Lesson plan: KS4 English – active poetry

With Kate Williams’ guidance – and a little natural inspiration – writing a poem can become a thrilling, whole-class adventure

Magic isn’t in the curriculum, but every student needs a touch of it. You can’t download or buy it, but you can let it in at the window or, better still, go out and find it. Then it’s just a matter of kindling it until everyone feels its buzz. The wand will be in your hands, but we’ll lead you via this poetic roller-coaster.

Poetry-writing is, potentially, an ideal learning medium. Its succinctness, and paradoxically boundless scope for creativity, make it irresistible, once discovered. What’s more, poetry lends itself to song, beat, drama, graphics, and personal expression – there’s something for everyone. But how to show them?

Youngsters spend long hours cooped up behind desks, even for poetry-writing, but this approach will sweep everyone outside, and into lively activities on return. You’ll need an open-ended theme, supportable by an outing – say ‘woods’, ‘city’, ‘storm’ or ‘castle’. We’ll take ‘windy day’, so the grounds will suffice.

Movement brings both poetry and pupils alive, so you’ll be acting-out later. How will you incorporate movement into your theme? If it’s ‘woods’, wildlife could supply it; if ‘castle’, a ghost? Add in pictures, artefacts and more, but most importantly, dream! Then your pupils will, too – and their pens will fly!

Why teach this?

This proven approach to poetry-writing brings words alive. It sweeps mind – and body! – beyond the classroom, triggering ideas, firing creativity and empowering self expression. When pupils discover how easy, fun and fulfilling the art can be, their confidence, verve and linguistic dexterity will overflow into other subjects, boosting their personal development, too.

Starter activities

You’re off outside – coats on, everyone! First, though, tell to your class that they’ll be writing a poem later, perhaps reminding them that there’s no right or wrong with poems – that they don’t even have to rhyme. Introduce your theme, too, before buttoning up, and explain that you’re setting out to catch it. Our theme being ‘the wind’, we’ve followed the forecast and pounced on the wildest day. If your theme is different, just adapt the details accordingly. As long as you’re soaking up the sensations and atmosphere, you’ll be fine.

We’re now outside, and decidedly windswept, so show your pupils how to watch, hear, feel and breathe that force. Share your own exhilaration – because exhilarated you must be! Let them see you gulp down the gale, be blown sideways by it, bullied, caressed, invigorated. Encourage pupils to lean on the wind with you, and laugh and roar with it. Point out creaking trees, racing grass, skipping petals – who can catch one? Highlight humorous moments: who’s got a leaf on their head? Whose homework is that, flying away? Gradually, you’ll enable them to inspire you.

Main activities

1. Twist and shout

Back indoors, find a large space in which to be the wind. Explain that you’ll be calling for assorted wind movements in rapid succession, with corresponding ‘doing words’. Set the ball rolling with: ‘The wind went blowing’, calling for something stronger. Prompt for ‘pushing’, ‘tugging’, ‘rampaging’, ‘roaring’..., enacting the wind together. Now leap or plunge; go dashing, zigzagging, loop-the-looping. Make it fun! Is this wind going in for the Wind Olympics? Does it go back-flipping over the school roof? Let limbs and ideas fly. Has it become a gentle breeze, purring, a wolf, prowling…? Is it a tyrant, messenger, friend…? Let answers pour. If there’s a whiteboard, write some up.

Stop mid-flow to introduce a simile: ‘The hurricane went shrieking like a witch’. Elicit others from other verbs. But how is it shrieking? Wildly? Madly? Zoom in on an image by omitting ‘like’ to create a metaphor – the gale was a shrieking witch – and send the phrase ringing. Who has another metaphor? Be amazed by it. Never mind the shouting – it’s only exuberance.

Pause again before firing your last, vast question: Where is that wind travelling? Catapult thrilling possibilities through the buzzing air: Over the quaking houses? – shuddering trees? – booming ocean?

2. Stretch and seek

Gather together to stretch ideas further, keeping minds focused with varied, quick-fired approaches involving artefacts, pictures, brain-stormings (for synonyms, images, alliteration?), perhaps a poem or sound recording, the view and sounds through the window, the room darkened and torch-lit for a night time scene…

Ask mind-stretching questions: if the wind were a mood, which would it be? Are you the wind? Set the scene: What are the people doing, the washing on the lines, the clouds? Now recap on those moving words and piece together, as a class, a starter line, image, verse, writing it up as you go.

3. Poetry, please

Your pupils will be brimming with ideas, language and excitement. Read out your class verse again, repeating and writing up its format. Some will be glad of it, while others self-launch, as you send them to desk or floor with scrap paper and pens, to get scribbling themselves.

Flit from writer to writer, dropping hints and praise. Throw casual reminders of techniques not mentioned earlier – rhythm, repetition, a twist perhaps, and what about a kenning for the title? (Sky-blaster? Havoc-wreaker?)

As pupils roll out their verses, they’ll realise that poetry-writing is fun and fascinating, and that they can do it. Let each feel your wonder at their creation. Stop them before they wilt.

4. The power of performance

Celebrate poetry produced, and reinforce newfound confidence and zest, through group performances. Encourage enhancements through drama, dance, music or props, and remember to video the show. How about sharing it in assembly?

Home learning

When pupils have checked and edited their poems, let them write them out – and here’s more fun again! – in wind shape. Display creations in the foyer and on the school website.

+Key resource

In class, at home and in the exam room Texthelp’s Read&Write assistive software boosts confidence and achievement for pupils of all levels of ability, from those with dyslexia and other learning difficulties, to those who simply struggle to articulate thoughts and ideas. It’s also great for children for whom English is an additional language. Read&Write makes the web and computer files more accessible – from reading on-screen text in exams to helping students research, write and check everyday written work. It’s available for PCs, Macs, Chromebooks and tablets, giving students extra help whenever and wherever they need it. www.texthelp.com/schools

Summary

You’ll find opportunities for monitoring your pupils’ understanding at every stage. When outside, note responses to the wind; while acting, check for relevant responses. As pupils write, ensure they’re drawing, however indirectly, from the input. Watch body language as they perform, and check your recording for writing, confidence and enthusiasm levels.

At the end of the session, ask pupils what they think of poetry now, and what they enjoyed most. Check with colleagues for any improvements in achievement or confidence in their subjects, evaluating your approach in relation to teaching generally.

About our expert

Kate Williams is a published children’s poet and experienced poetry workshop leader for primary and secondary schools. She has also written many inspirationfocused articles for teachers. Further information is available on her website: www.poemsforfun.wordpress.com

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