Michael Rosen
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Teachers Write To Me Saying, 'What About Poetry?'

The best thing  you can do with poetry is just enjoy reading it together with the children. That has to be the starting point - not all that nonsense about quizzing them about adjectives and metaphors. So first thing: set up situations in which it feels good to read aloud together, read in groups, read silently. This could involve eg  you putting poems up on the wall, without saying why! Just bung'em up and leave them there.

Just before play or going-home time, you could gather them on the carpet and say, 'hey listen to this' and read them a poem. No questions asked. Just read it.

You could create a poetry corner with books, CDs, and links to sites on the computer eg Poetry Archive, where they could listen to poems.

You could have a poetry show. You dish out the books, one book per three children. They have to choose a poem, practise performing it over the next ten minutes, splitting it up into solos, duets, choruses etc...then ten minutes later call them all together,  you act as MC and say, 'Now ladies and gentlemen, the Poetry Show!' And each threesome gets up and does their poem, with you announcing them as if they're stars (saying something about each one of them that is personal and positive: 'James, who last week wrote the most fantastic account of our trip to the Museum...' that sort of thing.

When it comes to writing, think first of the experience. What kind of experience are the children going to have (or have had) that is going to give rise to the poems? A trip, a film, another poem, a discussion about someone's dog dying, a photo, a strange object...? Your resources are the children's own language - what they say, think, see, feel,  hear, imagine. But they can also place themselves into the minds of others and/or into the minds of objects. So, for example, you can take a moment in a story that you've read together, and pick an object in the scene and ask of that object: what does it see? hear? think? imagine? You can pool their responses on big sheets of paper. Pin the sheets up. Then you can model the idea of 'stealing'. You take from each of these pooled sheets, lines that sound good. And you construct something that sounds evocative, or 'good'. Perhaps inject some repetition of lines, to help create a rhythm or chorus effect. Encourage them to do that.

The best and most important thing you can do with any poem that a child writes is either get it performed or ‘published’. Please don’t just leave it on a worksheet or in an exercise book. So think of showcasing every poem. How? Make them into poem-posters, get them to type them up and repro’d in a cheap accessible format, perform them in assembly – with a microphone so that everyone can hear every word. Get the children’s poems into the hands of parents and carers, put them up on the school website.

Taking the idea of seeing, hearing, thinking, etc,  you can look at poems and ask is this a seeing poem? or a thinking poem? 

Best way to talk about poems is to ask questions you don't know the answers to:
1. Does this poem remind you of anything you've ever done?
2. Does this poem remind you of anything you've ever heard someone else doing?
3. Does this poem remind you of anything you've ever seen on TV, film, play, in music?
4. If you could ask anyone in the poem a question, what would  you ask? Can you answer that question  yourself?
5. If you could ask any object or thing in the poem a question, what would you ask? Can you answer that question yourself?

Pool every answer. Try to get every child to say something. Treasure what each child says. Try to write the answers up on big sheets of paper so that you prove to them that you value what they think and feel.

Use music. Play the first ten minutes of Stravinsky's 'Rites of Spring' and say to them that as they're listening they can write down anything that comes into their heads...words, sounds, thoughts, what they imagine, what they feel, anything at all. It doesn't have to be spelled right, it doesn't have to be 'on the line'....it can be all over the page. You do it with them. You share what you've each written. Do it with other music. 'Kind of Blue' Miles Davis.

Talk to your School Library Service about resourcing  your classroom with poetry books for a couple of months.

Read books of poems for children and find ones that move you, interest you, amaze you. Share the ones you’re enthusiastic about with the children. Enthusiasm about poems is infectious. Never think of poems as medicine – not very nice, but good for you!

Try www.booktrust.org.uk and go to 'Resources for teachers' and look at Perform a Poem and Poetry Friendly Classroom.

Go on poetry courses, invite poets into your school, read poetry. See what’s happening with poetry near you – slams, poem posters, competitions, exhibitions.




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