My ten favourite poems

cropped-books.jpgIn no particular order, here are my current top ten favourite poems. The list changes all the time. I have tried to include only one from each poet, but Robert Hayden’s two in the list are just so wonderful they both have to be included. I have gone for contrasting themes so that they match our every-changing moods.

  1. Those winter Sundays by Robert Hayden
  2. The Voice by Thomas Hardy
  3. Frederick Douglass by Robert Hayden
  4. Walking Away by Cecil Day Lewis
  5. Preludes by T.S.Eliot
  6. A poem is a city by Charles Bukowski
  7. Poetry Jump-Up by John Agard
  8. Shema by Primo Levi
  9. April Rain Song by Langston Hughes
  10. Adlestrop by Edward Thomas

And a few more…

Joy at the sound by Roger McGough
There will come soft rains by Sara Teasdale
In Time of Breaking of Nations by Thomas Hardy
So you want to be a writer by Charles Bukowski
Everyone Sang by Siegfried Sassoon
About his person by Simon Armitage
I wish I were by Rabindrath Tagore

Please let me know your favourite poems.

 

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Are you looking for quotes about poetry?

What better way to inspire young people about poetry than to provide them with an inspirational quote to begin a lesson, or to get them thinking? Here are a few which I have collected. Your contributions would be most welcome.

A poem is a city filled with streets and sewers/ filled with saints, heroes, beggars, madmen. (Charles Bukowski, a poem is a city)

All poetry is magic. It is a spell against insensitivity, failure of imagination, ignorance and barbarism. (Charles Causley, 1990)

Poetry is not the new rock’n’roll, it was the first rock’n’roll. (A Wilson, The Poetry Book for Primary Schools)

A poem is like a shot of espresso – the fastest way to get a hit of mental and spiritual energy. (Jeanette Winterson)

Poetry is all that is worth remembering in life. (William Hazlitt)

Poetry is the rhythmical creation of beauty in words. (Edgar Allan Poe)

Poetry is the opening and closing of a door, leaving those who look through to guess about what is seen during a moment. (Carl Sandburg)

Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world, and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar. (Percy Bysshe Shelley).

Poetry is thoughts that breathe, and words that burn. (Thomas Gray)

Poetry is an echo asking a shadow to dance. (Carl Sandburg)

Poetry is like making a joke. If you get one word wrong at the end of a joke, you’ve lost the whole thing. (W S Merwin)

Poetry isn’t a profession, it’s a way of life. It’s an empty basket; you put your life into it and make something out of that. (Mary Oliver)

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.

http://performapoem.lgfl.org.uk/public/VC2_Player.swf

Shakespeare in the primary classroom

Can primary pupils cope with Shakespeare? The simple answer is yes. They are fascinated by codes, and the code of Shakespeare’s language presents them with problems which they love to solve.

I worked with small groups looking at the Prologue to Romeo and Juliet:

Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes

A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life;
Whose misadventured piteous overthrows
Do with their death bury their parents’ strife.
The fearful passage of their death-mark’d love,
And the continuance of their parents’ rage,
Which, but their children’s end, nought could remove,
Is now the two hours’ traffic of our stage;
The which if you with patient ears attend,
What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.

You will need to do a fair amount of text work with the children, as well as explaining the context of the Prologue. You can watch a very exciting YouTube version of this.

(There are a number of guns in this short video. I think it would be acceptable for years five and six, but please use your own judgement). The film really gives an exciting backdrop to the Prologue and will make children want to find out more about Shakespeare.

Possible activities

You might want to work towards a written modern translation of the Prologue or you might just wish to bring this out in discussion. Perhaps the best way to treat this is to move the tables and chairs out of the way and explore it through drama. Get the children into the ‘two foes’, let’s see the ‘star-cross’d lovers’ and their parents’ strife. You could ask individuals or groups to memorise certain lines or phrases. You could have a series of narrators. You could take a short phrase and see how many ways you could deliver it. Work towards a whole class performance of this prologue. Think about anger, mystery, outrage, anticipation. Film it yourself and let the children watch themselves.

Another passage which children will enjoy is a speech by Jaques in Shakespeare’s As You Like It (II, vii). Here is the whole thing.

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.

At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.

Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school….

