Just as when we learn a piece by heart, performing helps us to understand and appreciate the poem. In fact, preparing to perform a poem is one of the most effective ways to explore its music and its meaning. Some children will love performing poetry; others will find it difficult. But there are lots of different ways to approach performance. And the value is in the process as much as a ‘final performance’.
TIP: Learn a few poems that you can perform yourself. Children will appreciate your reciting from memory.
What kind of performance?
The word “performance” can sound rather grand. But a poem is ‘performed’ whenever it is spoken aloud. Reading a poem to one other person or reciting on a stage are both performances
“Reading aloud is one of the best ways of inhabiting the experience of a poem.” David Fuller, Professor of English
Go with the flow.
Movement can help to embed the poem in the body. Begin by getting children to walk to the rhythm of the poem. Change direction with each new thought. Change speed or posture according to the feeling.
Mark my words.
Give pupils a copy of the poem that they can mark. Encourage them to develop their own system to indicate emphasis, mood, pace and so on.
TIP: It isn’t necessary to know a poem by heart before you start preparing for performance. Learning often happens naturally in the process of working on it.
Play it again
Encourage play and experimentation. Take one line and ask children to change the emphasis to change the meaning.
Let children try out their performances in pairs, telling each other what worked well and suggesting alternatives.
Spot the difference.
Prepare two different versions of your own performance of a poem. Ask children about the different meanings or effects – and what you did to achieve them. You might offer two very different readings, or just make a very subtle change to one line.
All together now!
Ask a group of children to work on an ensemble performance – sometimes known as ‘choral speaking’. As well as assigning lines (all, solos, subgroups) they’ll need to consider dynamics and agree an appropriate delivery for each line. This works well with poems that have repetition or refrain, different voices, narrative.
Here's an example:
As an alternative group activity, one child is chosen as the performer, and the rest of the group direct the performance.
To help children explore and use their range more fully, ask for lines to be read or recited at two extremes. For example, you could ask for a boring, monotone reading and then a ridiculously expressive one. If children then read ’normally’, they usually find just the right amount of expression very naturally. This can be done with any dynamic.
Words and music:
For a themed class or group performance, intersperse the poems with appropriate music. You could offer some pieces and let the children determine the best sequence. Or let them compose their own with classroom instruments.
NUGGET: Sometimes the way we speak a poem happens very instinctively. We naturally use our voices to express the meaning we feel. But when helping children prepare a performance, it’s good to be aware of the different dynamics – and for them to be familiar with some basic terms.
- Volume – loud, soft
- Pitch – low, high
- Intonation – rising, falling
- Pace – fast, slow
- Tone / Colour – warm, cold, intense, relaxed, etc