Like a piece of music, a poem needs to be lifted off the page, to be spoken and heard. For young children, much of the pleasure is in a poem’s sound, while older children often don’t mind if they don’t fully understand a poem that they hear.
Most poems are best encountered first by hearing. The more we listen to poetry, the more we become tuned in to the way meaning is conveyed through sound.
In your own time
Don’t rush children into making a prescribed response to a poem. Ensure they have time to get inside it and to respond in their own way.
TIP: Remember that poetry is a ‘slow’ art form. Some poems need time to unfold their meaning. Poetry seeds you plant now may bear fruit many years from now.
“Poetry lies dead on the page, until some voice brings it to life.” Basil Bunting, poet
Read a poem that conjures a soundscape. Ask children to notice all the different sounds it describes. They could try creating, and then recording, ‘the soundtrack of the poem’.
Here's an example:
Avoid the question, did you like that poem? (Though children may tell you anyway, especially if they didn’t!) Instead, encourage them to think about what they heard, saw and felt.
All join in!
As you keep reading a poem, encourage them to start joining in – especially if there’s a refrain, repeated line, or obvious end-rhyme.
I know the feeling.
Collect some poems on a theme. Before reading any, discuss the theme and ask children to write down their thoughts or feelings about it. Read the poems, then ask children to choose one line or phrase which best fits own idea or feeling about it. Then ask them which one challenges their ideas?
For poems with strong imagery, children can decide on a series of images and create illustrations or a storyboard.
NUGGET: Sight is our dominant sense, and a visual stimulus tends to trump an auditory one. That means children may not be able to attend to the sound of the poem quite as well if the text of the poem is at all visible. So even if you put the poem on the screen or give children printed copies later, ensure their first encounter is through sound only. That way, the aural and the visual imagination are free to work.