And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow.

Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth…

And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part.

The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound.

Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything. 

Watch a video performance of this speech here.

Possible activities

Allocate one ‘age’ to each group. Ask them to prepare a performance, look up any strange words, include drama if possible or mime. Ask them to find pictures on the internet to illustrate their age. Perhaps they could make a powerpoint of the words, accompanied by their own images. Film the final performance.

If you have other passages of Shakespeare which primary children have enjoyed, I would be very interested to hear about them.

Poet Brian Moses kindly contacted us to suggest using the opening of Macbeth. What fun children could have with the vocabulary spoken by the three witches. I used this with a small drama group and asked the non-speakers to make sound effects to accompany the words. The actors made spooky swirling motions with their bodies and adopted suitable gnarled voices. Great fun! Get the children to learn this by heart and put their scripts away.

ACT I  SCENE I  A desert place.
[Thunder and lightning. Enter three Witches]
First Witch When shall we three meet again
In thunder, lightning, or in rain?
Second Witch When the hurlyburly’s done,
When the battle’s lost and won.
Third Witch That will be ere the set of sun. 5
First Witch Where the place?
Second Witch Upon the heath.
Third Witch There to meet with Macbeth.
First Witch I come, graymalkin!
Second Witch Paddock calls. 10
Third Witch Anon!
ALL Fair is foul, and foul is fair:
Hover through the fog and filthy air.
[Exeunt]

 

 

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.

The importance of poetry

The importance of poetry

This is an extract from my dissertation: Which is the best way to teach poetry?

2.1 Poetry is ‘not the new rock’n’roll, it was the first rock’n’roll’ (Wilson, 1998, p.3). It helps us understand ourselves and others better, to grow as people, and teaches us how to live (Dunn, Styles and Warburton, 1987, p.134). Poetry ‘lends shape and meaning to our experiences’, (DfES, 1987 cited in Ofsted, 2007, p.6). It gives children an opportunity to move from everyday, familiar language to ‘an engagement with compressed ideas, connotation and ambiguity’, and demands that children draw on their wider knowledge and experience. (Catt, cited in Fisher and Williams, 2000, p.29). This will develop their skills in the four language modes of reading, writing, speaking and listening.

2.2 All poetry is magic; it is a ‘spell against insensitivity, failure of imagination, ignorance and barbarism (Causley, 1990, cited in Phinn, 2000, p.92). Poetry is uniquely placed to allow children to say what they really want to say in the way they want to say it. Wilson (1998. p.4), describes a scenario when there is six minutes to go before lunch and the teacher opens a book the children haven’t seen before and begins reading: ‘By the end of the poem, the class is completely silent’ (p.3). Similarly, teacher Fred Sedgwick explains how he clapped his hands and magically changed the classroom into a silent study where 30 poets were writing (2003, p.52).

2.3 Poetry is an entitlement (Phinn, 2000, p.77), embedded in the National Curriculum. From the very earliest age, children should be able to hear and study a range of rich and varied material which is ‘funny, exciting, spooky, vigorous, fresh, playful and reflective’.

2.4 There are many benefits to poetry. It can enhance all forms of writing. Corbett (Appendix vii) says children need it so they can ‘understand themselves and their world’ – to have sufficient language at their fingertips to craft their talk and their writing. It is not always the most able children who write the best poetry (Brownjohn (1994, p.5). Any child is potentially able to produce poetry, provided there is ‘inspired teaching’ (Mole, cited in Wilson (ed), 1998, p.49).

2.5 Those who benefit include children with English as an additional language. Horner and Ryf (2007, p.194) say poetry is ‘particularly suitable’ for children at different stages of learning English. It can also benefit boys who have been found to respond well to poetry, possibly because of the shorter form and immediacy of ideas (Maynard, 2002 in Horner and Ryf, 2007, p.194).

The current situation

2.6 Some writers are optimistic about the role of poetry in 21st century schools. Poet Valerie Bloom believes there is a changing perception. She says that when she first started, ‘you’d hear a big groan go up’ when poetry was mentioned. Nowadays, she says, the children actually say ‘Yes!’ (Hoyles and Hoyles, 2002, p.84) However, for many people, poetry is still seen as ‘elitist’ and irrelevant to their daily lives (Horner and Ryf, 2007, p.187). Ofsted’s 2007 report (p.6) found that poetry teaching is weaker than other aspects of English inspected and ‘underdeveloped’ in many schools, though still good in two-thirds of primary schools. Its success depends on teachers using active approaches (p.3). This is supported by Corbett (Appendix vii) who says if the teacher loves poetry, the children will love poetry.

