My top five poems to teach primary school pupils

Sarah Williams
8th October 2015 at 17:30

TES Subject Genius

It is so important to share poems with children as essentially poetry is about words choices and use of words. It’s thinking about how words fit together and considering the movement of a sentence of group of words. Often, poetry can be easily accessed by those children who find English difficult to access as the description and imagery can be more apparent and easily scaffolded.

Poetry encourages children to think about how to read to engage an audience, it allows them to perform and consider how punctuation and intonation can really help with understanding.

Ultimately, children can learn about the rules of writing because poetry allows them to break them! They don’t need a full stop at the end of a sentence or even a capital letter. It allows them to begin to develop their own voice as a writer and helps those children who use hundreds of adjectives to describe one noun to begin to think about being more economical in their writing.

Poetry is so much more than writing an acrostic poem and thinking about rhyming couplets, it’s about rhythm and movement and about performing.


1. The Magic Box by Kit Wright

This poem is a great way to get children to think about using adjectives and metaphors as ways of adding description to their writing. The structure of the poem makes it really easy to model how to use these devices. It is also really easy to differentiate, as you can support children by asking them to think of very specific things such as a favourite memory or a favourite sound and then modelling how to expand on this.


2. The Marrog by RC Scriven

This in an unusual way to conduct a reading comprehension. I often get younger children to draw what the Marrog looks like and annotate their drawings with some of the adjectives from the poem. It can help introduce the terminology of adjectives, and by removing them from the poem the children can then create their own alien from outer space.


3. Please Mrs Butler by Allan Ahlberg

When using this poem, I tend to focus on rhyme and rhythm. Read the poem several times to model intonation and pace and then ask the children to highlight the rhyme and look at how the poem has been organised. It’s a useful poem to introduce the more technical terms of poetry such as stanza and rhyme scheme.


4. Dis poetry by Benjamin Zephaniah

I love to demonstrate to children that rap can also be poetry. With this poem, I often play word detective and work together in a shared reading group to use clues in the poem to deduce what the unusual dialect words mean. I often read the poem several times and let the children identify that repetition is used as a tool which will then help the decoding of meaning. If you can, try to listen to a recording of Benjamin Zephaniah performing this and then allow children to practice how they might perform the poem.


5. Granny is by Valerie Bloom

This is a great poem to use with younger children in a circle. Start with the statement: “Granny is” and ask each child to add a further phrase to the poem. It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as it describes their granny (or any other family member).They could describe what she looks like or the things she does. With older children, I often explore how Bloom uses the imagery in her poems and encourage children to write about what they know, rather than a made up world. I highlight that they can really describe what they can see, smell or hear, just as they have experienced it.


Sarah Williams is a primary teacher in Durham