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Getting Children Actively Involved with Poetry

by Josie Whitehead

Give the children things to listen out for: e.g. in the poem “I’ll Walk Along This Beach Again”: (Click here for poem) Write down some of the words which speak about the beach: e.g.: beach, shore, golden sand, wavelets, rocks. Some will write one thing, whilst another will write another.

Tell them how poets sometimes “personify” a poem with words connected with human movements or human actions. E.g.: The wavelets “dance” across the sand. Listen carefully for others: See if they hear the word “caress”. Perhaps this needs explaining.

Listen for the name of the bird in the second verse. What is he doing? Explain what the word “scout” means.

Three words which describe movement of the feet: walk, scuff the feet; clamber (over rocks).

Some things which the writer feels or tastes: the salty air; the breeze upon the cheek; the sand beneath the feet; the hard rocks. Things which she sees: the cormorants; sea treasures; sea anemones, limpets, the waves/wavelets; golden sand; trails of footprints etc.

You can ask them what to talk about the difference between walking over sand compared to walking over pebbles. What can you do with sand? (Scuff the feet, make footprints, watch the sea go into the footprints etc.).

Read the poem to them again, stopping at the rhyming words to give them the chance to think of them. Then ask one person to supply the word.

You can also ask them what other words describe actions: e.g.. Clamber over rocks. You could say “climb”. Read the line, substituting the word in the poem. Why hasn’t the writer used this word? Perhaps it is because it upsets the rhythm. Here is a good opportunity to go over meter and get the children to clap in time with the meter of the poem.

Ask the children to reread it at home with a parent and be prepared to read it aloud the next day. This is an excellent exercise for them as poems need to be heard and reading aloud, not too fast, but with expression, is so important and gives them confidence.

Poems in the same sort of category as this poem are: Ode to the Bluebells, where there is a great deal of personification. Also The Bride Named Spring, The Coloured Umbrella and many more.

With some of the story poems, the children can have fun giving responses to some of the situations. E.g.: The Bear That Nobody Wanted: When it is sad, to say “aaaaaah” in a sad way. When things are good, to say “goodie” etc. When you mention “dance” to get them to gently sway, and when you mention food, get them to pretend to eat, or drink etc. Just to do some simple actions, which children will enjoy. At the end of this poem, remind them to smile just as the toys are doing.

Mainly, though, in the children’s story poems, get the children to talk about the story, or to suggest a story of their own, and, above all, get them involved with the rhyming words and make sure that they understand any that may be a bit unusual for them. If they are rhyming words, this is an excellent way for them to remember the new words.

Above all, show your enthusiasm for the poems because it will bubble over to the children.
With the simple poem: “What Shall We Do with Mrs McGoo” – you could encourage the children to write a couple of lines in the same way: e.g.: What Shall We Do with Poor Old Mum plus the next line.

I am making it possible this year to print off some poems as inserts for birthday cards, so that children can design the covers. I also want children to contribute to the illustrations and voice recordings on my website (by prior arrangement). All in all, I want children to remember their poetry sessions as being fun in every direction.

These are all simple but effective ways of getting your children actively engaged in the poem, thus bringing much more fun into the classroom.

Copyright 2007

About the Author:
Josie Whitehead is a retired teacher and a writer of rhyming and rhythmic poetry for children. At the request of local children she has made her 200 poems freely available to everyone on her own website, adding voice recordings and illustrations, articles and lesson plans for teachers. Web address:

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