Poetry in motion;Literacy;Poem

19th March 1999 at 00:00
Every week dozens of poems written by children are sent into The TES. They represent considerable talent, on the part of both the writers and the teachers who inspire them. Each term a different guest poet chooses one poem to be featured weekly in TES Friday magazine and, from these, we have made a selection for a book, The TES Book of Young Poets, with an introduction by Sian Hughes, education officer at the Poetry Society.

This is full of helpful hints about how to use children's writing to encourage creativity in the classroom. Here, to whet your appetite, Anthony Wilson, our current guest poet, makes some suggestions on the same theme drawn from his own experience in primary teaching.

The first thing to say about using children's poems to teach poetry is that you should collect examples of their work regularly. A poem read out loud to a class by a child is a more powerful starting point than lots of instructions.

Type them out on to A4 paper and start a file. If you don't have any examples, turn to The Poetry Book for Primary Schools (The Poetry Society), the young poet of the week in the TES Friday magazine, or the forthcoming The TES Book of Young Poets (published on April 30, pound;9.99).

A child's poem says "Look what can be done. You can do this too. It is valuable." Over time you start to have favourites.

Above is a short poem by George (Year 6) from Dorchester, who was writing in response to Ted Hughes' "Hands" (from Moortown). The idea was to describe someone you know through the action of their hands. (Taken from Peter Sansom's Writing Poems, Bloodaxe.) I use this poem as much as Hughes' original, for in its spare detail a whole life is mapped out. When I ask classes about what kind of man this is, children say words such as "office", "routine", "dull", "boredom" and "escape". They can describe him, what he wears, eats and drives - even his children.

Sometimes they write the life history of such a man, or invent his best friend or his wife, or write monologues in their voices.

Sometimes we go on to do the "hands" exercise. But sometimes the discussion is an end in itself: a way to show how poems help the imagination; how they show, not tell, different worlds; and how a plain-speaking voice such as the one above can be unexpectedly moving.

But poems need not produce poems. As poet Michael Rosen says, sometimes capturing the talk is enough. I once sat in on a group of Year 5 children discussing each other's work. I made notes, typed out their comments and displayed them next to the poems that had prompted them in the corridor.

The National Literacy Strategy makes much of "high quality oral work", but how often do we celebrate what children say? Witnessing the slangy, improvised language of the street given status in print had an electric impact on that group of children - as much impact, if not more, than conventional poetry.

Children's writing can be a useful source for discussing drafting as well. On an overhead projector transparency, photocopy a child's work and use it as the shared text at the start of a literacy hour, asking for suggestions and improvements. For independent group work ask children to edit their own poems with a response partner, or, as part of a group, to finish the edited original poem to share in the plenary, explaining their choices and process.

They could even attempt imaginary translations from classmates who write in languages other than English. That really would be widening "the horizon of (their) eyes". (Jeremy Neumark-Jones, "Red IsI".) Anthony Wilson is co-author of The Poetry Book For Primary Schools (Poetry Society)

The Two Azizas by Aziza Hussein

Aziza watches Power Rangers Every day on the tele.

At night the other Aziza goes Flying through the sky.

Aziza likes swimming but She's not very good.

At night the other Aziza Goes swimming in the ocean With the big fish.

Aziza never goes on holiday But the other Aziza Goes to Somalia every weekend.

Red is . . . by Jeremy Neumark-Jones

The sun boiling so hot and bright The blood in the heart of battle.

A fox searching for the kill A brick waiting to be built Anger raging and roaring that curses me A book on the horizon of my eyes A storm striking down with eminent force.

My Uncle's Hands are big and soft He taps the keys on the board until he has finished his work Picks up his briefcase and goes home.

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