poem.
  18. Create illustrations – then add words to the pictures.
  19. Start with a line drawing then create a calligram.
  20. Give children lots of words and ask children to put them in a drawing.
  21. Read it aloud – in pairs, in groups, with actions, with freezeframes or video stills where the film can move forward or back.
  22. Write a class poem – with teacher as scribe. Use dictionaries and a thesaurus.
  23. Continue the poem in the same style.
  24. Tackle the punctuation by only stopping reading when punctuation is reached.
  25. The teacher could start reading the poem in a whisper and invite children to join in with parts.

Some ideas taken from Morgan, M, (2001), How to teach poetry writing at Key Stage 2. London: David Fulton, Catt, R., (2000), ‘Jolly good I said’: using poetry with older children in Fisher, R and Williams, M (ed) (2000), Unlocking Literacy: A Guide for Teachers. London: David Fulton.

How to start a poetry lesson

I used to start my poetry lessons in exactly the same way. I used the poem Poetry Jump Up by the brilliant John Agard. I would show the video below (which can be found on YouTube). At first, the children enjoyed watching it, especially the funny moments. After a few weeks, they were joining in with it and anticipating the (slightly!) rude words towards the end. By the end of the term, they knew most of the poem by heart. If I tried to vary the beginning, I would get complaints that they didn’t have Poetry Jump Up. I found this video was suitable for anyone from Year 2 to Year 6. If you have different beginnings to poetry lessons, I would be interested to hear your suggestions. (You will need to double click on this link to watch it.)

Find out more about John Agard here, and listen to him reading another of his poems.