At its essence poetry is about using the most specific words available (some of which may be in a simile, metaphor or other language application) to capture an idea, a moment or a quality. One problem is children often do not have a rich palette of words (throwing that art reference in their sneakily!) to draw from (the puns keep coming – sorry!). One strategy to solve this problem is to give children a word list of adjectives and similes. However, in my mind this can fall flat. I tell the children I work with that choosing the correct word to express an idea for a poem is like an artist choosing the correct colour for a painting. A poem uses words to create a multidimensional picture in the reader’s head. An artist uses colours. So we need to bring those words alive for children – and what better way than the Arts …
Some Top Tips:
- Playful words (1): Choose a verb. For example: run. On the board write synonyms for ‘run’ – bolt, jog, dash, and race. Let children act them out. Discuss how each word offers its own specific interpretation of this movement.
- Playful words (2): Choose an adjective. For example: big. On the board write synonyms for ‘big’ – gigantic, enormous, huge, and colossal. Give each child a mini chocolate bar. Let each child cut the chocolate up and put the pieces in order of how they would interpret size. Is the colossal piece bigger or smaller than the gigantic piece? There is no wrong or right answer here. It just brings an awareness to choosing words with thought and care. (It is also fun to eat chocolate in class!)
- Play with words: Rhythm is of course a key element of poetry. Give children lots of practice of reading poems with an emphasis on the rhythm. Drums and other percussion instruments can bring this alive.
- Dancing a Poem: Moving is a wonderful way for children to grasp the meaning of certain words. Let children write a poem about an emotion, using only movement words. Once the poem is written have the child read the poem out loud and then perform it. Have a discussion on whether the movement complemented the idea of the poem. Here is one such poem, which could be used as an example for a warm up:
Inside my body
I’m not sure if you can see
I’m jumping – high, higher, fast, faster
Bouncing in circles
Running on the spot
Shaking, quivering, darting
Enjoy – Frances Adlam.