What happened at school and the poetry collection that resulted

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1 PRACTICALLY PRIMARY - POETRY share it and shout it! What happened at school and the poetry collection that resulted I was very privileged to have teachers at my primary school who loved playing with words. The adventure stories that one teacher told of his journeys with a great explorer were wonderful and ignited a real love for telling stories. He also provided us with poems that we loved to recite. He would enter our classroom, place his briefcase on the desk, stand at the front and recite a poem or ballad. By the end of the week we had all written the poem into our writing books, we had often memorized the poem and when it was our turn for the school assembly item more often than not we would recite that poem. And I am sure we entered competitions where we would recite poems too. I have that writing book - or parts of it and it was the discovery of those pages one day a few years ago that was the germ for compiling Classic Australian Poems. Why Poetry Is Important Twinkle twinkle little star, How I wonder what you are. Up above the world so high like a diamond in the sky Twinkle twinkle little star, How I wonder what you are. Ask most children who started kindergarten at big school this year and they will be able to recite this wonderful group of words and many others like it including, Incy Wincy Spider, Humpty Dumpty, and maybe even This Little Piggie Went to Market. They learn, sing and chant the words in the home and at preschool. These and many other classic nursery rhymes are part of the children s acquired language set when they begin school. So the question I ask is why have we stopped teaching nursery rhymes (which are after all very short poems) specifically and poems generally? Why does the repertoire of short pieces that children can recite collapse once they enter big school? I think that poetry is one of the most valuable forms of writing that we can share children. What do children (and adults) get from poetry? They learn: the power of words clustered together in a very precise and structured form that make short concise works. how to play with rhythm. page 1 of 6

2 the structure of rhyme. how to recite and express the written word. The intricacies of words and the english language. Children gather an understanding of the power of linking words. In workshops that I conduct with their students many teachers comment about the obsessively long stories that their children are creating, stories that are merely a collection of words strung together with less thought on planning and more thought on making it long - with the implication being that a longer story is a better story. Well poetry is a complete story so teach poetry. The poem might or might not rhyme but It will usually always be succinctly told. And finding just the right rhyming word that will go with hippopotamus has perplexed many a poet young and not so young. But it also allows for creativity as the young poet endeavors to restructure the poem in such a way that they are not destroying the meaning of the verse but at the same time finding the word that fits. In some cases it requires a complete rewriting of the verse so that it does fit and that it does makes sense. Teachers often mention that children wont read the stories on the fiction shelves because the children complain that the book is too long. Fine then give them a poem - a whole story that might even be written in verse. And if a longer story / poem is required then try the ballads. Classes can analyze the poem in the same that they do with novels, looking for the characters, settings and plot, and work out the structure of the narrative. Poetry is not simply a short succinct story. When students are creating poems they learn the complexities of the English language. When crafting rhyming poetry they soon discover the intricacies of the rhyme and how it is often very difficult to find those rhyming words. They also discover that the rhyming word that they have just discovered, because they made a list of the words that rhyme with the sound they need, might not be the right word - that two is not too is not to. And occasionally they learn that a made up word is permitable and even adds to the context of the poem they are creating - not often but occasionally. Children also learn to understand the forms of rhythm, of meter and beat. In many cases the students have already arrived in the classroom understanding these as the foundation stones have already been laid. They can chant those nursery rhymes, those simple poems and have been doing so for much of their verbal life. We need to be able to build on those foundation stones and allow the children time to experiment and play and use them. Children can learn the beat and the rhythm of saying the words out aloud. Often they will learn about emotion too as they read the works of the poets. page 2 of 6

3 Poetry also has the oration skills associated with verbally telling that work to individuals or by saying the poem out aloud - and with expression - to an audience of listeners. Children learn to recite poems. Students reading poetry often also have to memorize the poem which is another skill they develop. They rarely can recite a book in total but with a poem that is so much easier. They learn to shout when the text requires loud words being announced, they can whisper when its quiet. When we want children to develop oral reading skills and to use expression then poetry to teach the expressive voice, especially those with a few character parts, is a wonderful medium. Children love chanting and expressing themselves vocally - just look at the playgrounds at break times. Chanting poems and nursery rhymes are not just for kindergarten or the few early years at school. In primary schools this can continue with the classic ballads - longer stories told in rhyming verse that are poems. Poetry And Pop Songs - Poems Set To Music If all of this is still causing friction and the students still don t want to explore poetry, even after the teacher has shown how wonderful and joyful poems are, then the teacher simply has to tune in and find out what the children are listening to on their music downloads. The lyrics to the pop songs that the children are all singing in the playground are after all poems set to music. Show the students that they are surrounded by poetry every day of their lives - the poetry that they usually listen to just happens to be set to music. Take some of those pop songs. Strip out the music and sing the words. Poetry And Picture Books - Illustrated Poems If you are having trouble squeezing another minute out of that highly packed classroom program for allocating some poetry time, then why not grab a picture book and read one each day. YES read a picture book each day. And YES picture books should be read to and by children in the primary years as well. Picture books are a unique form of poetry and have been a powerhouse of reading in schools for ages. Not only do they have have the beautiful art that is so vital in the picture book but the words are integral too. In fact in most cases it is the story that comes first. The author crafts the words over and over again until they are just right before they are created as a picture book with accompanying and equally important illustrations. Sounds Spooky was crafted over a period of ten years before it graced the desk of my publisher. page 3 of 6

