Well-versed in the rhythms of life

5th July 1996 at 01:00
Gervase Phinn lists his top 20 ideas to encourage children to enjoy and appreciate poetry.

Read a wide selection of poems to the children over the year: poems that surprise and please, that make them think, laugh, feel sad; poems with strong rhythms, solemn stately lyrics, limericks, riddles, concrete verse, haiku, tanka, shape poems, free verse, acrostics, ballads, chants and charms, dialect poems, Caribbean verse, poems from Africa, Asia and from around Europe. You might begin with the humorous and accessible verse of Michael Rosen, June Crebbin and Spike Milligan and gradually introduce the challenging verse of poets such as Grace Nichols, Gillian Clarke, J R R Tolkien, James Reeves and W B Yeats.

Compile a list of poems suitable for different age groups and make a collection of poetry posters and cards.

Invite writers into school to share their experiences of the process of writing - where the ideas come from, the research they have to undertake, how they draft and revise, proof read and submit for publication. Listening to poets like Wes Magee, Peter Dixon, Irene Rawnsley, Rowena Sommerville, Berlie Doherty and other fine writers reading and interpreting their own work, will fascinate and inspire children. An author's visit might be arranged as part of a book week or poetry festival and the local arts group may be able to help with funding. The National Association of Writers in Education has compiled a comprehensive list of poets willing to visit schools.

Display a wide selection of material and ask the children to browse and then, from an anthology, select just one short verse, perhaps a limerick or haiku. Ask each child to copy out the selected poem and decorate it, commit it to memory and then recite it to the class. A collection of these poems could be put together into a poetry booklet or form part of a colourful display.

Encourage the children to keep a special book for writing in their favourite poems.

Mount displays of poetry anthologies, book jackets and posters in corridors and classrooms.

Use paintings, line drawings, photographs, drama and music as stimuli for children's poetic writing.

Organise an evening for teachers, parents, governors and children when a speaker - such as an author, adviser or member of the Schools' Library Service - talks about reading and the importance of poetry. As part of this event children could read and perform a selection of poems (including their own) accompanied by music and mime. This could include a dramatic reading or a group choral presentation.

Attend an Arvon writing course. The Arvon Foundation has three residential centres: in West Yorkshire, Inverness and Devon. Under the direction of experienced professional writers, teachers and students are able to work individually and in groups and return to their schools inspired and revitalised and keen to pass on their experience to their pupils.

Encourage children to write to their favourite poets. Publishers forward correspondence and most writers are delighted to receive letters from children.

Spend a little time each week reading and discussing a longer, more demanding poem. Talk to the children about poetic techniques and devices: verse, rhythm, rhyme, imagery, contrast, repetition, figures of speech as they arise in the poems. The Butterfly Jar, poems by Jeff Moss (Bantam Books) and The House That Caught a Cold, poems by Richard Edwards (Viking) are ideal.

Use poems for handwriting practice.

Enter children for poetry competi-tions.

Read a poem at the start of each day. There are some excellent collections such as It's Funny When You Look at It, a book of zany verse by Colin West (Beaver Books) and Pet Poems edited by Robert Fisher (Faber and Faber) which are full of short, entertaining poems.

Encourage children to write in a range of structures: snapshot poems, haiku, alphabet poems, acrostics, concrete verse, limericks, riddles, free and rhyming verse.

Produce your own school collection of poems.

Encourage children to keep a special folder or portfolio of their own poems.

Keep up with your own reading by visiting the Schools' Library Service HQ, subscribing to The Poetry Society, reading the reviews and keeping close and regular contact with the local bookshop.

Integrate poetry into the topic work you undertake. Some collections are based around themes: Hysterically Historically, Madcap Rhymes of Olden Times by Gordon Snell, Hutchinson; Four o'clock Friday: Original Poems About School by John Foster, Oxford University Press; A Calendar of Poems by Wes Magee, Collins; Toughie Toffee, a collection of citywise poems chosen by David Orme, Young Lion. To Be Ghost: Poems of Magic, Mystery and the Supernatural by Raymond Wilson, Viking; A Picnic of Poetry, poems about food and drink, selected by Anne Harvey, Puffin; Funny Folk, poems about people, edited by Robert Fisher, Faber and Faber. The Saison Poetry Library produces an excellent range of poetry packs which contain worksheets based on themes: Food, Animals, Places, Traditions, Light and Dark, Friends and Enemies, Magic and Mystery.

Provide a wide selection of good, appropriate poetry anthologies including pop-up books, nursery rhymes, modern and traditional collect-ions, scripts and poems for reading aloud, verse on tape, poetry posters and cards. Allow some time for the children to browse among the poetry and reading books, and for them to read poems quietly, listen to them on tape and read the poems of other children.

The poems above were written by children who are avid, eager readers, who work in rich language and literature environments, helped, encouraged and supported by sensitive and skilful teachers. u Gervase Phinn is principal adviser with North Yorkshire County Council. He is editor of the poetry anthology Lizard Over Ice (Nelson) and author of the collection Classroom Creatures (Roselea Publications).

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