Tag Archives: Poetry

‘IF’ For Teachers by Joshua Seigal

“I was inspired to write this poem during a workshop I ran for students, in which we looked at Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem ‘If’. I asked them to have a go at writing their own versions of the poem, based on their ideas about what constitutes an effective leader. I decided to give it a go too, and this is the result. Enjoy!”

If you can keep your voice when all about you
Are using theirs to bellow over you;
If you can dish out rules when all kids flout you
But see the humour in their flouting too;
If you can care and not get tired of caring
Or, being dissed, maintain a steady poise,
Or, being sworn at, not give way to swearing,
And see the stillness in amongst the noise;

If you can plan but not make plans your mistress;
If you can chill and have a nice weekend;
If you can still take care of all your business
And not let children drive you round the bend;
If you can bare to see the gifts you’ve given
Received by ingrates with a sullen grunt,
Or feel the fuel diminish, but stay driven
And smile when the Head is being a…difficult person to work with;

If you can make an ally of a parent
And both look out for what you think is best
For Little Johnny when he has been errant
And hasn’t done his work or passed his test;
If you can force your brain and heart and sinew
To teach the things that Ofsted says you should,
And so make sure the governors don’t bin you
And that the school maintains its place as ‘Good’;

If you can talk with yobs and keep composure
Or plug away when they don’t give a damn;
If you can act when there’s been ‘a disclosure’
And not display the news on Instagram;
If you can keep calm while you have to wing it
With sixty minutes worth of ‘drama games’,
Yours is the class, and everything that’s in it
And – which is more – you might not go insane.

Lollies Logo_basic_small.jpgI Don’t Like Poetry by Joshua Seigal has been shortlisted in the 9-13 years category for the 2017 Lollies! Head to www.scholastic.co.uk/lollies to vote now!capture-2

For more content from Joshua, follow him on Twitter or visit his website 

 

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Joshua Seigal on visiting schools as a poet

For me, the best thing about being a professional poet is not actually writing poetry. It is being afforded the regular opportunity to perform my poems to children, and to visit schools where I help them write their own. Here is a list of some of the most memorable things that I have experienced during school visits:

Experiencing a giant group hug whilst visiting a Reception class. The more I wailed “help!” the more kids joined in, and the more the teacher laughed.

The time a child told me that he lived in a buffalo. I was totally mystified, until it dawned on me later that he’d meant ‘bungalow’.

The time a child yelled out “custard man!” in the middle of my assembly performance. I asked him afterwards what he meant, and he didn’t appear to know. He simply blurted it out. This really tickled me, and I now regularly tell this story as part of my performance routine. (In the same assembly, another child asked me the bizarre question, “if you were a monkey, what kind of astronaut would you be?”)

Being presented with a ‘thank you letter’ by a group of year 2 children, in which they had spelt my name ‘Goshoowar’.capture-2

Teaching a child in Year 5 called Tyrone, who hated writing. After my visit, his teacher told me that he simply could not stop writing poetry, at break time, lunch time, and even in class when he was supposed to be doing other things. He simply had to get it out.

Teaching a girl in Year 7 called Precious, who wrote an amazing p
em about her experience as a black person. My workshop wasn’t on this theme; she simply wrote the poem in her own time and decided to show it to me. I entered it for her into a competition, where it was shortlisted.

Undertaking long-term work at Plashet School in East London. Last year I compiled a group of students’ poems into an anthology, which helped raise £500 for the charity Care 4 Calais.

Running a poetry workshop on the theme of ‘what if’. The intention was to write humorous and playful poetry, but the best thing about workshops is that students often deviate from what I expect, and come up with their own ideas (heaven forbid!). Here is a wonderful, and sad, poem produced by a boy called Giacomo in Year 6:

 

What If…

 

What if when I’m older I fail

What if when I’m older I don’t have

any money

What if when I’m older I get lost

and become homeless

What if when I’m older my wife

and children die in a fire and my

house has gone

what if when I’m older

my body gets cancer

what if when I’m older

I’m forced to fight a war

What if I’m in Afghanistan

And get killed at a firing squad

What if when I’m older

I never get married and live alone

What if I could stay a child.

Joshua Seigal is a poet, performer and workshop leader who spends his time visiting schools, libraries and theatres around the country and beyond. He has taken critically-acclaimed poetry shows to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, but usually ends up performing in front of his mirror, using a hairbrush as a microphone. He has managed to gain the minimal skills required to make his own website – www.joshuaseigal.co.uk.

Available from Bloomsbury Education:

I Don’t Like Poetry 

Little Lemur Laughing  (publishes 9th March 2017)

WHAT WOULD YOU ASK A POET?

How do you teach poetry?

