Using poetry in the classroom may seem daunting at first, but below you’ll find steps and tips to help you get your learners appreciating and writing poems.
If you haven’t used any poems in the classroom before it would be a good idea initially to give your learners the chance to listen and react to some fun poems. Choose poems that you think they will enjoy and that are appropriate for their age and level. However, don’t be put off using a poem because there are some words your learners won’t understand; it’s more important at this stage that they get a feel for poetry and begin to enjoy the way it sounds. You can use pictures or mime to help get the meaning across, just as you do when you read them story books. If you don’t have access to children’s poetry books, you can download a poem by Jenny Joseph, 'The Luck of Life', and try these sites:
- childrenspoetryarchive.org You can search by topic to find an excellent selection of poems. You may like to choose a topic that you have recently studied in class or just choose one that makes you smile.
- poetryzone.co.uk You will find many examples of poems here, some of which are written by children. There’s also a teachers’ section which has book reviews of children’s poetry books and plenty of advice regarding classroom resources.
If your learners have never written poems before you may want to show them some different types of poems, so they feel supported and guided throughout the activity. You could just focus on simple acrostics or limericks, or you may want to give your learners a broader spectrum of poetry. The aim is just to provide some support and ideas as to how the learners can structure their poems. For examples of different types of poetry look at the Poetry Zone website mentioned above.
Remember, poems don’t need to rhyme and it may be easier for lower levels if they don’t try. However, it could be fun to spot rhyming words in poems you read to them at this introductory stage. Higher level learners, with a good vocabulary, may well enjoy the challenge of trying to make their poems rhyme.
Choosing and exploring a topic
It’s a good idea to have a topic in mind to help focus your learners’ thoughts. The topic should be something that’s interesting and relevant to your learners, something they will have something to say about, for example ‘home’ or ‘school’. Before children begin writing their poems, you can introduce the topic, to see what ideas your pupils already have about what it means to them. Encourage them to think about the topic in its widest sense – for example, ‘home’ could include their own home, different homes around the world, their town or country as their home, animal homes, and so on. Set up some tasks to help learners gather ideas. For example, on the topic of ‘home’, learners could:
- Invent a recipe for a sense of home: family, safety, culture, familiar streets, food etc.
- Write a shopping list for an actual home: a white front door, a blue kitchen table, a picture of an uncle, a silver can-opener. Include sounds and smells.
- List five things to do to make someone feel at home.
- Describe six homes for animals, such as seabed, orchard, burrow, iceberg or cage.
- Think of four other places where we also feel at home… the countryside/town, in our body, our skin, in our own county/country, the planet.
Writing the poems: planning, character, form, titles and redrafting
Planning: ensure your learners have enough time to plan their poem. They may well need quite a lot of support at this stage, especially if poetry writing is new to them.
Character: learners can write as an ‘observer’ or in ‘first person’ (autobiographically or as a fictional character). They can be a human, animal or inanimate object; the poem can be set in any time period. The ideas can be real or drawn from literature (stories, books or film).
Form: the poems do not have to have a complicated form – even the lowest level learners can write an acrostic poem. Don’t forget also that the poems do not have to rhyme. Encourage learners to write the first draft as prose or free verse. For examples of poems in a wide variety of forms, look at: poetryzone.co.uk/childrens-archive
Titles: these can have a huge impact! They can tempt you; be funny, short, long. They can also set the context (freeing the poem from explaining the where, what, when and who).
Redrafting: give learners time to put their work aside and see it with fresh eyes a day later. Read the poems aloud, encourage feedback by each child asking one question and mentioning one line/image they like. When rewriting invite pupils to:
- reorder lines; first lines and last lines should be strong and may be buried in the poem
- play with language, repetition, line lengths
- replace unintentionally repeated words
- see if small words such as ‘can’, ‘and’, ‘it’, etc can be cut or replaced with a comma
- check consistency of tense and persona
Reading the poems
When the poems are complete, give your learners time to practise reading their poem out loud. Invite learners to read their poems out to the group if you think learners will enjoy doing so and encourage them to put as much feeling as possible into the reading. If you have recording equipment why not record their work and listen back to it later. If you are able to add sound effects or background music you could make a really special recording. Maybe you could invite some special guests such as the head teacher or another teacher with their class to come and listen to the poetry readings. Making a special event of the learners’ work will show your class how important their work is, and will probably become one of the more memorable highlights of the term. You could also hold an in-school competition and invite a panel of children to judge the work.
Displaying the learners’ poems
To display the poems, why not make a lovely classroom or corridor display of them or even a class poetry book. If you have the time and facilities to make copies of the poetry book so each learner gets one to keep it would be highly motivating for the children to take their copy home to show their families and friends. Alternatively, you could include some of the poems in the school newsletter to parents or on the school website.
Updated by the TeachingEnglish team
When you have used some of these ideas, why not come back to this page and leave a comment below to tell us how your class went. Let us know if you have any additional ideas!