Chapter verse

27th June 1997 at 01:00
In his second article on poetry in the infants, Gervase Phinn explains how to encourage children to experiment with rhyme and metaphor

Once pupils' ears have been bedded with the rhymes and rhythms of good-quality verse (see last week's issue), teachers can turn to encouraging their pupils to write their own poems. Small children, who may not possess the writing skills to work independently, might be encouraged to work collaboratively on their poems, helped and supported by a sensitive teacher. They can be given a suggested pattern or framework for their writing and offered some rules to help them get started.

A group of six- and seven-year-olds sitting informally in the Home Corner talked generally about a selection of large coloured photographs of animals that I had taken into school. The creatures included a mole, badger, rabbit, squirrel, hedgehog and dormouse. At two further "talk" sessions I read some poems and short descriptive extracts from stories that featured these animals. These included some of the following poems and prose extracts: * Mole by Russell Hoban and Jan Pienkowski Jonathan Cape, (story extract)

* Mole by Alan Brownjohn, from Brownjohn's Beasts Macmillan, (poem)

* Badger's Parting Gifts by Susan Varley Picture Lions, (story extract)

* The Badger by Michael Longley in The Wolfhound Book of Irish Poems edited by Bridie Quinn and Seamus Cashman Wolfhound Press, (poem)

* The Rabbit by Elizabeth Madox Roberts from Under The Tree Viking Penguin, (poem)

* Rabbit Magic by Susie Jenkin-Pearce and Julia Malim Bodley Head, (story)

* To a Squirrel at Kye-na-no by W B Yeats from The Collected Poems of W B Yeats Macmillan

* The Hedgehog's Explanation by Elizabeth Jennings in Poets in Hand, a Puffin Quintet chosen by Anne Harvey

* Hedgehog by Jonathan Lloyd in Prickly Poems, an Anthology of Hedgehog Poems Hutchinson in association with the British Hedgehog Preservation Society

* The Little Mouse by Don and Audrey Wood, Child's Play, (story extract)

We looked at each animal in turn and talked about the colours, shapes, features and anything the children wished to raise. I listed parts of one animal's body on the blackboard: DORMOUSE


I then encouraged the children to suggest adjectives to add some description:

black round eyes soft flappy ears wet little nose small whiskery mouth thin pink tail soft brown fur

Comparisons were then suggested. We decided together which ones we liked the best and from the discussions emerged our class poem:


Black round eyes like shiny beads, Soft flappy ear like a crumpled purse, Wet little nose like sticky tar, Small whiskery mouth like a tiny cave, Thin pink tail like a lazy worm, Soft brown fur like a carpet.

The children, working in pairs, helped and supported by the teacher, produced some detailed descriptive verse based on this approach. Here are four examples:


Fat black body like an old glove, Shiny fur as soft as silk, Sharp little nose like an ice-cream cone, Big flat paws like pink spades, Eyes that cannot see.

Carlie Ruth


Bristly fur like a doormat, Fat round body like a dog's, Long sharp teeth like icicles, Glistening eyes like marbles, Black and white in the night.

Ben Daniel


Big, big eyes as round as the moon, Soft, soft fur as grey as the mist, White whiskers like bits of cotton, Round little tail as white as the sky.

Sophie Graham


Round, spiky body like a ball of spikes, Crinkled pointed face like an old, old man, Long, long whiskers like spiky grass, A carpet of spines, a bristly brush.

Tom Claire

Another approach is for the teacher to act as the scribe and the children to compose a class poem to which is added a refrain. For example, just before an infant school harvest festival the children wrote a class poem which they performed with great enthusiasm and confidence for parents on the day. The classroom was full of all sorts of fruit and vegetables and this afforded a good opportunity to talk about the produce: the colours, smells, shapes, sizes and so on. I wrote a list of words on the blackboard to which children added some descriptions:

oranges round and rubbery apples hard and red bananas bent and blotchy pears fat and juicy potatoes dusty and hard cabbages crunchy and green carrots pointed and smooth onions flaky and brown beetroot dark as the night

We went through each phrase to see if any rhymes appeared naturally or if children could suggest any. I had one of my own. The refrain was decided upon when Sophie, who had brought a large basket of vegetables, announced proudly: "Everything grows in my Grampa's garden." We all thought this chorus would be ideal. Here is the finished poem:


Big fat onions, flaky and brown, Cucumbers soft and green, Knobbly potatoes, dusty and hard, The biggest you have ever seen.