Haven’t a clue – but I can tell you about some  really exciting poetry activities you can do with KS2 classes…

READ YOUR CLASS A POEM every morning. Every single morning. I know lots of KS2 teachers that do this and they say the results are manifold.

PUT ON POETRY CONCERTS/ASSEMBLIES – try whole classes performing poems such as Boneyard Rap (Wes Magee), Gran, Can You Rap? (Jack Ouseby), Little Red Rap/I Wanna Be A Star (Tony Mitton), Talking Turkeys (Benjamin Zephaniah), How To Turn Your Teacher Purple (by me..woops.).

twgsc-twitter-imagesv2-2WRITE POEMS AS PART OF YOUR CLASS TOPICS – poetry modules are great, but nothing beats writing poems for a real purpose – creating poems that express a subject matter that a class is enthused about and fully immersed in. Try shape poems (rivers, mountains, volcanoes, planets), kennings ( Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans), haiku ( rainforest creatures, sea creatures), and best of all free verse (memories, real events) – children too easily get stuck in the rhyme rut. And you don’t need to be an expert in all the various forms of poetry – just knowing a few is absolutely fine!

PUBLISH CHILDREN’S POEMS around the school, in the hall, on the school website. And I’ve noticed that children love nothing more than having to take a brand new poem of theirs to show the headteacher!

FIND A RANGE OF POETRY BOOKS – single poet collections and themed anthologies. Set up a poetry corner or poetry book box. Public libraries always have a great selection of contemporary children’s poetry titles – and Oxfam bookshops too are usually good for poetry.

PUT UP POETRY TREES IN THE CLASS/HALL – featuring poems by the children, or the children’s favourite poems.

PHOTOCOPY POEMS and put them all over the school, down the corridors  – even in the lo0s!

HAVE A STAFFROOM POETRY READING one lunchtime. Share adult or children’s poems you like.

INVITE A POET IN … why not? A poet will model how to read/perform poems to an twgsc-twitter-imagesv2-1audience, as well as how to run poetry writing workshops in a classroom.

What advice do you have for teachers?

Apart from buying my Bloomsbury teachers’ book Let’s Do Poetry In Primary Schools! as well as multiple class copies of The World’s Greatest Space Cadet (sorry, that was cheeky! ) – and apart from the activities I have recommended earlier, I would say just go for it. And maybe find a teacher in your school that enjoys doing poetry with her/his class. Find out what they do, and what the results have been.

Quite a number of teachers I’ve met in the hundreds of schools I’ve visited over the last few years have said how much poetry has truly revitalised their English teaching, and got the boys in their classes really motivated. What not to like?

And even if you don’t especially like poetry yourself – and you don’t have to – simply try and source some poems and poetry activities that your class could have fun with and be stimulated by. You might be pleasantly surprised by the results. Enjoy!

book-launch-3-002An award-winning children’s poet, James Carter travels all over the cosmos (well, Britain) with his guitar (that’s Keith) to give lively poetry performances and workshops. James once had hair, extremely long hair (honestly), and he played in a really nasty ultra-loud heavy rock band. And, as a lifelong space cadet, James has discovered that poems are the best place to gather all his daydreamy thoughts. What’s more, he believes that daydreaming for ten minutes every day should be compulsory in all schools.

The World’s Greatest Space Cadet by James Carter is available to buy here 

Follow James on Twitter @JamesCarterPoet

www.jamescarterpoet.co.uk

Bye Bye Billy – Creating Characters in Poetry

By Roger Stevens, poet and co-author of ‘It’s Not My Fault’

The summer holidays are here at last. And I expect you will all be outside enjoying the sunshine, running about in the fields chasing cows or investigating rocky pools at the seaside and hiding crabs in Grandpa’s shoes. Anyway, they are all the things I loved doing when I was at school. The only problem in the long summer school holiday was when my friends went away, to Spain or somewhere exotic like Bognor, and I was still at home. Then I had no one to play with. So I invented an imaginary friend. My imaginary friend was called Billy. He was very different from me. I was very good when I was a child and I never did ANYTHING naughty and I NEVER got in to trouble. But Billy was always getting up to mischief.

Bye Bye Billy

Roger Stevens

Billy left my bedroom in a mess
Billy hid the front door key
Billy posted Mum’s credit cards through the floorboards in the hall
Billy ate the last jam doughnut
Billy broke the window with his ball
Billy forgot to turn off the hot tap
Billy put the marbles in Grandpa’s shoe
Billy broke Dad’s ruler seeing how far it would bend
But now I’m twelve and Billy’s gone
I’ll miss my imaginary friend

The poem’s from our new book, It’s Not My Fault. It makes a good model poem. You could try it with your own children, nephews, nieces, grandchildren or neighbour’s children (when they get bored playing on their i-devices) – or with your class, back at school.

