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Two children share a book

Out Loud

Poetry is ordinary. Language belongs to everyone. You don’t have to be clever to enjoy poetry. And you don’t need to be able to write things down in order to write.

Poetry has only been written down in the last few hundred years. For most of human history it was mostly anonymous, public and shared, passed on and learned and changed and passed on again. Rhythm, metre and rhyme help listeners to memorise a poem and to be simultaneously the creators of its common music. The power of poetry is still located in the audience rather than the poet. In our ears rather than on the page.

Before you ask your pupils to read poems in books, encourage them to enjoy the spoken, noisy, physical music of poetry - rhythm and rhyme, pattern and echo, memory and anticipation.

For example, you can show your pupils how to listen to the secret rhymes in their classroom (‘Look – there’s a duck, reading a book’, ‘There’s a hen, writing with a pen’, ‘There’s jeweller, playing with a ruler’, ‘There’s a bear over there, sitting on a chair, combing its hair in its smelly underwear’, etc). They can stick rhyming labels on things (‘The Peeling Ceiling’, ‘The Floor by the Door’, ‘Chalk that Can Talk’).

Give all your pupils a rhyme for their name (‘Amanda the Panda’, ‘Nicola the Tickler’ etc). Ask your pupils if they can think of a rhyme for you (but not if your surname is Vickers). Use these when taking the register (‘Does anyone know where Messy Jessie is today?’) Make a rule that no-one is allowed in your classroom – including the head-teacher – unless your class gives them a rhyme first.

Turn your classroom into an alliterative space. Rename objects in the room using easy alliterations (‘The Stinky Sink’, ‘The White Wall’, ‘The Computer Corner’). Ask your pupils over time to add more alliterations (‘The Cosy Computer Corner’, ‘The Comfy Computer Corner’, ‘The Cosy, Comfy, Crazy Keyboard Computer Corner’ etc).

Use a silly little rhyme at the start of each day (‘Good morning, good morning / Now please all stop yawning’, ‘Today is Friday / So let’s all be tidy’, ‘I know that is raining / But please stop complaining’, ‘If you don’t eat your dinner / You’ll keep getting thinner’). After a while you should be able to miss out the rhyming word and let your pupils guess it.

Introduce your pupils to nursery rhymes and to rhythmical story-songs like ‘I Know an Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly’, ‘For Want of a Nail’, ‘Chicken Licken’, ‘The House that Jack Built’, ‘The Court of King Caractacus’, ‘There’s a Hole in my Bucket’ etc. After a bit of practice your pupils should find they have learned them by heart. Ask them to add some facial expressions, actions, clapping and noises. Give individual pupils miming or speaking parts.

Once your pupils have absorbed the shape and rhythm of these rhythmical stories you can try adapting them. For example, what did the old woman eat after she had swallowed the horse? (‘I know an old woman who swallowed a bull / But she still wasn’t full when she swallowed the bull. / She swallowed the bull to catch the horse…’ etc) See how may more verses you can add. Rewrite well-known nursery rhymes (‘Little Miss Muffet sat on a tuffet / Eating a plate of spaghetti…’ etc).

By the time you ask your pupils to read poems in books, they will have acquired a sense of rhythm, rhyme and patterned shape and a feel for the pleasure of playing with words. This kind of preparation will help develop their aural memories and their ability to anticipate the development of a line. And every pupil can join in without feeling self-conscious.

Poems in books often like to be read in silence. Don’t let them get away with it! Insist on reading all poems out loud. If a poem can’t be read out loud, it is probably a bad poem.


- Andy Croft

Michael Rosen's video tips

Watch these videos for inspiration from Michael Rosen himself for making your classroom poetry friendly. You'll find thirteen great ideas for fun poetry activities for the classroom.

Poetry resources for teachers

Find a selection of poetry resources to download, including activity ideas, poetry templates, and teaching  sequences for some of our favourite poetry books including Michael Rosen's A-Z of Poetry.