Why learn poetry?
It’s on the English Curriculum, but there is also evidence that learning a poem:
helps us to appreciate and understand it better
gives us a feel for the rhythms of language
is valued by people later in life
Some people feel that making children learn a poem can takes the enjoyment out of it. It doesn’t have to – but it depends on how you do it. But learning doesn’t have to be difficult. Poetry is a very old art form which evolved before writing, so at one time it was all stored in the memory and recited. Rhythm, rhyme and other features help to make it memorable.
TIP: Do learn poems yourself. Children will appreciate you performing from memory. If you forget a line, that’s fine – they’ll see it’s a work in progress.
Rote vs by heart?
Yes, there is a difference. A poem learned by heart might not be word perfect, but it has become part of us. Our minds and bodies – ear, tongue, thoughts, feelings – all become involved.
Children often find it easiest to learn ‘by ear’ – rather like learning a song. But individuals vary in the way they like to learn. And different poems suit different approaches. Let each poem suggest its own way into the heart. And let children experiment.
TIP: It's definitely easier to learn poems that have regular rhythm and rhyme.
“When you internalize a poem, it becomes something inside of you. You’re able to walk around with it. It becomes a companion.” Billy Collins, poet
Make an impression.
The first encounter is vital. Make it good, make it memorable, and learning will be underway already. Reading a poem about a tree? Go and sit under one!
Let children choose what poem they’re going to learn. Get the class familiar with at least two, then let each child learn the one they like best.
Partners in rhyme.
Have children pair up to learn a poem. It’s fun to practise a poem together, and they can help each other out with troublesome lines.
Love that line.
You don’t have to start at the beginning. Children can learn their favourite line or stanza first, then fill in the rest.
TIP: Is there a line you always fluff? Nail it! Ask, how can I never forget this again?
Picture by picture.
For poems with strong imagery, children can decide on a series of images and create illustrations or a storyboard.
Children could copy the poem into in a personal anthology. The process of handwriting can focus attention on the words and the structure.
Notice the number of stanzas, the rhyme scheme, repeated lines and so on. How do these help express the meaning?
NUGGET: The word stanza means ‘room’. Think of each stanza as a little room in which to play and explore.
Deep learning can take time. Better to learn slowly and to refresh from time to time than to learn fast, move on and forget.