Teaching poetry in primary schools
There is still an elephant in the room!
We all know that we need to include poetry in our teaching. We all know that children need to listen to, discuss, respond to, perform and write poetry. However, the elephant remains – large, grey and unmoving!
Poetry in the Primary Framework
Poetry featured in the Primary Framework. These units were the ones that very often were forgotten as time ran out when trying to cover the weighty narrative and non-narrative ones. Poetry was often remembered at the end of terms and the number of times that I have heard – “Nearly Christmas and we haven’t done any poetry! Let’s write a Christmas acrostic!”
Many teachers were – and still are – nervous about teaching poetry. Subject knowledge not only about poets and types of poetry and poetic structures, but also about teaching approaches has not been addressed with many primary teachers. The meaning of poems is open-ended and should provoke thoughts, ideas and emotions rather than a “correct” answer. Poetry is so language-rich and offers so many opportunities to explore and interpret. Children need to experience a wide range of types and forms of poems written by a wide range of poets from traditional rhymes and classic poems to poets from other cultures and to current poets. Poems use language in many different and often unusual and surprising ways. Children who experience poetry become skilled in using language with great care and attention. They choose words, aware of the significance of each one and how a choice can add complexity or subtlety of meaning to their writing.
My recent experience teaching poetry
Recently, I was in one of the schools I visit regularly to support the development of English practice. The school is set in a socially deprived area and the intake is mainly white British children. Books and reading are not a priority in their everyday lives at home, let alone poetry. I spent the morning leading some guided reading sessions.
In one Year 3 session, we looked in detail at a poem – The Dragonfly by Ted Hughes. I wanted them to think about whether they thought that Ted Hughes liked dragonflies and to look at the words and language used to support their decision. They had already pre-read the poem and I provided some visual images to help reinforce their understanding. They discussed their ideas in pairs and then each pair shared their thoughts. This led to further discussion. I worked on deepening thinking by asking them to tell me more or to explain their idea with examples from the poem. Having made a decision, each child gave their opinion, justifying it with examples from the poem and using sentence starters to ensure an answer in full sentences and Standard English!
The group was divided in their opinion, but everyone gave good and varied reasons. All the children were engaged and interested. At the end of the session one boy remarked that we had spent half an hour just talking about a short poem and that he had not realised how much there would be to say!
This is exactly what teachers need to be facilitating and children experiencing. Every unit of work should include some poetry whether it is to just to listen to or to respond to, to perform or to write poetry. So, make friends with the elephant and enjoy the power of poetry!
Continue the conversation on teaching poetry in schools:
For more information on poetry in primary schools keep an eye on the Focus Education blog, find me on Twitter @FocusRos or get in touch with the Focus Education office on 01457 821 818. To purchase our Teaching Poetry publication for primary schools, click here.
Writing at Greater Depth
Judging Year 1, 3, 4 and 5 Writing
Ros has over 30 years’ experience working in teaching and leadership roles in schools, both nationally and internationally, as well as leadership roles within Local Authority advisory teams.
With extensive experience in all aspects of school improvement and contexts, as well as specialisms in English and EAL, Ros has developed inspirational, creative resources and training which puts English at the heart of the curriculum.