It's time to rhyme combine events and you'll be fine

Jonathan Rooke

Jonathan Rooke looks forward to national poetry day and suggests ways of involving the whole school

The theme of this year's national poetry day next Thursday is Poetry Out Loud. It need not be an onerous task to organise a programme of events, including workshops, competitions, displays, a performance assembly or even a poetry performance evening for parents which involves the whole school.

It should be an occasion for teachers as well as pupils, so co-ordinators need to find out what their colleagues can do and what they would like to do. A little done well is better than trying too much if time and resources are short.


Teachers could lead writing workshops on different forms of poetry that they feel confident with, such as nonsense poems, haiku, ballads, poems on a theme or in the style of another poem, cautionary tales, raps or limericks. Well defined objectives are needed for each class linked to your schemes of work.

Teachers can keep their own classes, but it's also exciting to mix the children up, allowing them to choose which workshop they attend. Alternatively, whole classes can work with a different teacher for the morning. It is especially satisfying for younger children to work with a teacher from the upper school and pleasant for older children to spend time with a teacher from a previous year group.

As poems are completed, children can take them to the library, playground or other busy space within the school and hang them out on a poetry washing line. A simple length of string at child's head height, some clothes pegs and protective plastic pockets will give their own poems an audience and enable them to read and respond to other children's work. Place a notice nearby asking them to tell a friend two things they like about each poem they read. Create a shared space for them to write comments, such as a board or a book.


Place a single stage block in the playground. Invite and encourage children to stand on this poetry soapbox and read out loud a poem for any who care to listen. It can be their own poem or a favourite from a book. This is short, sharp, fun and a great confidence builder for those who take part. Teachers can lead the way.

One way to share the children's work and give it the widest possible audience is to provide each teacher with a scrapbook. As the poems are finished they can be mounted and stuck in to the book. A cover and index can be made and the finished poetry book placed in an easily accessible box in the library. Parents' help will be invaluable here.

Poems can be displayed on boxes, branches and balloons and colourful displays made in shared areas around the school. Poems can be stuck behind paper doors and windows which children have to open. A tree with poetry leaves or poetry fruit children can pick, read and replace can provide an excellent central display.

Posters, scrolls, video and audio tapes can be made. You might choose 20 poems to make an illustrated leaflet and send it home to the parents. This could be an IT project for a group of Year 6 pupils. Schools with the technology could send poems anywhere in the world by e-mail.


Those who have any poetry energy left might be given the opportunity to watch a video about a poet or Michael Rosen's excellent Count to Five and Say I'm Alive (from TEAM Video Productions, 0181 960 5536). Some might gather in the library with parents or governors to share and listen to favourite poems which they bring along themselves.

Throughout the day some children could carry out a survey and make a Top Ten Poems Hit Parade.

A competition could be launched for a poem on a particular theme or an illustration for a well known poem. Entries could be handed in after the weekend and prizes awarded the following week. Governors could act as judges and make the presentations.

Parents could be involved by asking them to return a slip with their favourite poem on it. This information could be turned into a poster by a group of older pupils.

Send the parents a short leaflet with a list of the day's activities, a few brief hints on how to read out loud poems with their child (for example, use accents, vary your volume, make up movements and practise your poem before performing it to granny or the video cameras, and recommend some good children's poetry books for them to read with their children). Emphasise the fun as well as the educational value.


Try holding an Out Loud poetry performance assembly. If you give sufficient warning, lots of children will enthusiastically prepare a poem to recite to the school, especially if they can do it with a group of friends. Parents will help find costumes and props and practise speech and movements with their children. Make a running order at dinnertime because children may want to perform a poem they have just written.

Try to vet the length of the poems entered and see them all if you can. Try to discourage any who are likely to seize up on stage. Encourage staff to take part. Some short musical slots by pupils will provide excellent natural breaks.

Remember, it is not meant to be a polished show. It is the spontaneity and the taking part that will be valuable in the classroom in the coming months.

All pupils can be invited to attend the poetry performance assembly in the fancy dress of their favourite character from a poem. You can parade all of the children, in classes, along the front of the stage, calling out each character's name as they reach the centre. It takes a little time but the children enjoy this and it ensures that as many of them as possible become participants rather than spectators.


From there it is a short step to an Out Loud Poetry Performance Evening for the parents. Select the best performers from the assembly, include some extra poems to create a good range and balance, spend a week rehearsing, add some lights, music and a free illustrated programme and you will have an hour-long show with possibly 100 children taking part.

On the evening the performers can sit below the stage watching while they wait their turn, enjoying the whole show together with their parents. Maintain the sense of fun and ensure the children do well.

Jonathan Rooke is language co-ordinator at Waverley Abbey C of E junior school, Farnham, Surrey * National Poetry Day is Thursday, October 9. The theme is Poetry Out Loud - poetry in performance, poetry gigs, and poetry set to music

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