2.7 Poetry is a ‘core experience’ for children (Ofsted, 2007, p.4), and most enjoy it. However, poetry features less in the English curriculum in Year 6 because too many teachers focus on preparing pupils for SATS. The test for 11-year-olds rarely includes poetry-related questions, and then usually on the reading paper. In some primary classrooms, the result has been ‘catastrophic’; poetry has ‘disappeared from the curriculum altogether’ (Wilson, 2010, p.54). He says this is a direct result of pressure on teachers in Year 6. Consequently, teachers have lost confidence in teaching poetry when measuring standards is to the fore. Rosen (Appendix vi) describes this as ‘a tragic example of how teachers, under pressure from the testing regime, turn their backs on something that is important in education’.

2.8 Many teachers also do not know enough poetry. This was reflected in worksheets which listed dull questions such as ‘which lines rhyme’ and ‘how many syllables are there in each line’. (Ofsted, 2007, p.8). The same few poems are studied across most schools. Children have limited experience of classic poems and poems from other cultures and traditions. The reason for this is provided by a survey in 2007 which showed that over half the teachers questioned could name only two, or fewer, poets (UKLA, 2007, cited in Ofsted, 2007, p.13). The effect of this is that teachers rely on the same few poems they were taught at school – humorous poems, strong story poems, or those easy to imitate – but neglect good quality classic poems and those from different cultures. The result is that too few poems are chosen which are genuinely challenging.

2.9 Ofsted also found it was common for pupils to write poetry in imitation of specific genres, but there were insufficient opportunities for children to find their own voices. Used this way, poetry becomes a teaching tool for language development rather than a medium for exploring experience. There is often a reliance on verse which is ‘immediately accessible’ but which offers few opportunities for reflection and discussion (Catt, cited in Fisher and Williams, 2000, p.28).

2.10 Marking is often of poor quality, offering inadequate feedback to children, because of the teacher’s lack of knowledge. Ofsted (2007, p.12) found comments such as ‘lovely poem’ and ‘I like the rhyme’ were common, offering little guidance how to improve. Too many first drafts become final drafts, with potentially outstanding writing undeveloped. Teachers have particular difficulty responding to free verse; as a result, many pupils cannot write poems unless they rhyme.

Examples of good practice

2.11 One inspector found (Ofsted, 2007, p.17), poetry was ‘threaded through the culture of the school’ from assemblies to publications to plasma screens throughout the building. Poetry is considered by teachers no matter what they are teaching. It can be incorporated into every day, with teachers using poetry in spare moments such as when children are waiting to go into the dining hall (Horner and Ryf, 2007, p.194). A study at Roehampton University saw every English seminar for student teachers begin with a poem – a policy recommended for use in schools, (Kelly and Collins, 2009, p.28). They recommend that student teachers be conversant with imaginative, active strategies to bring poems to life.

2.12 Effective subject leaders are crucial. As poet Benjamin Zephaniah said: ‘We want more teachers who are passionate about poetry, not just teachers who do poetry as an add-on to English’ (1992, cited in Hoyles and Hoyles, 2002). Teachers should be widely read in poetry themselves (Horner and Ryf, 2007, p.254), and use a range of strategies including mini-whiteboards for ideas, discussion with partners, drama and role play, sequencing, deconstructing poems, setting poems to music, and finding images to match poems.

2.13 Teachers need to make a shift towards an increasing variety of more demanding verse which promotes exploratory talk. Catt (cited in Fisher and Williams, 2000, p.29) says the response and enjoyment can be ‘sometimes limitless’. Children should be encouraged to choose and read poems during independent reading. Teachers should routinely read poems with pupils (Ofsted, 2007, p.9). The most effective schools offer a ‘wider and richer’ selection of poems.

