Note from Sally: So often I see teachers on Facebook worrying about finding poems for KS2 and there seems to be a lot of anxiety around teaching KS2 poetry. So I asked master poet and author Roger Stevens to pop in with some advice…
I have been running poetry workshops in primary schools for around twenty years and I can tell you two things:
The first is that there are teachers who love teaching poetry and there are teachers who are nervous – or even terrified – of teaching it.
The second is that teaching poetry and using poetry in lessons is actually very easy.
And to prove it I will give you a very simple workshop to try, that needs no preparation, is virtually fool proof and which will give you and the children excellent results. Oh, and it’s fun too!
The first thing you need to realise is that it doesn’t matter whether or not you know your kennings from your iambic pentameters, or a haiku from a sonnet.
We are not teaching children to become poets. What we are teaching children is this.
- To use language to improve their communication skills.
- To use language as a means of self-expression.
The more children use language in this way, the more they play with language, experiment with words, the better they become at writing. It just happens. And as they write more, so does their confidence and their handling of language improve.
The second thing you should know is this. Writing poems, in fact any kind of creative writing, should be fun.
As teachers we know that if children are having fun, then they are motivated, and this breeds enthusiasm – a key ingredient in any learning process. And this goes for teachers, too! So enjoy yourself.
Before we begin – one further observation. For children who find reading and writing difficult, verse is a very, very useful tool. For one thing poems for children are short. Try your reluctant readers on poetry books. Try writing three-line haiku poems with your reluctant writers. I guarantee you’ll see a difference.
Mr Magoo’s Amazing Zoo
This workshop idea is simple and straightforward, will give you good results and is fun. This is a version of a workshop that I wrote for the Poetry Train – a free resource for primary school teachers published by The Poetry Society. You can photocopy it as much as you like. Download it at www.poetrysociety.org.uk/poetry-train
I use this workshop a lot with KS2 – years 3 and 4, but I’ve also used it for Year 6 able writers and Year 2 classes – yes, it’s that flexible. You’ll need a whiteboard or flip chart, and children will need paper or draft/rough books.
- On the board, at the top, write the following heading:
In Mr Magoo’s Amazing Zoo you will find
- Beneath this, draw a line down the middle of the board.
- Then ask the class to suggest animals that might be found in a zoo. Write the suggestion down in the right hand column.
- Ask for five more suggestions. Encourage them to think of a variety of animals rather than, say, six different kinds of big cat.
- Move to the left hand column. Ask the class to suggest an adjective to go with each animal. Write down the first adjectives they give you, rather than prompting them for interesting ones. You should now have something like this:
- Now announce that you have all just written a poem!
In Mr Magoo’s amazing zoo you will find
A silly monkey
A lazy lion
A tall giraffe
An eight-legged octopus
A slithery snake
And a ferocious rhinocerous
- Explain, kindly, that even though it is a poem, it is actually rather boring. But it can quickly and easily be made much more interesting.
- Discuss how this can be done with the class. The pupils’ ideas will, to a degree, depend upon their age, ability and confidence. At first ideas may be slow in coming – and you may have to prompt. For example, you could suggest that you all use alliteration. Children love doing this and may well have already found adjectives that begin with the same sound as the noun without thinking – like ‘lazy lion’ and ‘slithery snake’ in the example above.
- Change what you have already written on the board as better suggestions are made. Explain why the new ideas are improvements.
Now you may have…
In Mr Magoo’s amazing zoo you will find
A mischievous monkey
A lazy lion
A ginormous giraffe
An oily octopus
A slithery snake
And a bored bear
- Now ask the children to think of other ways similar poems could be created.
- Places where animals might be found could include Mr Magoo’s Veterinary Surgery, Pet Shop, Farm, Safari Park and so on. The animals chosen would have to fit the different theme.
