For the Love of Poetry

Two years ago, I held a poetry workshop for the parents of our school community. As I stood at the front, running through the presentation one more time in my head, I watched the parents trickling in. I observed them, one by one, choosing seats at the back- the FAR back. (This was in contrast to the eager filling of front-row seats during the Reading workshop the week before.)

When I asked why, some of the parents replied, "Because I'm not good at poetry."
or "because I don't understand poems and I don't want to be asked a question."

Sometimes, I get the feeling that a lot of teachers and students feel this exact same way.

But why?

1. Maybe because there are so many different ways to write a poem and sometimes, when faced with an abundance of choice, we choose what's familiar. Enter the acrostic or the limerick. 

2. Perhaps because we think poetry has to be complicated or "intellectual" and so we add too many ingredients to our poetry bowls. (Figurative language, rhyme and rhythm, pattern and repetition.)

3. Or maybe we just didn't like poetry at school. It was boring. 

Whatever the reason, the golden rule that applies to all areas of the curriculum applies equally to poetry: namely, that if we don't love teaching poetry, love reading poetry, and love writing poetry, then our students are unlikely to love it either. So:

How to Move Forward...

The first step is to find easy and effective ways to teach poetry both at home and at school. The more confident we feel in reading and writing poetry, the more confident our children will feel, too. Like many other things, in the beginning, this starts with structure, and that's what I'm going to show you today. 

Decide on a poetry goal

Poetry is a great way to practise and revise different areas of the English curriculum. You can use it to transfer and apply skills that you've taught before and want to retrieve. Here's an example.

Imagine that my lesson objective is to use adjectives to describe a person or a place. I've already taught adjectives to my class. Most of my students can identify them and use them in narrative. What I want to do today is some targeted and creative revision. My goal is that by the end of the lesson, my students will have each used a range of adjectives in their poems- not just any adjectives, but thoughtful, purposeful adjectives, carefully selected and crafted.

Collect images that will ignite the imagination

As the old saying goes, a picture paints a thousand words. I'm sure even the best poets in the world would struggle to write poetry without inspiration. In the classroom, I find images are a great way to provoke thought and imagination. Here are some I'd use for this activity:

(images from

Create a skeleton for your class poem

For any successful poetry lesson, you'll need a skeleton that you and your class can stick to. It can be simple, intermediate or more complex.

Top tip: When you're writing your skeleton, keep in mind your poetry goal. Example:


Line 1: where 
Line 2: who?
Line 3: adjective pairs
Line 4: adjective pairs
Line 5: adjective pairs
Line 6: End the poem with a question

Write and share a model poem for your class

Choose an image from your collection, select a level for your skeleton and start writing. At the beginning of the lesson, share your poem. Here's mine:

In the Forest 
In the forest, 
The trees stood:
Tall and arresting,
Proud and palatial,
Protective and Far-reaching.
In the forest, 
The girl waited:
Poised and alert, 
Cautious yet invigorated, 
Calm but sure.

You can see from the above verses that my poem follows the simple skeleton. This simple skeleton made it easy for me to go from one verse to the next and it also hits my poetry goal. Click here for intermediate and more complex models. 

Explain your skeleton and write another verse together

After sharing your poem, explain the skeleton structure. Say, "This is how I made my poem, and how you can make yours."

Line 1: where 
Line 2: who?
Line 3: adjective pairs
Line 4: adjective pairs
Line 5: adjective pairs

Using the skeleton you've made, share-write one or two verses with your class. As you begin each new line, ask them:

- What's next? 
- Can anyone give me the next line?
- Can you write two adjectives on your whiteboard that we could use in line 3? 

Share your image collection and set the kids off!

Shared writing is a great way of finding out which kids can follow the model, which kids need more challenge, and which kids are going to need support. Once you've worked out who's who, share your images and let the kids fly away. And that's basically all there is too it!