2.14 Schools should also ensure there is a wide range of poetry books available. Poems can be learned by heart and performed. By-heart learning is not rote learning according to Sedgwick, (cited in Wilson, 1998, p.23), who says it means learning with joy and emotional involvement. Poems such as ‘O what is that sound’ by W H Auden can be turned into dialogue and acted out. One school found the best way to encourage children to use them was a poetry speaking competition where children learn a poem by heart and perform it, an idea dismissed as ‘very public school’ by a teacher at my observation school, (Appendix iii). The starting point for helping children to become enthusiastic about poetry is for teachers to read to them – frequently. Collins (cited in Graham and Kelly, 1998, p.55) says teachers should read ‘a great deal’ of poetry to children and let the poems and poets do the work for them. Cope (cited in Wilson, 1998, p.17) suggests forming a poetry club. Children should be encouraged to respond to poetry, not just to interpret poetic devices, according to Horner and Ryf, (2007, p.193), who say: ‘It is about personal response… not about spotting metaphors or naming of parts’. They say the enjoyment must come first.

2.15 Rosen (1989, p.43) says better poetry is produced if children write from their own experiences and use actual words that people speak, their own responses and feelings. This is using knowledge they already possess, he says. An accomplished literacy co-ordinator told Ofsted (2007, p.16): ‘I … believe it is vital to give children the freedom to make their own discoveries and compose their own poems from scratch.’ The co-ordinator incorporates poetry into every year group once a term, with specific pupil targets and a planned sequence of lessons to help teachers who are less confident with poetry. Children must be encouraged to find their ‘unique’ voice (Dunn, Styles, Warburton, 1987, p.32). Poor writing is often a second rate attempt to mimic the writing of others. They suggest using the ‘ordinary stuff of everyday life’ rather than fantasy or imagination to begin with.

2.16 Teachers should give feedback which helps children to re-draft and improve their poems, (Osted, 2007, p.12) Marking should not be a chore and carefully crafted comments can stimulate writing of higher quality. An example is: ‘You have tried hard to use interesting verbs like gleaming and chattering. To make the structure of the poem clearer, leave a space between verses.’

Conclusion

2.17 The most effective teaching of poetry is accomplished through often simple means within the grasp of most educators – but all too rarely used. There is good practice in many schools, often linked to an individual, inspirational teacher. If more schools took steps to immerse children in poetry, there could be improvements to many different types of writing.

REFERENCES

Bell, J., (2005), Doing your Research Project: A guide for first-time researchers in education, health and social science. 4th edition. Maidenhead: Open University Press.

British Educational Research Association, Reference Guidelines, [accessed online, January 12, 2012], http://www.bera.ac.uk

Brownjohn, S., (1994) To Rhyme or not to Rhyme: Teaching Children to Write Poetry. London: Hodder and Stoughton.

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.

Causley, C. (1990), The Puffin Book of Magic Verse. London: Penguin Books, cited in Phinn, G. (2000), Young Readers and their Books. London: David Fulton.

Collins, F in Graham, J., and Kelly, A., (eds) (1998), Writing under control: Teaching writing in the primary school. London: David Fulton.

Corbett, P (2012), Poetry into writing. Unpublished.

Cope, W., Let the poems do the work in Wilson, A., (ed), 1998, The Poetry Book for Primary Schools. London: The Poetry Society.

Croll, P., (1986), Systematic Classroom Observation. Lewes: Falmer Press.

DfEE (1999), The National Curriculum. London: HMSO

DfES (1987), Teaching poetry in the secondary school: an HMI view. London: DfES.

DfES (2003) Primary National Strategy, [accessed online, April 12, 2012], http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20110809101133/http://www.nsonline.org.uk/

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

Evans, J., (2001), The Writing Classroom: Aspects of Writing and the Primary Child 3-11. London: David Fulton.

Fisher, R., (1997), Poems for thinking. Buckingham: Nash Pollock Publishing.

Fisher, R., and Williams, M., (ed) (2000), Unlocking Literacy: A Guide for Teachers. London: David Fulton.

Gordon, J., (2008), True Soundings: The Findings of the 2007 Ofsted Report ‘Poetry in Schools’ and Pupils’ Response to Poetry They Hear. Changing English, Vol. 15, No. 2, June 2008. 223-233.

