Sharing Poems: Teaching Poetry at Key Stage 2

Article excerpt

This popular title was first published by NATE in 2000. This Poetry issue of Classroom offers a good opportunity to re-present the important messages of its introduction, and show a sample of its pages.

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Why do so many children start their primary schools with an enjoyment of nursery rhymes but leave their schools with a dislike of poetry? Why is it that many primary school teachers are unsure about the teaching of poetry and often do not do it?

We believe that the reasons for these two linked situations are to be found in primary school teachers' own experiences of being taught poetry. As a result of this teaching, many will have come to view poetry as something that is difficult and elitist, that has to be analysed according to some half-understood literary critical code, and that has little to do with them and their lives. If they are lucky they may retain occasional lines from poems they have enjoyed or remember particular poets (usually contemporary) whose poems have | amused them, or, more rarely, shaken them. If they are unlucky, they will only have retained memories of 'Hunt the metaphor' or 'Spot the simile' exercises.

Sharing Poems aims to address these concerns. Our aim in compiling this anthology of poems and pupil activities related to the poems has been to provide material that is stimulating and enjoyable for children and their teachers in upper primary schools. Sharing Poems has been developed on the basis of the following principles:

* Poetry should be enjoyable and enjoyed.

* Children will learn to read poems better by writing their own and to write poems better by reading those of others.

* Poems should be read aloud as well as silently, because a poem is a pattern of sounds as well as of words on a page.

* Children can cope with challenging and difficult poems, with the help of suitable activities.

We believe that the best way to understand a poem is to live within it, to walk around inside it, to listen to its sounds, to feel its patterns, to see its pictures. Consequently, the activities related to each poem or group of poems are designed to help children to 'indwell' the poems. Activities include individual, pair, small group and whole class opportunities and each page of activities is progressive, in that activities are designed to develop children's responses. All activities have been trialled in primary classrooms and can easily be adapted to the needs and abilities of the children in a class.

Health warning!

We have tried to make clear our belief that poetry can be destroyed for young readers if it is badly taught, if it is used as a pretext for low-level comprehension work or for inappropriate linguistic analysis, or if it is used to prepare children for external assessments. None of the activities suggested in Sharing Poems will be appropriate as practice for Standard Assessment Tasks at the end of Key Stage 2. Although the activities will allow children to meet the requirements of the National Curriculum for English in England and Wales, and in Northern Ireland, as well as the National Guidelines for English Language 5-14 in Scotland, they are not presented in a way that allows the ticking of boxes to indicate satisfactory completion of curricular tasks. Poetry just isn't like that!

However, we are firmly of the opinion that, by engaging with the poems in Sharing Poems in the ways outlined, children's literacy abilities and skills will be enhanced and, more importantly, they will gain a life-long love of poetry.

Performance poems (e)

Year 5 Term 3: Poems 2

The Charge of the Light Brigade

   Half a league, half a league.
     Half a league onward.
   All in the valley of Death
     Rode the six hundred.
   'Forward, the Light Brigade!
   Charge for the guns!' he said;
   Into the valley of Death
     Rode I he six hundred. …