National Poetry Day Blog

Sparking A Poetry Fire In Your School

Six great reasons for teachers to heed the NPD call to Share A Poem

Around eighteen months ago, inspired by the work of Kate Clanchy and Leeds Young Authors, I shared two versions of a poem called ‘I come from…’ with my year 8 students. We didn’t analyse them or write any PEEL paragraphs, we simply read them a few times and worked together to list the kinds of words and images used, then thought about how we might replicate this style while writing about our own personal heritage.

My students wrote some remarkable poems that told some remarkable truths about their own lives. I shared one poem on Twitter and, to our surprise, it went viral. We ended up making a beautiful film with the BBC – see link below – off the back of those lessons but more importantly, our Iqra’s poem sparked a poetry fire in our school and we hope to keep fanning the flames.

I’ve witnessed poetry work a special magic in our busy, inner city Bradford, girls comprehensive school. So…

Here are six reasons why I believe every English teacher should hear National Poetry Day’s call to ‘share a poem’ and make space for reading and writing poetry this Autumn:

1. UK poetry is in rude good health. There are astonishing riches being shared and published daily. As teachers of literature we owe it to our students to bring this work by living writers from a diverse range of backgrounds into our classrooms. UK poetry is having a moment – our students deserve access to it.

2. Each poem is a whole and complete text and can be read, discussed, written about and imitated within an hour. However we end up teaching in September, during those first few challenging weeks back, we can offer the students we teach meaningful whole text experiences.

3. Our students already live with and love poems and poetic language even if they don’t know that they do. They listen to grime and hip hop, they use idiom, slang, word play, jokes and puns. They might already have deep knowledge of the subtle changes in meaning when translating from one language to another. Poetry’s diversity, playfulness and ‘rule breaking’ can show that this language knowledge has value.

4. UK poet Roger Robinson recently described poems as ‘empathy machines’ that can ‘translate trauma’ – never have we needed to build the capacity for empathy in our classrooms more. Poetry helps us do this work.

5. Teenagers, like all of us, are experiencing big emotions and feelings at the moment. If we merely ask them to write about those feelings it can be overwhelming, seem impossible or become ‘angsty’ and clichéd. By using tried and tested model poems as scaffolds and frames, big emotions can be coupled with the careful crafting of something small and accurate and beautiful, and can teach us about how poets use words along the way.

6. In the rush to ‘catch up’ we might be tempted to speed through texts, ticking off features and limiting possible meanings. But a good classroom poem does the opposite, it OPENS up meaning, it challenges us to accept ambiguity, it opens up the world to different ways of seeing and understanding. Poetry opens up the experiences of others and creates radical new ways of being heard and understood.

I think we will all need some of that this autumn term.

And here’s our film: enjoy.

Anna Cole, English teacher, Belle Vue Girls Academy, Bradford