In this short blog, Michelle Nicholson presents some ideas to do with your class on National Poetry Day, which takes the theme of ‘freedom’ this year.

National Poetry Day is next week- on Thursday 28th September.  This year’s theme is Freedom and to me this represents an unmissable opportunity to break free from your timetable for a day, and explore the world of words through verse. Poetry is an often overlooked and undervalued art form and can sometimes get short shrift in a pressured curriculum. However, the benefits of poetry for children are immense: performing builds their confidence and spoken language skills; reading develops their vocabulary and inferential skills whilst presenting new ways of describing familiar subjects; composing gives them a sense of creative achievement and experimentation, free from the conventional constraints of grammatical structure.  It is no wonder that children generally respond so positively to this aspect of literature and often feel liberated by the poetic form. Sadly, as teachers, we often feel nervous about teaching poetry, or allow it to become squeezed out of the timetable in favour of ‘more important’ lessons. So a day dedicated to this art form is a perfect chance to explore its value. If you haven’t already planned anything for National Poetry Day, I have put together a few suggestions for Primary pupils.

Freedom:

Animal liberty is a hot topic and children are often asked to present arguments on the subject of animal captivity. Madagascar is a fabulous film from DreamWorksAnimation (2005) that follows the fate of a group of animals who escape from Central Park Zoo in New York. The premise is simple- when Marty, a bored Zebra, flees from the zoo one night, his friends organise a rescue mission.  The chaos that ensues is hilarious. A quick web search reveals many pictures of real life escapades, including this one of a runaway zebra.

zebra

Can children imagine the thoughts of caged creatures who desperately desire their freedom and a taste of the wild like Marty?  Children could look at pictures of animals in zoos and compare them to those in native habitats.  In the film Madagascar, a group of mutinous penguins are on a mission to get back to the Antarctic.  What are they hoping for? Basking in sub-zero temperatures, a majestic view of an unspoilt ice kingdom or maybe just catching their own fish? Poems could begin with a title of ‘Dreaming of Freedom’ and each line could record a desire of an unnamed animal. This poem evokes a range of senses, and the reader would have to infer the type of animal from the clues in each line:

‘Dreaming of Freedom’

To feel the hot sun on my patchwork skin

To taste the fresh leaves from the highest branches

To gallop across the scorched savannah

To sip the pure water of summer lakes

To watch for midnight hunters under a starry sky.

The same title and pattern could be applied to a poem about what children might do when they are free from school. What freedoms will they have at quarter past three?  Children might study this very old poem by W H Davies called ‘School’s Out’:

School’s Out
Girls scream,
Boys shout;
Dogs bark,
School’s out.

Cats run,
Horses shy;
Into trees
Birds fly.

Babes wake
Open-eyed;
If they can,
Tramps hide.

Old man,
Hobble home;
Merry mites,
Welcome.

I believe that Davies himself is the ‘tramp’ and old man in the poem- perhaps he is hiding from the exuberance of the children. This poem has a very simple structure and a rhyme scheme of ABCB, which isn’t too difficult for children to replicate.  Once some pairs of rhyming words have been generated and displayed on the board, children could work to compose their own ‘School’s Out’ poem.

Older children will be aware of conflicts around the world from which terrified families are fleeing.  You could link the concept of freedom from fear and persecution to the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is a superb theme for PSHCE work.  A summary of children’s rights can be found here: https://www.unicef.org.uk/what-we-do/un-convention-child-rights/

Which freedoms do the children value? What do they take for granted? What do you think is the most important right or freedom- are some more crucial than others or are they interwoven? Perhaps the children could explore the book The Journey by Francesca Sanna, which tells the heart- wrenching tale of a family forced to flee their home in the face of war.  There are also some accessible poems written by refugees on this website: http://myweb.tiscali.co.uk/jrsuk/refugeepoetry.htm

Children could respond by working in groups to record words and phrases that sum up the freedoms that they value. They could record these as a poem in list form, using some of these headings as prompts if they wish

Let me be free to —-

I have a right to ______

Let me be safe from ____

I have a need to ____

Let me live without fear of ______

Do not deny my right to_____

 

Finally, you could ask children to create a summary of what freedom means to them and put it in Haiku form (17 syllables, 3 lines: 5, 7, 5 formation).  They could begin with Freedom is ______ (followed 2 more syllables).  For more sophistication, they could end with the juxtaposition of what it is not.

There are plenty more ideas as well as free resources on this site:  https://nationalpoetryday.co.uk/education/

I challenge you to liberate your inner bard and celebrate your creative muse. We are always interested to see the work produced in schools, so do share your ideas and outcomes with us at Herts for Learning at @HertsEnglish.


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