Horner, C., and Ryf, V, (2007), Creative Teaching: English in the early years and primary classroom. Abingdon: Routledge.

Hoyles, A., and Hoyles, M., (2002), Moving Voices: Black Performance Poetry. London: Hansib Publications.

Kelly, A., (2005), ‘Poetry? Of course we do it. It’s in the National Curriculum’: Primary children’s perceptions of poetry. Literacy. November 2005. 129-134.

Kelly, A., and Collins, F., (2009), A poem a day: Student teachers and Poetry. NATE Classroom. Autumn 2009. Issue 9, 28-29.

Maynard, T (2002), Boys and Literacy: Exploring the Issues. London: Routledge/ Falmer in Horner, C., and Ryf, V, (2007), Creative Teaching: English in the early years and primary classroom. Abingdon: Routledge.

Mole, J., (1998), Can Children Write Poetry? in Wilson, A., (ed), 1998, The Poetry Book for Primary Schools. London: The Poetry Society.

Morgan, M., (2001), How to teach poetry writing at Key Stage 2. London: David Fulton.

Ofsted (2007), Poetry in schools: A survey of practice, 2006/7. London: Ofsted.

Padel, R., (2006), Ruth Padel [accessed online December 2011].  http://www.teachersmedia.co.uk/videos/ruth-padel

Phinn, G. (2000), Young Readers and their Books. London: David Fulton.

Phinn, G., (2001), Responding to poetry through writing in Evans, J., (2001), The Writing Classroom: Aspects of Writing and the Primary Child 3-11. London: David Fulton.

Rosen, M., (1989), Did I hear you write? London: Andre Deutsch.

Rosen, M., (2008), Poetry in Motion [accessed online December 2011]. www.teachersmedia.co.uk/videos/poetry-in-motion.

Sedgwick, F, By-heart powers in Wilson, A., (ed), 1998, The Poetry Book for Primary Schools. London: The Poetry Society.

Sedgwick, F. (2003), Teaching Poetry. London: Continuum.

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.

Question cards for poetry lessons

What could the title of this poem be?Why do you think that? Is there anything about this poem that reminds you of anything that has happened to you or anyone you know? Why? 
Is there anything about this poem that reminds you of anything you’ve ever read before or seen on tv or in a film? How? Why?  Are there any questions you would like to ask about this poem? What?
What if you could ask the writer of the poem some questions? What would they be?  What if you could ask anyone or anything in the poem some questions – what would they be?
If you were making a film of this poem, describe how the film would begin.  Which is your favourite line in this poem? Be ready to explain why.
Make a quick sketch of this poem. Draw in the characters and the setting. Be ready to explain your reasons.  Why did the poet bother to write this poem? What has he or she achieved?

Poetry in the new National Curriculum

As far as I can tell, these are the references to poetry in the new National Curriculum. Probably some analysis is needed on how this has changed, and may be you have some comments you could send me to start a discussion.

Year 2 – Reading

Pupils should be taught to:

  • develop pleasure in reading, motivation to read, vocabulary and understanding by:
  • listening to, discussing and expressing views about a wide range of contemporary and classic poetry, stories and non-fiction at a level beyond that at which they can read independently
  • recognising simple recurring literary language in stories and poetry
  • continuing to build up a repertoire of poems learnt by heart, appreciating these and reciting some, with appropriate intonation to make the meaning clear
  • participate in discussion about books, poems and other works that are read to them and those that they can read for themselves, taking turns and listening to what others say
  • explain and discuss their understanding of books, poems and other material, both those that they listen to and those that they read for themselves.

Year 2 – Writing

Pupils should be taught to:

  • develop positive attitudes towards and stamina for writing by:
  • writing poetry
  • consider what they are going to write before beginning by
  • planning or saying out loud what they are going to write about
  • writing down ideas and/or key words, including new vocabulary
  • encapsulating what they want to say, sentence by sentence
  • make simple additions, revisions and corrections to their own writing by:
  • evaluating their writing with the teacher and other pupils
  • re-reading to check that their writing makes sense and that verbs to indicate time are used correctly and consistently, including verbs in the continuous form
  • proof-reading to check for errors in spelling, grammar and punctuation [for example, ends of sentences punctuated correctly]
  • read aloud what they have written with appropriate intonation to make the meaning clear.

