Bringing Poetry Alive: A Guide to Classroom Practice


Edited by: Michael Lockwood

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    For all the colleagues and students I have shared poetry with at the University of Reading over the past 21 years



    Thanks are due to:

    • Lorna Anderton and her Reception class for the case study contained in Chapter 2.
    • Those English teachers working in the borough of Wokingham who helped in the preparation of Chapter 7.
    • Cheam School, The Emmbrook School, and The Bulmershe School for permission to reproduce children's work.
    • The parents of Jack Brown and of Isobel Owen for permission to reproduce their children's work.
    • I'm also grateful to the following who have kindly given permission to reproduce copyrighted material here:
    • Billy Collins, excerpt from ‘Introduction to Poetry’ from The Apple That Astonished Paris. Copyright © 1988, 1996 by Billy Collins. Used by permission of the University of Arkansas Press,
    • ‘Louder!’ by Roger Stevens, from Performance Poems, ed. Brian Moses (Southgate, 1996), included by permission of the author.
    • ‘Neil Armstrong’ and ‘Count Dracula’ © John Foster 2000, 2007, from The Poetry Chest (Oxford University Press), included by permission of the author.
    • ‘My Rabbit’ and ‘Cobweb Morning’ © 2005 June Crebbin, from The Crocodile is Coming by June Crebbin. Reproduced by permission of Walker Books Ltd, London, SE1 5HJ.
    • ‘Shallow Poem’ © Gerda Mayer: from The Knockabout Show (Chatto & Windus, 1978), first published in the magazine Ambit (1971). Reprinted by permission of the author.
    • The Literary Trustees of Walter de la Mare and The Society of Authors as their representative for the excerpt from ‘Dream Song’ by Walter de la Mare

    Every effort has been made to trace all the copyright holders, but if any have been overlooked, or if any additional information can be given, the publishers will be pleased to make the necessary amendments at the first opportunity.

    About the Editor and Contributors


    Michael Lockwood taught in schools in Oxford before becoming Senior Lecturer in English and Education at the University of Reading, where he is now co-director of the BA(Ed) programme. His publications include A Study of the Poems of D.H. Lawrence: Thinking in Poetry (1987), Opportunities for English in the Primary School (1996) and Promoting Reading for Pleasure in the Primary School (SAGE, 2008), which won him the United Kingdom Literacy Association's Author Award for 2009. He has also published classroom poetry resources and anthologies and has written his own poems for children.


    James Carter is a children's poet and an educational writer. He has a BA(Ed) and MA in Children's Literature from the University of Reading. He travels all over the UK and abroad to visit schools, libraries and book festivals for performances, workshops, writing residencies and INSET sessions. His poetry collections include Cars, Stars, Electric Guitars (Walker Books), Time-Travelling Underpants, and Greetings, Earthlings! (Macmillan) and Hey, Little Bug! (Frances Lincoln). Over the last 10 years, James has written four widely used and critically acclaimed creative writing books for teachers of 7–14-year-olds. His website is

    Prue Goodwin is a freelance lecturer in literacy and children's books and formerly Lecturer in Primary English at the University of Reading. Her work, which takes her all over the UK and beyond, involves presenting keynote sessions at conferences, organising courses, acting as a consultant to publishers of children's books and researching literacy learning in schools. Before becoming a lecturer, Prue taught poetry of all sorts to all age groups in primary and middle schools for over 20 years. She has edited several books on teaching English, including The Literate Classroom (David Fulton, 2005) and Understanding Children's Books: A Guide for Education Professionals (SAGE, 2008).

    Andy Goodwyn is Professor of Education at The University of Reading. Having taught secondary English in schools, he then ran both PGCE Secondary and Masters programmes in English Education at the University before becoming Head of its Institute of Education. He has presented on English teaching around the world and written many articles and books. Recent publications include The Expert Teacher of English (2010), and The Great Literacy Debate (2011).

    Eileen Hyder has many years of teaching experience across all age ranges, in both state and independent schools. She has organised a number of poetry events within schools, including workshops with visiting poets and poetry presentations. For three years she organised the SATIPS (Support and Training in Prep Schools) poetry competition and has published articles on poetry writing. She is studying for a PhD in researching reading groups for visually-impaired people at the University of Reading, where she was appointed Lecturer in Primary English in 2010.

    Andy Kempe is Senior Lecturer in Drama Education at the University of Reading. He has extensive experience of working in drama with pupils of all ages and has been providing INSET to Drama and English teachers throughout the country and abroad for many years. He has written numerous articles and chapters covering a wide spectrum of issues in drama and his books are standard texts in a great many schools. He is the author of The GCSE Drama Coursebook and co-author of Speaking, Listening and Drama, Progression in Secondary Drama and Learning to Teach Drama 11–18.

