I'm telling you now
If you haven't yet heard
There's more to a puffin
Than a stripy-beaked bird.
Puffins are potatoes
They're a county-wide brand
Grown at Angle and at Lamphey
And on Burton's sandy land.
Writing a poem for children about varieties of potatoes grown in west Wales may seem a little obtuse, but 'needs must when the devil drives', in this case the devil being the LEA Director, anxious for a poetry resource pack, containing poems and ideas covering as many aspects of Pembrokeshire life as possible and suitable for primary aged pupils in the county.
It wasn't an easy task and the only way forward seemed a piece of doggerel verse, in rhyming couplets with a strong rhythm and some cheeky rhymes ...and the rest, as they say, is history or, in my case, classroom raps! The 'potato' poem incidentally produced a number of great chittings; particularly effective are poems composed entirely of the names of varieties which children have fun reading and then sorting into relevant groups: royalty, birds, places, colours, alphabetically. Who would imagine that the Thomson & Morgan potato-seed catalogue could be such a great resource?
Arran Pilot, Ambo, Admiral
Belle de Fontenay, British Queen
Charlotte, Cara, Catriona, Kondor
(Rhys & Jessica, Year 4)
The '1 Potato, 2 Potato, 3 Potato Rap' was followed quite speedily by two other poems, both constructed really as history aides memoire. 'Henry's Wedding Rap' details the lives and fates of Henry V111's six wives, and was created for a Year 5 class 'doing the Tudors' in a school which I frequently visited in my then role of Advisory Teacher for English. 'Charles Dickens didn't sleep here!' recorded that illustrious author's visit to Anglesey to report on the disastrous sinking of The Royal Charter in October 1859 and contains a list of many of his novels which another group of pupils desperately wanted to remember. Children on both occasions actually helped me with some of the rhymes and jokes, which made me realise that they too could write poems like these, with the proper tools and guidance. That's when I started writing rap poems with and not merely for children, and subsequently with families at after-school poetry meetings and with teachers in INSET sessions.
In the classroom itself it's easiest to start the children writing and thinking on simple straightforward themes, perhaps linked to the weather, the seasons or sports and hobbies and then to graduate to more specific events and personalities. Providing a skeleton verse, which can be inserted in-between their efforts and ideas, works well and moves the poem on quickly and effectively. A seasonal rap poem might begin with
Rap around the winter
Rap around the spring
Rap around the summer
What will autumn bring?
followed by a couple of short rhyming couplets:
Pods full of peas
Ripe Welsh cheese
Hazlenuts and acorns
Windy nights and wild storms.
and then a repetition of the original verse.
Next make lists of rhyming words that might prove useful (beans, greens, scenes; pies, dies, flies; wheat, beet, sleet) as autumn phrases, and continue the pattern of verse, rhymes, verse. This rap poem, incidentally, makes a contemporary addition to the traditional harvest service--and hardly needs any learning as the children have been repeating the poem throughout its construction.
Once children are familiar with the construction techniques the process can be returned to as and when appropriate. I've recently worked with two Year 2 classes to produce a 'golden rap' to be incorporated into their Golden Jubilee celebrations:
Golden incense, golden myrrh
Golden angels with golden hur
A golden goose with golden mousse
Golden time with a golden rhyme
A golden float at carnival time
For Mount Airey's golden days
And I also assisted a Year 6 class who needed an item with bite to impress the Governing Body and the Bishop, at the 'opening concert' for their new school. …