Two years ago, at the British School Manila, I held a poetry workshop for the parents of our 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."
Sometimes, I get the feeling that a lot of teachers and students feel this exact same way. Right?
Teachers: when you see poetry on your long-term planner, do you recoil and almost dread the endless stream of acrostic poems, limericks and none-sensical rhymes that you know are coming your way?
Parents: do you see poetry on your child's homework schedule and feel like you can't help?
Why do we feel this way?
Perhaps because there are so many ways to write a poem, that the lack of structure is almost prohibitive.
Maybe because poetry seems like a higher-order skill compared to other forms of writing. Like is somehow requires more creativity and skill than, let's say, narrative?
Perhaps it's the comprehension element that puts us off. Making inferences or reading between the lines can be tricky at the best of times, never mind having to understand a text that is structured haphazardly and sometimes rhymes, sometimes doesn't.
Or, is the root cause of this feeling linked with our own personal experiences of poetry when we were at school?
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, reading poetry, writing poetry, then our students are unlikely to love it either.
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 www.pixabay.com)
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. Here are some example skeletons:
More Complex Skeleton
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:
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."
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!
Download free resources and model poems here...
Click here to download the matching resources for the above lesson, plus other model poems, poetry skeletons and ready-to-go materials.
I hope you enjoyed today's blog and that it leads to more poetry in your class or home. Additionally, please share with us any poems that your children write. We'd love to see them!
Miss Tiffin xx