- It doesn’t have to be Mr Magoo. Get the class to think of interesting or funny names. Professor Plum’s Pet Emporium has a ring to it! Or maybe use the writer’s name – Sammy’s Sealife Shop.
- Make the lines longer by adding an activity for every animal:
A mischievous money swinging on a tyre
A slithery snake sneaking through the undergrowth
A lazy lion lying on the lawn
Writing the Poem
Now it’s time for your pupils to have a go at writing their own poem using exactly the same method you’ve just practised as a class. Remind them that this is a first draft.
They really must not worry about neatness and spelling at this stage (that will be important later) but right now it’s their ideas that matter.
- Think of where the poem will take place (zoo, pet shop, farm?)
- Think of the name. (Mr Magoo? Professor Plum? Betty Fitzgibbon?)
- Draw a line down the middle of the page
- Write the names of six appropriate animals in the right hand column
- Add the adjectives and go on from there
- Add activities if they want to
Developing this Idea
As you can see, this activity could quite comfortably be run with Year 2 children. It could also be developed for use with more confident, able or older children. Here are some suggestions of ways the workshop can be developed:
Have more than six animals
Have more than one adjective for each animal
Have the same type of animal. (See my newt poem below)
Use numbers – 1 mischievous monkey, 2 lazy lions, 3 ginormous giraffes . . .
Use rhyme. This can be quite tricky but anyone who wants to have a go should be encouraged. It will be easier to rhyme an activity with an adjective.
Use simile or metaphor. (A rhino like a giant grey boulder)
Pupils’ ideas. One of the delights of this activity is that children will often come up with suggestions that you haven’t thought of. I was doing the activity with some bright year 5s when one of them decided to name 26 animals, arranged alphabetically.
Home for Nervous Newts
By Roger Stevens
In Norris Nutshell’s Home for Nervous Newts
You will find
Nigel newt, hiding under a rock
Norman Newt, swimming all alone
Narissa Newt, reading a book
Nigella newt, cooking a meal for one
And Frank Frog
Wondering how he got into this poem by mistake
This is from The Penguin in Lost Property (Macmillan) by Jan Dean and Roger Stevens. I hope it shows that you can play with the format and have fun.
So, yes, you can use poetry to teach alliteration and simile and metaphor, it is a useful tool for that, but it is of far greater value, I believe, in motivating children to read and write and to build their confidence using language.
So do bear in mind that activities like this one should be fun.
I’ll leave the final words to that amazing poet Michael Rosen.
“Poetry gives voice to deep feelings, attitudes and outlooks. It expresses many and varied ways of looking at the world. It puts together sounds and uses of language that help children find ways of talking, thinking and writing that they won’t find anywhere else.
“This is why poetry needs to be in the spaces between everything else in school. It needs to be just in the air and around everyone. It should be on the walls, in assemblies, in corners and in the books that are around.”
I couldn’t agree more. So over to you . . .
About Roger Stevens…
Author and poet Roger Stevens has been writing for children for 25 years. In that time he has had 25 books published, including several novels and numerous solo poetry collections. His poems feature in many anthologies.
When not writing, he visits schools, libraries and festivals performing his work and running workshops for young people and teachers.
He is a regular contributor to educational journals and conferences, a founding member of the Able Writers scheme with Brian Moses and runs the award-winning poetry website www.poetryzone.co.uk for children and teachers.
Roger’s most recent poetry books for children include I Wish I Had a Pirate Hat (Frances-Lincoln), for younger children, The Penguin in Lost Property (Macmillan), with Jan Dean, and What Are We Fighting For? (Macmillan), poems about war, written with Brian Moses.
The Comic Café (Frances-Lincoln) is his latest children’s novel. Roger also writes for adults, plays in a band (with the legendary Robb Johnson) and performs his own songs in folk clubs. His latest album is called The Position of Jupiter (Irregular Records.)
He spends his time between the Loire, in France, and Brighton, where he lives with his wife and a very, very, very shy dog called Jasper.