    Catriona Nicholson was, for many years, a teacher in primary and special schools before becoming a Lecturer in English and Children's Literature at the University of Reading. She has been a co-director of the Centre for Research into Childhood: Literature, Culture, Media at Reading and was a tutor on the MA course in Children's Literature. Having retired from undergraduate teaching, she is now a Trustee of Seven Stories: the Centre for the Children's Book in Newcastle. Recent publications include contributions to Literacy through Creativity (ed. P. Goodwin, 2004), Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism (eds T. Schoenberg and L. Trudeau, Thomson Gale, 2006), Understanding Children's Books (ed. P. Goodwin, SAGE, 2008) and The Literate Classroom, 3rd edn (ed. P. Goodwin, Routledge, 2010).

    Margaret Perkins, a former primary school headteacher, is currently Lecturer in Education and Assistant Director of the University of Reading's Graduate Teacher Programme (Primary). She is currently researching, with Prue Goodwin, the use of reading aloud in primary teaching. Recent publications include: ‘Inside the Classroom’ in M. Lewis and S. Ellis (eds) Phonics: Practice, Research and Policy (PCP, 2006), ‘Making Space for Reading’ in P. Goodwin (ed.) The Literate Classroom (Routledge, 2005), ‘Literacy, Creativity and Popular Culture’ in P. Goodwin (ed.) Literacy Through Creativity (David Fulton, 2004) and Observing Primary Literacy (SAGE, 2011).

    Michael Rosen first started writing poetry when he was about 15, inspired by reading D.H. Lawrence, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Carl Sandburg and James Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. He zig-zagged through education after that, doing Arts A-levels, going to medical school and then doing a degree in English at Oxford University. He also has an MA in Children's Literature from the University of Reading. His first book of poetry for children was Mind Your Own Business (Andre Deutsch, 1974) and since then he has been publishing poetry and performing it in schools, libraries, theatres and colleges. He was Children's Laureate from 2007–09. Some of his poetry performances are on his website:

    Morag Styles is Reader in Children's Literature at the University of Cambridge. She has written and lectured widely on children's poetry. She has organised many international conferences on children's literature as well as being responsible for a major exhibition at the British Library in 2009 (with Michael Rosen) on the history of poetry for children. She is the author of From the Garden to the Street: 300 Years of Poetry for Children (Cassell, 1998) and co-editor of Poetry and Childhood (Trentham, 2010). She was an External Examiner at the University of Reading from 2007–09.

    Lionel Warner teaches English to secondary trainee teachers at the University of Reading, and runs the Overseas Trained Teacher Programme. Before that he taught English for 30 years in secondary schools. He has senior examination experience in English Literature at all three secondary key stages, and has published a number of articles for English teachers, including ‘Asking the Right Question: Some Aspects of the Assessment of English Literature’ in Changing English (Routledge, vol. 16, 2009).


    In Tune with Yourself: Teachers, Pupils, Poets

    Like one of the contributors to this volume, in my early career I experienced the groans of children after being told that they were going to do poetry. I soon learned to beguile the class into loving poetry by reading poems that would please them – without any warning – and getting them to read, perform and write their own, as well as collect their favourites in class anthologies. I managed quite happily with classic poetry, early Ted Hughes (Meet My Folks), Charles Causley and the many talented poets writing for children in the first half of the twentieth century. However, things really took off once Mind Your Own Business appeared in 1974, the first of Michael Rosen's very successful collections for children. His volume started a new trend; after that, there was never a problem with getting the pupils on side for poetry. One could then extend the range as pupils’ ears got tuned to poetry, and soon it was possible to tackle almost any poem I wanted to share with children.

    I wrote a couple of books for teachers, long out of print, to encourage others to believe in children as writers and readers of poetry. One was called In Tune with Yourself (Dunn et al., 1986) and that strikes me as a good title for this Preface as all the contributors to this volume will appreciate. They know that what good poetry teachers try to do is to help children find their own voices, as well as offering them access to a body of work stretching back as far as the beginnings of print and including the oral tradition. They also know that in the best and worst moments of our lives, poetry is a resource and solace, while at less pressured times, it can amuse us, make us think of things we always knew but had forgotten (Robert Frost) or bed the ear with a kind of literary hard core that can be built on (Seamus Heaney). A profound belief in the good offices of poetry permeates this welcome new volume.

