Kennings are a form of poetry invented by Norsemen/ Vikings hundreds of years ago. They are a simple compound phrase that describes an object/ animal or person in an unfamiliar way without naming them. They are great fun to read and write and perfect for using in a primary school poetry session.
Here are a couple written by children during some of my poetry writing workshops:
I approach a poetry writing session focussing on Kennings in the following way.
After exploring different kennings I ask the children to make 3 lists i.e. a list of animals: elephant, giraffe, shark, beetle, peoples’ jobs: teacher, dentist, model, doctor, nurse and real/ fictional people e.g. Mum, Dad, brother, sister, David Beckham, The Queen, Henry VIII, Harry Potter. After thinking of as many as possible I then shift our focus to writing a kenning together:
A Kenning For My Cat
Now we have lots of ideas and they have seen how to construct their own kenning I let the children choose an idea from the previous list and proceed with writing their own original piece. A fun poem about your Mum could be:
Make up wearer…
The beauty of kennings is of course their simplicity. They are suitable for children in KS1 and 2 and are easy to write and great fun to perform. I encourage the children to keep the subject of their kenning secret so that the other members of the class can guess what it’s about when they perform it. Many children use actions as part of their performance and this greatly adds to the overall effect.
More able children could be challenged to make their Kenning rhyme on consecutive lines like in the example above about a tiger. Keeping the sense and making it rhyme is a difficult skill and I have seen it achieved with great aplomb by many children in KS2. Many teachers produce a class anthology of Kennings complete with illustrations sometimes produced on laptops. In my experience, antholgies produced by the children and placed in the class library often turn out to be the most popular books read by the children themselves as they have a great sense of pride and ownership invested in the work.
So, if you are looking for an easy, accessible way into writing and performing fun and meaningful poetry, Kennings could be just the type of poem you are looking for.
Happy writing and performing!
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