Everything grows in Grandpa's garden, Everything grows and grows!

Long, thin carrots pointed and smooth, Beetroot smooth and red, Celery long and crunchy and green, Cabbages as big as your head Everything grows in Grandpa's garden, Everything grows and grows!

Apples hard and munchy to eat, Pears so juicy and round, Bananas soft and blotchy and bent, The longest that can be found, Everything grows in Grandpa's garden.

Everything grows and grows!

In talking about the poems they hear and read and in writing verse, older infants and juniors start to become more confident in attempting to use some poetic devices. They begin, quite naturally, to include similes, alliteration, repetition and vivid imagery into their writing and start experimenting with rhymes and refrains.

In one infant school I worked with a group of seven-year-olds undertaking a history project. The children had been asked by their teacher to interview their grandparents about what life was like when they were young, to make some notes and carry out a little simple research. As part of the project I read a range of poems and stories about grannies and grandpas including: * Seen Grandma Lately?

by Tony Fuller in his collection of the same title, Andre Deutsch, (poem).

* Goodbye Granny in Singing Down the Breadfruit by Pauline Stewart, Bodley Head, (poem).

* Come Back Grandma by Sue Limb, Bodley Head (story).

* My Grannie is a Sumo Wrestler by Gareth Owen in his collection of the same title Young Lions, (poem).

* Grandpa in Wish You Were Here by Judith Nicholls, OUP (poem).

The children were then asked to brainstorm, writing all the things they could think of about their grandparents: what they look like, the things they say, any memories they have mentioned, if they have special names.

A first draft was attempted and I intervened to make some suggestions, to help with spellings and to encourage the children to put some of their ideas into words.

The children were then asked to write a poem beginning: "My Grannie I" or "My Grandpa I" The final polished poems were illustrated, photocopied and displayed alongside photographs and paintings. Here are my favourites:


My Grannie says I am a little chatterbox.

She says I talk 10 to the dozen.

Chatter, Chatter, Chatter, Natter, Natter, Natter.

My Grandpa says, Never mind poppet, You take after your Grannie.

Chatter, Chatter, Chatter, Natter, Natter, Natter.

She's the world champion talker.


My grandpa is old now.

His head is as bald as a hard-boiled egg, But inside millions of things are going on.

My grandpa is old now.

But when he sneezes, He blows the leaves off the trees.

My Grandpa is old now.

But when he walks, His legs go snip-snap like a pair of scissors My Grandpa is old now.

But when he smiles, The sun comes out and the birds sing.

My Grandpa is old now.

But when he sings He makes the cups wobble on the shelf.

My Grandpa is old now But he doesn't act his age.

Finally, young children themselves can be a rich source of material and a real inspiration, should the teacher or the inspector wish to try his or her hand at writing poetry. The following conversation poem is based on the interrogation of the school inspector by a small girl in a nursery, fascinated by the large man with the round red face and bristly moustache who sat watching from the corner.

Infant: What's that?

Inspector: What?

Infant: That on your face.

Inspector: It's a moustache.

Infant: What does it do?

Inspector: It doesn't do anything.

Infant: Oh.

Inspector: It just sits there on my lip.

Infant: Does it go up your nose?

Inspector: No.

Infant: Could I stroke it?

Inspector: No.

Infant: Is it alive?

Inspector: No, it's not alive.

Infant: Can I have one?

Inspector: No, little girls don't have moustaches.

Infant: Why?

Inspector: Well, they just don't.

Infant: Can I have one when I grow up?

Inspector: No, ladies don't have moustaches, either.

Infant: Well my granny's got one!

From: Classroom Creatures by Gervase Phinn Roselea Publications Gervase Phinn is an education inspector. He is also a children's author and poet

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