INVITE A WRITER TO YOUR CLASS - and I'd love to come
It is a good idea to invite a writer to your classroom to get to know them better. I think we live in a wonderful age for it is not necessary nowadays to have someone travel long distances in order to be with you. Skype is an excellent way for a writer to pop into a classroom for a short period – say half an hour. Children are lucky today to have the opportunity to both talk with a writer and ask questions, but more importantly, to be able to show the writer what they are doing themselves. They know that they will have someone who shares their interest and will want to ask them questions too.
This is one of many articles which I will write to help you make the teaching of poetry lots of fun as well as being a really worthwhile activity in your school curriculum. Please continue to come to this website for ideas to bring your classroom to a full poetic life. We have some really exciting developments taking place at the moment with regard to my poems. As the year progresses you will see subtle changes which will enhance your poetry lessons.
I love to hear from children and their teachers, and I often do. I love the little letters which tell me where my poems are going and how they're being used, and my books are flying in every direction of the world it seems, so are probably being used 24 hours of the clock, ha ha. (Oh dear!! What a thought). I loved hearing that a peformance lesson of "Mr Wind's Little Games" actually got a student teacher a teaching post. What satisfaction this brings to a writer. Via the internet we can keep in touch. When publishers just sold their books the writers often never knew where they went. Times have certainly changed.
RHYTHM, RHYME AND PATTERN IN POETRY
From their earliest days children will be drawn towards language which is fun. Say one or two unusual words that might sound interesting to a child, and watch their face as you say it. They may not understand it, but they will immediately smile. I have told parents this when I have spoken to them and have shown them this in action, if they have had a small child with them. A small child will laugh out loud at words such as “Go Slow”said in a deep voice and slowly – “Go Slow” being the title of my poem about the advice given by Mother and Father Snail. Try "Don't Laugh at a Giraffe" or "Mrs Meddle's Muddle". They will laugh and will have learned what assonance is without knowing it.
Through nursery rhymes and playground chanting (more of that when I was a child than there is now I think), they see that repetition of language and the patterns and sounds of language are lots of fun. The English language is fantastic (say I as a poet), for the stresses and accentuations within the words lay our language wide open to making rhythm and metre for our poems. Why did people ever stop doing this and prefer free verse? Was it to make the writing of poetry easier? It wasn’t because there would be an improvement of the hearing or reciting of poetry. We must keep the fun of poetry alive and build on the attractions that children found in the poem they enjoyeds at an early age.
STRETCH THEIR IMAGINATIONS
Don’t just feed your children silly poems to make them laugh. It isn’t necessary. Yes, they like these too, but give them a wide range of poems, and don’t think that you have to have a poem that doesn’t use an unusual word, or a different way of talking. Not at all. I remember that it was May and I thought I would read to six year olds my poem “Ode to The Bluebells” which is a Victorian Ballad. I use the terms “ladies of the glades” and “dells”. I also refer to the bluebells as “maidens” (a word you don’t hear much these days). I used the word “hue”. I wondered if this was all too much for six year olds and I wrote the word “hue” on the board and told them that it meant “colour”. I tentatively read them the poem and you could have dropped a pin. They all listened with interest. I said: “Was that a bit difficult for you to understand?” Bluntly one said “No, easy peasy” and the others agreed. One little girl came to tell me how much she had loved that poem and would remember it when she went to walk in the bluebell woods. I was very impressed indeed and will never falter again from using a poem that is a little “old fashioned” or which has a word or two that might be new to them. I do hope you won't either.
At the end of a poem, ask the children which words or phrases really stood out for them. In the poem “Ode to the Bluebells” the children said that they liked the fact that I had referred to the little bluebells as ladies wearing gowns, for they had never thought of that before. They liked the personification within the poem – even the fact that I had warned the bluebells not to heed the “sly” wind. They liked the fact that I had referred to the woodland floor as a carpet which had been replenished with a new covering, ie from the dead leaves of winter to the blue carpet of bluebells. They liked the idea of “fingers” of the sun shining through the trees, for they said they had also seen the sun coming through in this way. These images are the sort of things that show children how creative we can be in using language to describe things.
Ask children about patterns within the poem – eg the rhyming form or the metre form, the shape of the poem. Does it have a refrain between verses? Are there repetitions of words and what do they add to the poem?
Sometimes there is a parallel thought going through the poem. The poet can be using one thing in order to say another. I have just used both repetition of words and a parallel theme in my poem "Not Just". When I have spoken of “Not just cold but a biting wind too” I follow this up by saying “Not just a sharp word, but a harsh row with you” to show this parallel theme. You would be surprised how children will pick up on this. Linked to this are feelings. In this particular poem I convey lots of feelings. At one point it is “escapism” from the harsh words in the form of a ship anchored out in the bay. Do the feelings change as the poem goes on? In this one, yes, for I end this poem by saying:
“But there's a feeling inside me that dreams are just dreams -
And they’re all part of life – well that’s how it seems.”
In other words, you cannot just escape from problems in life. There are hard facts to be faced and the feeling that dreams are just dreams and just another part of life. Don’t dream of better things but come back to earth and do something positive. Ask the children to tell you if they share the ideas within the poem. Sometimes they will, but many will not. That is good. They should have their own ideas. Don’t forget that writers are not always writing about themselves, or their own ideas, but throwing out thoughts to others to make them think.