The new English curriculum now requires children to learn poetry off by heart. On my many visits to primary schools across the UK I often get invited to judge poetry recital/ slam competitions and I am constantly amazed at the accuracy and high quality of the performances that I see. It’s a joy to watch all these budding performers learning poems off by heart that in many cases they will keep memorised for the rest of their lives, poems that they will no doubt astound and delight their family and friends with in future years. So, how do they do it? What are the secrets to teaching children this very valuable skill of learning a poem? Read on and find out!
Roger Stevens, the wonderful children’s poet based in Brighton suggests lots of useful tips in his brilliant poetry book Off By Heart (A&C Black) Here are a few that I think you will find useful:
- Choose a poem that your children will WANT to learn, find fun poems that will make them laugh and leave them clamouring to share with others.
- Repetition- if a poem has lots of repetition there will be less detail to learn, the more we repeat a line the more it becomes ingrained in our memories.
- Rhythm- most poems have a natural rhythm that your children will automatically pick up on. Use this beat as a pattern on which to hang the details of your poem, if a poem gets you tapping your feet you’re on to a winner.
- Rhyme- children love poems that rhyme because it’s easy on the ear, it sounds fun, clever and sometimes surprising. Use rhymes as audible sign posts that easily remind the children of the words that are coming next.
- Understanding- I once watched a class of Year 5 children reciting some very serious and thought provoking World War I poetry. It was obvious that as well as knowing the words to the poems they also understood what they were about and this made their performances all the more compelling, so make sure your children understand the content!
- Lists- some poems come in list form i.e. each line has a number or each line starts with a month of the year- choosing pieces like this are much easier to learn! (see The Garden Year poem below)
- Actions/ Props- using actions and props can make a poem into a PERFORMANCE, explore different ways of doing this with your children but don’t go overboard as too many actions can take the audience away from the words…
- Volume: A common mistake that children make when reciting is being too quiet and being unable to project their voice, during rehearsals stand at the back of the room and really encourage them to project- microphones can be useful for this. Also, being loud is not always appropriate, a soft voice in parts of a poem can really draw your audience in.
- Pace- get your children to experiment with the pace of their performances, too fast or too slow can really turn an audience off.
I hope you have found these ideas useful. Have a great time learning poems with the children in your class!
Look out for more ideas on how to make poetry exciting in the primary classroom coming on my blog soon!