Responding to Poetry

Poetry is a dense form and one which has connections with art and music. Therefore to support thier reading and understanding children need opportunities to respond to the poems they encounter in a variety of ways.

Personal Responses
Providing children with space and time to respond to a poem, before they are asked to consider technicalities, supports them as readers. Over time they will begin to draw together their preferences on theme, rhyme and even on form. Using a poetry journal which they can use to respond in a way they choose is an effective way of doing this. The journals can also act as writers’ notebooks. 

Discussion about books forms the foundations for working with books. Children need frequent, regular and sustained opportunities to talk together about the books that they are reading as a whole class. The more experience they have of talking together like this the better they get at making explicit the meaning that a text holds for them: a child quoted in Aidan Chambers' bookTell Me: Children, Reading & Talk with The Reading Environment Thimble Press 2011 says 'we don't know what we think about a book until we've talked about it'.

This booktalk is supportive to all readers and writers, but it is especially empowering for children who find literacy difficult. It helps the class as a whole to reach shared understandings and move towards a more dispassionate and informed debate of ideas and issues. A grid to support this talk can be found in the Classroom Materials below.

Poetry Boxes
A poetry box creates a special opportunity to revisit the setting, character or theme of a chosen poem. It might consist of a shoebox containing a range of small toys and inspirational objects. The box itself can be turned into a setting for the story using a variety of collage materials and with sides cut to fold down. Children can use the box to story tell aspects of the narrative shaped by the poem or create another story poem with similar or contrasting setting or characters.

Poetry is often an observation of a moment or an object. Recreating these through Drama/Freeze Frame allow the children to inhabit the moment and more deeply understand the content of a poem. Some poems lend themselves particularly to a dramatic interpretation – especially those which contain dialogue and multiple characters. 

Asking children to picture or to ‘visualise’ a character or place from a story is a way of encouraging them to move into a fictional world. Children can be asked to picture the scene in their mind’s eye or ‘walk around it’ in their imagination. Once they have done so, they can bring it to life by describing it in words or recreating it in drawing or painting. Examples of children responding to poems through drawing can be found on the Children's Anthologies and Animations 2002-2013 page.

Using and Responding to Illustrated Collections
In the best books illustration and text work closely together to create meanings. Children are naturally drawn to the illustrations in a book and are frequently far more observant than an adult reader. Children’s interest in images and their ability to read them can be developed through carefully planned interventions with an emphasis on talk.. Children will need time and opportunities to enjoy and respond to the pictures and to talk together about what the illustrations contribute to their understanding of the text.

Investigating Musicality and Rhythm
Music and poetry have always gone together. The earliest poems are likely to have been sung and chanted, and many of the elements that make poems hang together; rhyme, metre, alliteration, repetition and refrain are musical in character.

Children should be encouraged to explore setting poems to music and investigate song lyrics for their poetic features. When describing poetry in performance musical language can also be supportive, considering phrases, refrains, dynamic, tempo etc As children become older connecting song lyrics and poetry can be supportive to help them continue to explore rhythm and musicality in language.

Poetry Jigsaws
One way to support children with their understanding of rhythmic or rhyming patterns in poetry is creating Poetry Jigsaws. Choose poems with a strong rhyme scheme, pattern or narrative. You can photocopy the poem or it may be better to type it up with more line spacing and print a copy. Add the title and author/ editor of the book where the poem is published. Laminate and cut into strips (for example choosing to segment into verses or perhaps pairs of lines) to make a poetry ‘jigsaw’ enabling children to use the pattern or rhyme to make the poem whole. This activity works best if children work together in pairs or small groups. When they complete it, they should read the poem through together, then find the book – and poem- in the book area to check they have placed it in the correct order. This is a good strategy for sending them back to the book.