Poems To Learn And Perform!

Click here to download a free poetry ebook for your primary class and get your children performing!

children performing pic

Learning and reciting poems has become a central part of literacy in the new curriculum. It is now expected that children from Reception upwards are allowed to discover and recite a variety of good quality poems in order that they can explore their language, heritage, poignancy, fun, rhythm and rhyme. Luckily for us teachers, children love poetry and they especially love to learn it off by heart and share it with their fellow classmates. With this in mind I have selected some of my favourite children’s poems that are just fantastic fun to learn as a class and perfect for performing for others perhaps in a class assembly or spoken word event.
As well as just learning for the sheer joy and enjoyment it brings, performance poems can have additional and powerful fringe benefits. They can, for example, be a great way to inspire children to write their own verses or new poems, they can be an introduction to new and exciting vocabulary and could also be the catalyst that sparks an exciting and informative debate on contentious issues relevant in the KS1 and 2 classrooms. They can also ultimately be the inspiration for all different genres of writing including plays, interviews, diary entries, stories and much much more.
Intentionally, I have not included the whole of the poems in this blog as some of them are fairly long. The whole versions are all easily found for free online.

The Highwayman pic

The Highwayman

Alfred Noyes

The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees.
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas.
The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
And the highwayman came riding—
Riding—riding—
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door.

Just reading this poem today brings back lots of happy memories of working on it with children in KS2. What an exciting poem! Despite access to endless apps, games and videos available on interactive whiteboards nothing comes close to the sheer drama that Alfred Noyes’ Highwayman can evoke. With his ‘French cocked hat’ and his ‘breeches of brown doe skin’ this guy cuts quite a figure! In the past I have seen this piece performed as a whole class or alternatively small groups of children can take on individual verses adding their own actions and props as they go along. Particular highlights, as I remember, are depictions of the principal characters (apart from the Highwayman himself of course) i.e. Tim the ostler, Bess the landlord’s daughter and King Georges’ soldiers.
There is lots of great vocabulary to explore here which gives could give children the impetus to find out more about Georgian England. The relatively simple rhythm and rhyme scheme makes it easy for children to write and add in their own verses perhaps supplying the poem with a new and happier ending!?
The Highwayman could also be the inspiration for children producing different types of writing e.g. Bess’s diary entries, a love letter from The Highwayman to Bess, a play depicting the meeting between Tim the ostler and the soldiers prior to the final shooting. A switch in perspective would also be intriguing, perhaps the poem could be re written as a story through the eyes of The Highwayman himself.

Isabel pic
Adventures of Isabel
Ogden Nash

Isabel met an enormous bear,
Isabel, Isabel, didn’t care;
The bear was hungry, the bear was ravenous,
The bear’s big mouth was cruel and cavernous.
The bear said, Isabel, glad to meet you,
How do, Isabel, now I’ll eat you!
Isabel, Isabel, didn’t worry.
Isabel didn’t scream or scurry.
She washed her hands and she straightened her hair up,
Then Isabel quietly ate the bear up.

Children love Isabel and her apparent fearlessness. Her sassiness and the fact that she effortlessly wins against the odds is always a winner in the classroom. This poem with its vivid imagery, wicked sense of humour and repetition make it easy and fun to learn off by heart. Teachers won’t have much trouble inspiring the children to write their own verses, there will be clamour to do this. A great homework task: Write your own verse showing who Isabel sorted out next! It would also be great to sit Isabel down in a hot seat in the classroom to ask her in person where she gets all this courage from!!!

lulu pic
What Has Happened To Lulu?
Charles Causley

What has happened to Lulu, mother?
What has happened to Lu?
There’s nothing in her bed but an old rag-doll
And by its side a shoe.

Why is her window wide, mother,
The curtain flapping free,
And only a circle on the dusty shelf
Where her money-box used to be?

Why do you turn your head, mother,
And why do tear drops fall?
And why do you crumple that note on the fire
And say it is nothing at all?

I woke to voices late last night,
I heard an engine roar.
Why do you tell me the things I heard
Were a dream and nothing more?

I heard somebody cry, mother,
In anger or in pain,
But now I ask you why, mother,
You say it was a gust of rain.

Why do you wander about as though
You don’t know what to do?
What has happened to Lulu, mother?
What has happened to Lu?