    The title says it all. Enthusiasts for Bringing Poetry Alive, all with some connection to the University of Reading's Institute of Education, show how to promote poetry joyfully in the classroom and beyond. The perspectives of poets, teachers, teacher educators and a Children's Laureate combine to offer the reader a whole range of practical ideas for making poetry an enjoyable and satisfying experience with the young. All the contributors share a love of poetry combined with expertise in using it creatively with children. What is more, they show respect for, and belief in, the amazing things children can achieve in reading, writing, listening to and performing poetry, if it is tackled with flair and imagination. Teachers new to poetry need not be afraid – this book is very approachable and will help them find their ways into effective poetry teaching. For seasoned practitioners, there are fresh ideas and the companionship of kindred spirits.

    Michael Lockwood is the guiding hand behind this harvest of poetry practice. He has been a quiet aficionado of children's poetry for many years and it is fitting that SAGE has given him the opportunity to put this volume together. In his Introduction, Michael sets out something of the history of poetry teaching in England. Some of that story is quite depressing, as poetry has always challenged teachers; it is less well covered (and, research suggests, less well taught – see recent work by Teresa Cremin and colleagues) than most other literary genres in primary and secondary classrooms – right up to ‘A’ level. Michael Rosen talks of his concern to break out of the cycle where schools teach for tests and cut down time and space for reading ‘real books’ and engaging in other forms of creative learning. (Indeed, our new government, which talks of freedom for schools, is actually strengthening its grip on the curriculum in areas like the teaching of phonics.) But as both the ‘Michaels’ writing in this book make clear, there are also grounds for optimism.

    Rosen made a huge impact on children's poetry as Laureate and some of his initiatives are documented here. As I write, I am aware of other promising developments. At least 10 new single poet collections for children are either going into print or have recently been published. T.S. Eliot award-winner, Philip Gross’ Off Road to Everywhere is an excellent example, part of a set of six collections of children's poetry by his publisher, Salt. Janetta Otter-Barry has four new titles on her list for Frances Lincoln – and there is more in the pipeline from Macmillan and A & C Black. A new volume on Caribbean poetry aimed at 11–16-year-olds is under construction at Peepal Tree Press at the moment. On my bookshelf, three recently published collected poems for children by brilliant poets nestle together – Adrian Mitchell (much missed), Allan Ahlberg and the Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy. (The latter won the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE) Poetry Award, 2010, with her New and Collected Poems for Children.) Sue Dymoke at Leicester University has recently been successful in getting funding for an Economic and Social Research Council seminar series on teaching poetry, while David Whitley at Cambridge University's Faculty of Education is starting a British Academy funded project on how teachers tackle poetry with students from Reception to university. Several competitions for children as poets/children as anthologists, as well as awards for new collections of poetry for young readers, are soon to be publicised. And, unusually, we have two edited volumes on children's poetry being published within the same year – this book and my own, Poetry and Childhood (2010, co-edited with Louise Joy and David Whitley).

    Decades ahead of his time (in 1956) Ted Hughes wrote a letter to Sylvia Plath anticipating the knowledge we have gained from neuroscience about the uses of the brain:

    And Eliot says that the best thing a poet can do is read aloud poetry … This should be sound. Silent reading only employs the parts of the brain that are used in vision. Not all the brain. This means that a silent reader's literary sense becomes detached from the motor parts and the audio parts of the brain which are used in reading aloud – tongue and ear. This means that only a third of the mental components are present in their writing or in their understanding of reading. (Hughes, quoted in Reid, 2007: 50)

    This book requires every contributor to conclude their chapter by giving the reader ‘something to think about’, ‘something to read’ and ‘something to do’. No parts of the brain falling idle here. Put one in every staffroom!

    MoragStylesReader in Children's Literature and Education, University of Cambridge, December 2010
    Cremin, T., Mottram, M., Collins, F., Powell, S. and Safford, K. (2009) Teachers as Readers: Building Communities of Readers. London: United Kingdom Literacy Association.
    Dunn, J., Styles, M. & Warburton, N. (1986) In Tune with Yourself. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
    Duffy, C.A. (2009) New and Collected Poems for Children. London: Faber and Faber.
    Gross, P. (2010) Off Road to Everywhere. Cambridge: Salt.
    Reid, C. (2007) Letters of Ted Hughes. London: Faber and Faber.
    Rosen, M. (1974) Mind Your Own Business. London: Bodley Head.
    Styles, M., Joy, L. & Whitley, D. (2010) Poetry and Childhood. Stoke-on-Trent: Trentham.

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