Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Helping Children to Love Poetry: 9 ideas and some books

Poetry is a much-neglected part of literature. I've written before about its power to allow us to express and explore varied aspects of the human condition (HERE). I also regularly review good poetry books on this blog. Poetry should be read, listened to, experienced and enjoyed with our children. It can amuse, entertain, challenge, teach and change us. Our aim as teachers and parents should be to seek to share good poetry often, and help children to 'experience' poems as significant literary and life events.

Ariel Sacks wrote a great post a couple of years ago in which she offered some great tips to immerse children in poetry. This is my adaptation of her suggestions: 

1. Giving poetry space in the curriculum to poetry don't just use it as an add-on to other things

2. Offer a variety of reading, speaking and listening experiences with poetry that don't require analysis and dissection.

3. Create an anthology for students - a packet of poems as wide-ranging and diverse as possible (rhyming and non-rhyming, contemporary and ancient poems, easy poems easily comprehended, curious & mystifying, classics & unknown, some written by students.

4. Sometimes create an anthology around a particular theme or image (ecology, justice, humanity...).

5. Provide time to read the poetry collection with no strings attached.

6. Allow students to read poems they like aloud to the class. 

7. Try some choral reading. Perhaps have the class pick one of the poems for choral reading.

8. Experiment with poetry - tone and volume, mood, expression, method of presentation...

9. Perhaps have everyone memorize a few poems. Perhaps a poem that they will know for life!

For some great ideas on poetry and access to great book lists visit the Centre for Excellence in Primary Education (CLPE) which has an annual award for poetry written for children. 

I wrote a post on notable poetry books a few years ago that you might still find useful (HERE).

Here is a short sample of some good recent poetry books and anthologies that might be helpful. They are suggested simply to offer an insight into the variety of poetry books available. I would love to hear of your favourites.

Poems to Perform, Julia Donaldson (editor), illustrated by Clare Melinsky (Macmillan)

This is a careful selection of poems, both familiar and new; they contain poetry that lend themselves to being performed in a range of collaborative ways. Progress through the book is subtly themed: gliding through poems about school, football, food and many other matters. It offers succinct suggestions for how they could be presented both verbally and dramatically at the back, leaving plenty of scope for teachers and pupils to make their interpretations. The poems range from classics by Edward Lear, W H Auden, and Eleanor Farjeon, to contemporary work by Michael Rosen, John Agard, and Clare Bevan. It is illustrated throughout with exquisite, expressive linocuts, this is a book for teachers, parents and children; in fact anyone who loves great poetry. I bought this to use with children myself! The descriptions are edited versions of the judge's comments on each book.

The Dragon with a Big Nose, by Kathy Henderson (Frances Lincoln)

This collection has many city poems that capture the feel and vibrancy of urban life. These are odes to the urban environment - its buildings, its transport, the people and creatures that inhabit it and the effects of weather on it. The dragon on the cover disguises the contents. Fantasy and reality converge in poems like ‘Under the Stairs’ and many of them describe wonder in the apparently ordinary, but there are varied poems. The child’s eye viewpoint is foremost and this contributes to this being that rare commodity – a single poet collection for younger children. The poet’s own illustrations work wonderfully with the text.

Bookside Down, by Joanne Limburg (Salt Publishing)

This is Joanne Limburg’s first collection for children. It has a unique and contemporary feel, catching the voice and ear of the intended audience providing thoughtful observations of modern childhood. What happens if you read a book while standing on your head? Dare to discover the answer within these poems that provide a fresh take on school and family life, complete with computapets and a Wii with a Mii channel. Take a prefix lesson that doesn’t deal with grammar too seriously while requiring some understanding to get the joke. Sample the mouth-watering potatoes Dad cooks, tantalising all your senses ‘for truly they are epic’. Don’t lose your temper or you may find important things are lost too.

Wayland. The Tale of the Smith from the Far North, by Tony Mitton, illustrated by John Lawrence (David Fickling Books)

This is the story of Wayland Smith, the strangest of all I know. This beautifully told tale reinvents the northern legend of Wayland the blacksmith, whose craft and skill spread his fame far and wide. But Wayland's talents bring him nothing but pain. It is poetic in form, and is epic in nature. It is a complete piece of art, poetry and legend. Readers are quickly drawn into this 'story' set in a landscape of forests and mountains depicted in John Lawrence’s extraordinary engravings. It is definitely a publication for older children. There is the love of Wayland for his Swan-Maiden and beauty in the way words and pictures reunite them.

Cosmic Disco, by Grace Nichols, illustrated by Alice Wright (Frances Lincoln)

This is a collection of poetry with beautiful rhythms, language and imagery that Grace Nichols always captures with such mastery. This collection whirls us out into the cosmos to dance ‘in the endless El Dorado of stars stars stars’ and back again to ‘that little old blue ball spinning in the corner over yonder’. Nature is personified in many guises. Lady Winter raps out a warning and chastises a cheeky robin. Autumn is a knight with ‘cape of rustling ochre, gold and brown’ and ‘spurs made of sprigs’ and ‘medals made of conkers’. Colours speak, giving persuasive arguments why the artist should choose each one of them. Venus is addressed majestically and a ‘star that time forgot’ given a new name.


Unknown said...

Great post about a critical topic! I love that people are recognizing the need for poetry in children's lives and education. I wrote this book as a way to teach kids to both read and write poetry, would be thrilled if you checked it out.

Trevor Cairney said...

Thanks Andi, I'll have a look at your book.

Trademark Lawyer said...

Fantastic post, it's so good to see that you're encouraging children to love poetry in this cyber obsessed internet age!