Every primary school teacher should know about Charles Causley. He is a master of narrative poetry and has the knack of telling a gripping and thought provoking story simply and effectively. A great piece to explore with Year5/6 this poem throws up all sorts of questions. Who is Lulu? How old is she? Who is telling this story? Why is mother crying? What was on that note? Who has Lulu disappeared with? Is she ever coming back???? The list is endless! As well as writing their own verses this poem has been a fantastic way of inspiring children to produce some very high quality playwriting and subsequent drama productions. A great focus for this could be the confrontation between Lulu and her mother and the arguments and counter arguments. I have also asked the children to write down a transcript of an interview with the little brother so the whole story can be explored further through his eyes.
Opportunities for PSHE are also here i.e. what can precipitate confrontation between family members and how can that be resolved?

iguana pic
Walking With My Iguana
Brian Moses

I am walking
With my iguana
I am walking
With my iguana

When the temperature rises
To above eighty-five,
My iguana is looking
Like he’s coming alive.
So we make it to the beach,
My iguana and me,
Then he sits on my shoulder
As we stroll by the sea…

And I am walking
With my iguana
I am walking
With my iguana

Well if anyone sees us
We’re a big surprise,
My iguana and me
On our daily exercise,
Till somebody phones
The local police
Says I’ve got an alligator
Tied to a leash.

I am walking
With my iguana
I am walking
With my iguana

It’s the spines on his back
That make him look grim,
But he just loves to be tickled
Under his chin.
And I know that my iguana
Is ready for bed
When he puts on his pyjamas
And lays down his sleepy head.

I am walking
With my iguana
Still walking
With my iguana
With my iguana
With my iguana
And my piranha
And my Chihuahua
And my chinchilla
With my gorilla
My caterpillar

I am walking
With my iguana
With my iguana
With my iguana

I love this poem by Brian Moses. Again, a very simple idea with a slightly absurd concept that the children love to play around with i.e. What do you mean this guy is walking an iguana? What even is an iguana? This piece has got a lovely slow and ambling rhythm and is perfect for putting to music. In the past I have played around with this poem using lots of percussion instruments (inspired by Brian Moses himself) and it has gone down very well in a class assembly. This also illustrates, I think, that poetry doesn’t have to be clever or unexpected or tell a story; sometimes all you need is a great idea and a funky beat.

naughty child pic

Please Mrs Butler
Allan Ahlberg

Please Mrs Butler
This boy Derek Drew
Keeps copying my work, Miss.
What shall I do?

Go and sit in the hall, dear.
Go and sit in the sink.
Take your books on the roof, my lamb.
Do whatever you think.

Please Mrs Butler
This boy Derek Drew
Keeps taking my rubber, Miss.
What shall I do?

Keep it in your hand, dear.
Hide it up your vest.
Swallow it if you like, love.
Do what you think best.

Please Mrs Butler
This boy Derek Drew
Keeps calling me rude names, Miss.
What shall I do?

Lock yourself in the cupboard, dear.
Run away to sea.
Do whatever you can, my flower.
But don’t ask me!

What primary classroom would be complete without Please Mrs Butler? Let’s face facts, this poem is virtually your birth right if you are in junior school and is certainly a poem that every teacher should read to their children. It’s iconic, it’s cheeky and it’s fun- what more could we ask for?
Ahlberg has created a lovely simple structure to the poem which plays out as a dialogue between the whining child and the indifferent teacher- and we’ve all met that kid Derek Drew!!!
In the past I’ve split the class in half and had each one take on the part of the child and the teacher complete with complaining/ uninterested body language for the child and teacher respectively. To make it more special I’ve also added new verses written by the children. In doing our own verses I get the children to take notice of the rhyme scheme which is in this case ABAB and the rhythm which I measure by counting beats; getting the tone of the piece can be a bit more tricky but is something well within the grasp of an enthusiastic child in KS2. Ultimately, writing new verses give children a sense of ownership and therefore makes the whole process more meaningful.

So, there you have it, a few poems to get you started on the fun and joyous road to performance poetry. There are, of course, lots and lots of poems out there which would be wonderful to learn and perform, these are just a few of my personal favourites. If your experience is anything like mine though, you will find that after learning these poems, they will stick in the minds of your children forever, giving them a little cultural sign post pointing back into their experiences at school and in your class particularly. They will take these poems home and amaze their family and friends with their flair for memory and applying drama and actions. They will appear in your class the next day inspired, clutching new verses and original ideas for their own poems. In short, they will be learning and fired up to explore a new and wonderful world of poetry and creativity.

Click here to download a free poetry ebook for your primary class and get your children performing!

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