With our Student Poetry Competition 2021 in full swing, our judges have compiled some pointers and prompts to assist teachers and parents to support the creative process.
Feel free to use and/or embellish them to suit. (While we have used the term ‘students’ throughout the article, parents can substitute ‘children’.)
- The following two definitions of poetry could be shared and discussed. William Wordsworth defined poetry as “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings.” Emily Dickinson said, “If I read a book and it makes my body so cold no fire ever can warm me, I know that is poetry.”
- Read poetry for pleasure and share the experience with students. Start or finish a lesson with a poem. Be impassioned and animated by the words you read.
- Help students appreciate that poems can be about the experience of reading them, as well as the experience of writing them.
- Talk about a poem you enjoy and who first introduced it to you. Talk about how it affected you then and how it does now.
- Use different types of poetry and talk about their structure. There are well over 50 types with acrostic, ballad, cinquain, epic, free verse, haiku, ode and sonnet being the more common.
- Don’t make poetry daunting. Too much emphasis can be placed on poetry needing to have some serious meaning. Don’t get too bound down by analysis.
- Expose students to the poetry being published today. Many will already be aware of spoken poetry, rap and perhaps even grime. Read the lyrics of some hit tunes and discuss these as well.
- Find competition winning poems online and read them aloud. There are many, many websites. The Poetry Society in the UK is a great place to start.
- Ask students to learn poems by heart. It is said that reciting a poem can feel magical. It’s certainly a way of being mindful, of being in the moment. Poetry enables us to engage and slow down, pressing us to a deeper level of consciousness. For older students, Penguin’s Poems by Heart, selected by Laura Barber, is a great place to start. For younger students, the suggestion is Fiona Waters’ “I am the Seed that Grew the Tree”.
- Our theme for 2021 is ‘Joy’. Try playing with the senses here. If you could taste joy what would it taste like? If you could smell joy what would it be like? If you could hear joy how would it sound? And so on.
- Write with the students and show your vulnerability. Share your efforts, point out bits that you found difficult and show them where you have scribbled ideas, or edited as you were writing. Let them offer feedback on your efforts.
- If students find it difficult to express themselves in poetry from their own point of view, encourage them to be an Autumn leaf, a dilapidated farmhouse or a baby magpie. They will then have a new perspective to adventure with.
- Use sounds from music or nature to create the perfect mood and get the brain ready for writing. Encourage students to close their eyes and listen closely. This calm and individual space can be invaluable. Scenarios, phrases and vocabulary will come to mind which can be used later in their writing.
- Following an activity such as the one above you could challenge students to write for a certain amount of time, 2–3 minutes. Encourage them not to take their pen off the page for longer than a few seconds and just write. Emotions and images should become apparent which can be selected later during the drafting process.
- Allow students to model their poem on a poem already read and enjoyed, but written on a different topic. They will be imitating a structure but writing from experience.
- Provide students with published poems written with gaps to fill in with their own vocabulary. Share the author’s version and the student’s results. Relish the discussion that follows.
- Be confident to read poems that you think might be too difficult. Be prepared to raise the bar; you may be surprised at the result.
- If students want to write about a specific topic, encourage them to use the internet to find pictures and facts. Specific detail will enhance their writing.
- Display poems written by students in eye catching displays. Think of props that will support the poems and engage the senses.
Talk about neologisms, have fun inventing words when you can’t find the perfect one. The word ‘sillion’, which appears in Hopkin’s famous poem ‘The Windhover’, didn’t exist until he invented it specifically for the poem.
- Use images for inspiration; the Pulitzer Photography Prize website is a great place to look. Suggest the students think beyond the frame and let the imagination expand.
- Rather than have the students share their poems separately, have them leave their creations on their desks for all to see as they move around the room.
- Learning to draft is critical. Encouraging students to spend time on a single poem is invaluable. Furthermore, it helps them learn patience and understand creative development. Besides, retained drafts illustrate the progress from draft to draft.
- Accept that writing poetry takes time; it is fine to put a draft away and let the mind work on it at a subconscious level. Review it next with fresh eyes and make changes where appropriate.
- When writing poems remember: less is more. Encourage students to prune their poems again and again. Every word written should bring something to the poem, otherwise eliminate it.
- Encourage students to ask friends and family to read their poems aloud so they can hear what it sounds like. If it doesn’t sound right change it.
Some of these tips have been adapted from ideas posted by the Teacher Trailblazers at The Poetry Society in the UK.
Entries are open until Friday 28 May.