4 There are numerous picture books that assist in the exploration of poetry, here are a few titles: All Through the Year, Jane Godwin & Anna Walker No More Kisses, Margaret Wild & Nina Rycroft For All Creatures, Glenda Millard & Rebecca Cool The Very Cranky Bear, Nick Bland I m a Dirty Dinosaur, Janeen Brian & Ann James My Thoughts On Teaching Poetry Make poetry a regular classroom activity. It can be a timetabled part of the English curriculum examining the structure and form of the poems as outlined in XXX. It can also be quick, short, and sharp a welcome start or end to the day - just like my primary school teacher did all those year ago. In preschool the teachers often sing a chant to have children gather or to grab their attention, don t ring that class bell or stand silently at the front of the room like a stuffed bird till every student s eyes are on you (yes I have seen it done). Why not create a verse with your students that the teacher could recite when s/he wants the students attention or to signal a new task. Recite poetry. In the classroom. As the assembly item. At school functions. There are numerous opportunities in the school calendar where poetry can be a highlight of that year and of course it is recited with expression. Or why not create a list of poems that are in the classroom and then reward students with selecting a poem to recite. With Picture Books. Read a picture book, each day. For a further study as well as examining the words and the structures that are created, tie it in with a study of the visual narrative. At the same time as asking students about the flow of the text narrative or why they think the author wrote those words in that particular order, or what do you think s/he was writing about replace author with illustrator and words with pictures then ask the same questions of the students. REMEMBER to set an example when you are reading the picture book - if the text has a few characters then use different voices for each character - the students don t care if it isn t exactly as it should be. Very importantly it is vital that the students see the teacher modeling the forms of expressions that we are constantly asking the students to use when reading. If the text says that the character screamed then add a scream - or better still get the kids to do it themselves (it will save your vocal chords). And page 4 of 6

5 of course if it is a whisper then whisper the words. Simple examples but they are often missing in the classroom. Rhyming Words. One of the most difficult parts in writing rhyming verse is finding the right word that will fit the verse and making sure that it is not contrived. Create word banks of rhyming words. Take a verse of a poem and then highlight the rhyming words in that verse. Gather lists of other words that rhyme with the highlighted word. See what other words (if any and there quite possibly wont be) could be used instead. Stanzas. Often each stanza is a separate idea, a little like chapters in a fiction novel so with a closer look at some of the longer ballads and poems and have students decipher the main idea that they can elicit from each verse. Free Verse. For older children the less formal structure of free verse can be examined. But this is not simply writing words onto a page in random order. Each line in free verse needs to have a purpose, often they are an idea of their own or they expand the preceding idea. Examine Poems. These are by no means the definitive lists of ideas to ponder when examining poetry but it is a start. Structure: examine the narrative, the form, chapter ideas, the overall theme of the poem, examine limericks. Rhythm: chant the poem, confirm the meter or beat and see where the emphasis for each line sits. Write out the verse and indicate where the meter lies. Can the emphasis be changed? Rhyming: highlight the rhyming words. Try to change these words. Similarities & differences: find poems with the same theme like in the picture book the Aussie 12 day of Christmas and compare the content of the works. Find poems with similar themes and discuss how poets have displayed similarities and differences. Emotion: poetry is often emotive and the poet is often baring much more of themselves than in novels. Look for examples of this. Create Poems: the students have done much reading and listening to poetry so create poems but forget the acrostics and other pre-formed examples. Whether short or not so short have students plan the poem, then write the verse according to the plan, a line or verse for each idea, make it rhyme or keep it free form. page 5 of 6

6 Another idea: use lists to write a poem. Have students make a list of everything around them. Use the senses to describe all that they discover - see, hear, smell, feel, taste (appropriately). Fill the page with everything sensed. Students highlight the most interesting observation and then extrapolate those with further descriptions if possible. Observations might include, clock ticking, bird tweeting, teacher talking, which could be clock tick tock ticking, bird chirping and tweeting, teacher talking grumpily. Reshape the poem until it is complete. Things to write about: just about anything you could write a narrative about! So, there are some thoughts and ideas on poetry in the classroom. Enjoy sharing poetry and don t forget the picture books. Poetry is a wonderful literary form that can be shared in so many ways. This article first appeared in Practically Primary, Vol 18, Num 2, June 2013 and published by ALEA (Australian Literacy Educators Association). With thanks to Dr. Margaret Zeegers, University of Ballarat, Victoria, Australia. page 6 of 6

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