World Poetry Day (21 March), established by Unesco in 1999, aims to recognise the unique ability of poetry to capture the creative spirit of the human mind – but how do you convince your pupils that this is something worth celebrating? Poetry is for academics and posh people, right?
Wrong. Here are some ways to celebrate next week and to get your pupils excited about poetry.
1. Get everyone involved
To kick off the day, have a few people read out their favourite poems in an assembly or special gathering. This could be a mix of pupils and staff (and not just teachers – ask kitchen staff, the caretaker, office staff and so on) so that children can see that poetry can be enjoyed by everyone and anyone. During the day, staff can also move around the school and pop into lessons to tell a poem.
Parents can get involved, too. Send a letter home to let them know how the school is celebrating and encourage them to ask their children about the day afterwards. There’s no need to have dressing up, because that puts too much pressure on parents, and takes away from the main message about poetry.
2. Put on a show
Performance should be at the heart of poetry. Poetry is made to be said out loud, to be heard in all its dramatic glory. You wouldn’t introduce a piece of music to children without getting them to listen to it first – regard poetry in the same way.
Teachers can read students their favourite poem(s), or play a video of a poet reciting their work. Plenty of videos are available on YouTube. Encourage the use of sound effects (digital or otherwise – they could be as simple as hand-clapping and finger-clicking).
Focus on children acting out the poem to the rest of the class – working in groups or pairs – and show them how to use their voice to engage the audience (through dynamics and adding expression and emphasis). You could even arrange for children to go to a different class to read out or perform favourite poems.
3. Celebrate other cultures
As one of the aims of World Poetry Day is to celebrate cultural diversity and the oral tradition, make sure you have a selection of poems from around the world.
Mother Tongue Other Tongue is a national Laureate Education Project, led by the Poet Laureate, Dame Carol Ann Duffy at Manchester Metropolitan University. Each year they run a competition that asks children who do not have English as a first language, or who speak a different language at home, to share a lullaby, poem or song from their mother tongue.
4. Invite a poet
If it’s not too late, invite a poet into school. If time doesn’t allow this, then on the day itself, research some local poets with the children. They can make contact with these poets and invite them to school at a later date. Some children will not link something they read in a book to a real, living person, so this can be a good point of connection.
5. Show and tell
To inspire poetry writing, ask students to bring in an object (it could be something quite ordinary) and use this as a prompt to model how you use poetic techniques such as alliteration, adjectives, verbs and adverbs. For example, a simple torch could become “A tremendous torch tantalisingly tracing its timid light across the dark ceiling.”
6. Guess who?
Write positive kennings about people you all know, or famous people. Groups of children can work together on a secret person, and the rest of the class have to guess who it is.
7. Focus on reactions
Responding to poems is a very personal thing, and what one person likes, someone else may hate.
Ask children to comment on poems – how does it make them feel? What do they like or not like about it? But make sure you do not judge their responses. Instead, show them how you yourself respond to different poems in different ways.
Helen Ryan-Atkin is senior lecturer in primary education at Manchester Metropolitan University