 Years 3 and 4 – Reading

Pupils should be taught to:

  • develop positive attitudes to reading and understanding of what they read by:
  • listening to and discussing a wide range of fiction, poetry, plays, non-fiction and reference books or textbooks
  • prepare poems and play scripts to read aloud and to perform, showing understanding through intonation, tone, volume and action
  • discussing words and phrases that capture the reader’s interest and imagination
  • recognising some different forms of poetry [for example, free verse, narrative poetry]

Pupils should be encouraged to use drama approaches to understand how to perform plays and poems to support their understanding of the meaning. These activities also provide them with an incentive to find out what expression is required, so feeding into comprehension.

 Years 3 and 4 – Writing

Children should plan their writing by:

  • discussing writing similar to that which they are planning to write in order to understand and learn from its structure, vocabulary and grammar
  • discussing and recording ideas
  • draft and write by:
  • composing and rehearsing sentences orally (including dialogue), progressively building a varied and rich vocabulary and an increasing range of sentence structures (English Appendix 2)
  • organising paragraphs around a theme
  • in narratives, creating settings, characters and plot
  • in non-narrative material, using simple organisational devices [for example, headings and sub-headings]
  • evaluate and edit by:
  • assessing the effectiveness of their own and others’ writing and suggesting improvements
  • proposing changes to grammar and vocabulary to improve consistency, including the accurate use of pronouns in sentences

 Years 5 and 6

By the beginning of year 5, pupils should be able to read aloud a wider range of poetry.

During years 5 and 6, teachers should continue to emphasise pupils’ enjoyment and understanding of language, especially vocabulary, to support their reading and writing. Pupils’ knowledge of language, gained from stories, plays, poetry, non-fiction and textbooks, will support their increasing fluency as readers, their facility as writers, and their comprehension.

In years 5 and 6, pupils’ confidence, enjoyment and mastery of language should be extended through public speaking, performance and debate.

Years 5 and 6 – Reading

Pupils should be taught to:

  • maintain positive attitudes to reading and understanding of what they read by:
  • continuing to read and discuss an increasingly wide range of fiction, poetry, plays, non-fiction and reference books or textbooks

learning a wider range of poetry by heart

  • preparing poems and plays to read aloud and to perform, showing understanding through intonation, tone and volume so that the meaning is clear to an audience
  • discuss and evaluate how authors use language, including figurative language, considering the impact on the reader

Pupils should be taught the technical and other terms needed for discussing what they hear and read, such as metaphor, simile, analogy, imagery, style and effect.

 Year 6 – Writing

Pupils should be taught to:

  • plan their writing by:
  • identifying the audience for and purpose of the writing, selecting the appropriate form and using other similar writing as models for their own
  • perform their own compositions, using appropriate intonation, volume, and movement so that meaning is clear.

 

 

 

Some poems I have tried with classes

This is by no means an exhaustive list. But here are a few of the poems which I have tried with various primary classes. Some are modern, some are classics, some rhyme – but many don’t. However, they are all interesting and thought-provoking. I would be interested in your own suggestions.

Alone in the Grange by Gregory Harrison
Don’t Call Alligator Long-Mouth till You crossed River by John Agard
The Adventures of Isabel by Ogden Nash
Everyone Sang by Siegfried Sassoon
Poetry Jump-Up by John Agard
Tiananmen by John Fenton
The Gresford Disaster by Anonymous
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost
The Streets of London by Ralph McTell
According to My Mood by Benjamin Zephaniah
My Mother Saw A Dancing Bear by Charles Causley
The Theft by Carol Ann Duffy
The Busker by Benjamin Zephaniah
The Shoes by John Mole
In just spring by E E Cummings
De Rap Guy by Benjamin Zephaniah
What is Orange? by Mary O’Neill
F for Fox by Carol Ann Duffy
Peggy Guggenheim by Carol Ann Duffy
On Turning Ten by Billy Collins
I’m just going out by Michael Rosen
The Great Lover by Rupert Brooke
I believe by Benjamin Zephaniah
The Loch Ness Monster’s Song by Edwin Morgan
The Moon by Robert Louis Stevenson
Timothy Winters by Charles Causley