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More than words, it's poetry

In the struggle to encourage reluctant readers and increase literacy, a new project has arrived - Read a Million Words.

The project aims to appeal to the collector in children, to add each word read to a "score" until the child reaches the goal of becoming a "word millionaire".

If you start to look around words are everywhere. It is not just the words in books that children will be encouraged to add to their "word bank".

Words fill our roads in signposts, shop signs, they cover products in the supermarkets. Labels, instructions, CDs with titles and lists of music and lyric sheets. Computer games are full of words. All of these can be added up and totalled towards the end goal.

It is easy to knock each of these new schemes as they come into being. For those of us who love reading, who carry a book everywhere, this kind of game seems like a nonsense. But if it brings more children to the world of reading, to the joy of books, and gives them the confidence to read as their word banks build, it can only be a good thing.

It is to be hoped that they do not rush out to get the biggest, thickest tome with the most words that they can find. They can build up their numbers through reading small batches of words and clusters, and this would also improve their numeracy, thus killing two birds with one stone.

There are no better "small batches of words" than poems for this task.

Poems are perfect collections and clusters of words arranged in such a way that they slow down reading. Easy to count, the smaller the better. It is not enough to read, read, read and count and collect words. Poems demand to be read and reread (count the words, get into multiplication).

Poems can be short, but the weight of the words, the taste and feel of them in the mouth and in the mind, this is what matters. Not the number of words read, but the understanding of them.

Through poetry we can be opened up to new ways of looking at familiar things. They can be doorways into understanding other people's lives and feelings.

By taking a poem, reading and re-reading (each time adding to the goal of a million words) you can learn a poem, take it into your soul, reading it until it is learnt "by heart". Such words live in the mind for a lifetime, and come to the front of the mind at different stages in life.

Understanding of them changes and develops as the reader grows and ages, passing through different experiences and stages of life. This is where a love of reading comes from, when we make words our own, when we take them into our hearts, when they speak to the soul.

And at the end of this article you will have accumulated five hundred words to add to your bank.

Jackie Morris is a children's author and illustrator from Pembrokeshire

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