As the clip below - a performance of ‘Volcano’, from our Real Writing curriculum, read by the poet, Joshua Seigal himself, demonstrates - poetry is a powerfully expressive form of writing. At least it should be. Unfortunately, it can also be a particularly painful genre because, apparently, it is a fiendishly difficult thing to describe, let alone do well.
Look through any compilation of quotes about poetry from famous writers and you will notice that even they struggle to encapsulate poetry with clarity and consistency.
Given this inability to express what it is, you would be forgiven for thinking that poetry is a particularly esoteric art form and it would be sheer folly to even try to get children to attempt it.
Yet attempt it we must, according to the National Curriculum, so here are some tips, and KS1 and KS2 resources, to help you teach poetry with confidence and, hopefully, minimal pain.
Despite that rather pessimistic introduction, poetry is often a genre that pupils enjoy experimenting with. Maybe it’s the emphasis on quality rather than quantity that appeals to some.
Itmeans they can focus on word choices and play with figurative language and figurative meaning, rather than getting too hung up on technical aspects of writing or worrying about how much they are expected to produce. Harness that enthusiasm and encourage them to think carefully about each and every word choice. You might be pleasantly surprised.
Poetic techniques examples – immersed in verse
Before you allow your pupils to put pen to paper, make sure you have given them a solid introduction to the style of poetry you will be asking them to produce. Choose your examples well and take time to study the forms, features and poetic devices you would like them to imitate, whether it’s a narrative poem or something with a basic ABAB rhyme scheme.
Remember,even the most experienced and ardent poetry lovers argue and agonise over famous poets and what each line was supposed to convey so don’t be put off if you don’t always ‘get it’. Even so, this might be a great opportunity to open the class discussion and allow the pupils to extract what meaning they will from each piece.
For a more structured approach, poetry comprehension exercises are invaluable. You could use past SAT papers, which occasionally feature poetry, but you may be wanting to keep those for more formal assessment. In which case, for example, try our classic poetry comprehension packs which focus on extracts from Robert Louis Stevenson.
Different poetic techniques – tricks of the trade
Apart from giving your pupils the chance to understand and express their own appreciation of poetry, it is also your job to introduce them to poetic devices that they could use in their own efforts. There is no shortage of these, so plan to focus on one or two of them at a time rather than trying to cram them all into one composition; and do remember, strict rhyme schemes can prove to be a limitation on creativity for young poets.
Also, it is important to pitch your poetry genres at suitable age groups.
Different poetic techniques for the young poets
Pupils who are just learning to write cannot be expected to create profound and technically proficient poems written in iambic pentameter or iambic trimeter; nor do they need to know the difference between a stressed syllable and an unstressed syllable, or be familiar with the full canon of 19th century poetry.
However, there are forms that can help them to develop their nascent writing skills and investigate phonically helpful ideas such as rhyme or repetition.
They can also experiment with simple forms of poetry that help them to view writing as a way to express themselves, especially when used as part of a lesson about life issues. For example, we have a resource pack designed to help KS1 children explore the concept of friendship, culminating in them producing an acrostic poem of their own.
From the end of KS1, children begin to experiment with aspects of figurative language such as similes. By the beginning of KS2 they will be moving on to metaphors.
Trying to get them to include them in narrative writing can be a bit of a stretch, especially considering all the other things they are supposed to remember. Using a poetry unit to help them focus on these techniques could benefit their writing across the board.
Remember to examine good illustrations of figurative language in published works to make sure your class understands how they work and why they are effective. For a permanent visual reminder, why not display our posters, which give examples of figurative language around an eye-catching image.
Using personification as a literary device
Personification is a form of figurative language that deserves its own section here because it is such a popular feature of poetry. There is nothing that brings ideas to life more than actually giving them life in the form of human actions or traits.
If you get the chance, take your class outside to look at the world around them and discuss opportunities for personification. Houses huddling together … leaves dancing on the breeze … clouds racing each other across the sky … once they start letting their imaginations run free, you’ll be amazed at what they come up with.
To consolidate these ideas, pin up our personification poster once you’re back in the classroom or give them our personification challenge mat to practise with.
Rhyme, rhythm and sounds
Allow pupils scope to play with word sounds in ways other than rhyming. Alliteration is something most will be able to do without much problem but it can be tiresome if overused.
Assonance is when words with the same vowel sound are used in close proximity, such as the igh sound in time flies while I’m writing. To explore this further, try our KS2 challenge mat on assonance.
Poetry techniques – word choice and thought sculpting
Imaginative word choices are a critical part of poetry. Expanded noun phrases are a good way of creating concise descriptions, but you can take it even further by letting your pupils experiment with kenning.
Rooted in old Norse and Anglo-Saxon epic poetry such as Beowulf, kenning involves creating figurative noun-phrases to replace familiar ideas. For example, the whale-road might be the sea and a wave-splitter might be a boat. Let your class have a go – you might be pleasantly surprised.
Now that you have a range of techniques with which to arm them, you can feel more positive about letting your pupils have a go. Don’t worry, it could be verse.
Poetic techniques meaning
Poetic techniques (or poetic devices) are linguistic tools used by poets to enhance the sound and meaning of a poem.
Common poetic devices
- Assonance – a literary technique using the repetition of a vowel sound or diphthong sound
- Consonance – repetition of a consonant sound