By Cheng, Christopher
Practically Primary , Vol. 18, No. 2
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 memorised 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 (see review-editor).
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 set 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 at 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 with 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.
* 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 endeavours 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 won't 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 analyse the poem in the same ways 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. …