First, start with a few character details. When I do this in a class, often as a prelude to writing a story, I ask a series of questions and encourage the children to write the answers quickly, without thinking about them too much. Is your friend a he or a she? How old is your friend? Is your friend big, small, short or tall? Is your friend blond or dark? What hobbies does your friend have? Is your friend a human? What is his/her name?

Next, I ask the children to make a list of all the things that they would LIKE to do – but are not allowed. This works well either as a class activity, or in small groups, as one idea can spin off another idea. Encourage the children to be as naughty and outrageous as possible; although you will probably need to discourage violent or rude ideas. Tell them you are looking for “clever” ideas rather than simply introducing the word “poo” into the list whenever possible for cheap laughs. They could talk about things that actually happened in their own families.

Now choose the best of the ideas and write them in a list. Look at the list and rearrange the events in the best order. It might end with the most outrageous thing, for example.

My poem ends with the narrator growing up, and Billy leaving. And so you might discuss ways for them to end their poem. Finally, check for spelling and read the poem out loud. It should have a nice flow and sound to it.

And in the meantime, enjoy the sunshine, and chasing the cows. Have a great summer.

Not my fault.jpg

What Happens When a Poem Happens to Happen

By Steven Withrow, poet and co-author of It’s Not My Fault

In my travels to schools and libraries as a visiting poet, I often ask students and teachers if they can tell me what a poem is. I’ve received hundreds of wonderful answers—some serious, some silly. My favorite of all came from a young girl in Massachusetts named Audrey: A poem is when words happen to each other, and you can say it like a song.

Give me a month to come up with a definition, and I don’t think I could outdo that one.

Keeping in mind Audrey’s wise notion, I’d like to give you some small insight into the workings of one of my poems in It’s Not My Fault, my collection with Roger Stevens. Here’s the poem (I suggest reading it silently, once, for the sense, then speaking it aloud, twice, for the sound):

 

Pelican

Steven Withrow

If I can’t get a dog then I guess I’ll get a pelican.

A pelican I’ll get if I can’t get a dog.

Instead of a stick, I’ll toss bright fish right into his pouch.

Instead of a walk, he’ll wing like a kite on the string of his leash.

And late at night he’ll settle his pelican head at the foot of my bed

Dreaming halibut dreams swimming up from the dark sea.

 

****

 

First, let’s think of this poem in terms of the first part of Audrey’s definition: A poem is when words happen to each other. Look closely at this poem, even without reading it, and you’ll likely notice that most of the words are little one-syllabled lumps of language. The relatively few multisyllabic words—pelican, instead, into, settle, dreaming, halibut, swimming—provide contrast, both in sound and sense, from the steady march of monosyllables. The longer words stand out and hold a little more weight in the lines because of this syllabic difference. Poems thrive on repetition, but careful variation is also essential.

Another “happening” among the words in this poem is the way many words almost rhyme…but not perfectly, or at least not in the places you might expect. Think of just a few pairs with linked vowels and consonants: get/guess, walk/stick, dreaming/swimming. And the internal rhymes within and across lines in bright/right/kite/night, wing/string, bed/head. Unity of sound is one of my ideals as a writer, yet here too, careful variation is important.

Next, let’s consider “Pelican” in light of the second part of Audrey’s definition: You can say it like a song. I’d like to think that the interweaving of syllable sounds I mentioned above contributes to the music of the poem, and I hope they help make the poem enjoyable to say. I’d also like to think that the poem is different from, say, a set of song lyrics in that it doesn’t require a specific tempo (time signature or pace) or tune (melody or chord progression) to feel complete. While the tight rhythms of the first two lines might make for a sprightly jingle, the more elongated rhythms of the last four lines feel to me more like speech rhythms than song rhythms. In other words, they are more conducive to being said than sung. But it’s a feeling I have more than a definite division I’ve made.

When I share a poem with students—and I strongly believe that sharing a poem as a gift in itself is a better method than teaching a poem or wringing it of hidden messages—I like to point out two or three happenings in the poem as examples and then ask the students to point out a happening they found on their own. A list of possible happenings in even a short poem is longer than one might expect. Children should be encouraged to contribute their ideas, it seems to me, so long as these ideas do not overtake the experience of the poem.

A poem is when words happen to each other, and you can say it like a song.

Yes, it still holds up. Thank you, Audrey.

I could write much more about my poem and other poems that I love, but I’m curious to hear your thoughts on how poems happen…and how you’re sharing poetry with your students. Also, I’m happy to respond to questions you might have in the comments below. Thanks for reading!

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