Sunday 30 September 2018

National Poetry Day? Week? Month? Year?

[Feel free to print this page off and use in school for a staff discussion or a training day.]

The simplest thing to do for National Poetry Day (or any day, week, month or year!)  is to read poems. If you're a teacher reading this, can I suggest that you think up as many different ways of 'serving up' poems as you can. For example:

1. Handing out poems and poetry books to a group or a class of children and saying to pairs of children/school students, 'Choose a poem, work out how to perform it, and we'll all come back in ten minutes time, for a Poetry Show.' You might suggest to them that they can perform it in any way they like: saying it together, taking alternate lines, miming some or all of it, getting the rest of the 'audience' to join in with parts of it, making a rhythm to go with it by doing 'beat box' or tapping your chest or using a 'shaker' etc etc. After the show, invite the children/school students to pick out things that they've seen which they liked and would like to have a go at doing themselves, next time you have a poetry show. The more you do this, the more the children/students will want to read ad write poetry and the more they will know how to do it. That's because poetry has its own built-in 'hooks' - its ways of attracting people to want to hear it, read it, and have a go at writing it. These 'hooks' are what poets spend their lives devising. All you have to do is believe in the poem, believe in the poet, believe in the children, and students reading it. Poetry shows will do the work of introducing children and students to poems a thousand times better than any worksheet. 

2. Put up big posters of poems around the school and in classrooms. Simply write out a poem on as large a piece of paper as you can find and pin it up. 

3. Think of poems as if they are music videos. This means that you can have solos, duets, choruses, backing groups. You can make power points, and videos of poems. 

4. The simplest way to get into writing poems (not the only way!) is to a) read a poem b) talk about it together c) say to people: 'we could write a poem like that'. 'Write a poem like that...' can mean write a poem that sounds like that, or has a shape like that, or uses bits of the poem, or is 'sparked off by something in the poem', uses the pictures in the poem in some way...and so on. 

5. When I say, 'talk about it together you can try some or all of this:
a) talk about anything in the poem that you thought 'affected' you. How? 
b) talk about things in the poem that made you think of something that has happened to you or to someone you know. How? 
c) talk about things in the poem that you made you think of something that you've read, or seen on TV, a film, a song you know, or any other 'text' you know. How? Why? 
d) if you could ask someone in the poem a question, or if you could ask the write of the poem a question, what would it be?
e) collect up the questions and let everyone choose a question from that list to try to answer. Perhaps invite someone to be the person in the poem or the poet in order to put some answers together. Use the internet to find out some of the answers. Make it an investigation. 
f) Invite groups to be 'poem detectives' in order to find the poem's 'secret strings' - these are the unwritten links between parts of the poem. If you have a copy of the poem, you can invite the children/ students to draw these links on to the poem. Invite the children/students to explain how or why these are links. These can be:
i) links of sound like rhyme or rhythm or alliteration or assonance
ii) links of shape like verses, and stanzas
iii) links of images being repeated - similar words to describe something...the 'lexical field'.
iv) links between images being contrasted or as opposites or rivals. 
v) any other link. If the children/students can show or explain that it's a link, it's a link!

6. Resource the class or school with poems and poetry books. Use poetry videos from YouTube. Use the National Poetry Archive for recordings of poems. 

7. Encourage the children/students to think of themselves as 'collectors' of poems, or parts of poems. They can do this in an anthology that you make together as a whole class; or make private anthologies of poems you like; or have a space on the wall where you share favourite poems or parts of poems, lines, phrases, words from poems or anything else that 'sounds poetic' - proverbs, sayings and the like. 

8. Think up ways of 'interpreting' poems other than the usual 'comprehension' sort of ways: music, dance, film, art, painting, model making, making a box to represent what's in a poem and so on - all 'inspired' by a poem.