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Friday 22 November 2013

Bespoke Poems For Year 2 At St Antony's, Newham

Over the past few months I have been doing a fair amount of 'writing to order': I have been working on specific projects with a variety of groups and ages, from very little children to young adults, and have been churning out poetry to suit their workshop needs. I say 'churning out', which has fairly unpleasant, mechanical connotations, but in reality it has been a pleasure (and a challenge).

One of the groups with whom I have been doing an extended project is Year 2 at St Antony's School in Newham, East London. I have been working on the Catching Words project with them, which involves running poetry-based workshops every Friday morning this term. Each workshop focuses on a different aspect of poetry, and I have been writing some poems for the class to model the ideas. I'd like to share two of them now.


One of the sessions took the form of a competition. Several, often fairly complicated, literary techniques were discussed with the class, and then they had to get into small groups and compete to see how many sentences they could write utilising each of these techniques. A handy acronym has been devised by poet Joe Coelho to help children remember them: MORERAPS. This stands for Metaphor, Onomatopeia, Rhyme, Emotion, Repetition, Alliteration, Personification and Simile - heady stuff for Year 2 kids! In order to model these notions in a simple and fun way, I wrote the class a special poem.

However, before I share the poem a bit of background is in order. St Antony's is a wonderfully creative school which goes to great lengths to inspire and enthuse its pupils. Thus, on the day when I ran the MORERAPS session, they had a writing day involving the whole school. In order to kick the day off, there was a full school assembly in which an actor, in the guise of a local historian, told the children that a weird, secret tunnel had been discovered running under the school. The teachers were in on the act too! For the rest of that day, the children had to complete writing activities based on this tunnel: what did it contain? How did it get there? Who is living in it? And so on.

Given all this, I thought it would be nice for my MORERAPS poem to follow the tunnel theme. So here it is:


I’m the terrible tunnel
I’m deep, damp and dark,
I stretch all the way
From the school to the park.

I’m the terrible tunnel
Coiled up like a snake,
I’ll fill you with terror
And make your boots quake.

I’ll make you scream AAAH!
I’ll make your bones judder,
For I am a demon
And I’ll make you shudder.

I’m the terrible tunnel
I’m deep, dark and damp,
Come and explore me,
Bring your best lamp.

I may be quite scary
And make your head spin,
But I hide some secrets –
So come on in!



Another workshop involved thinking about journeys, and in particular specific verbs children could use in describing their journeys. They were taken to the hall, where all the apparatus had been set up. Next to each piece of apparatus was a verb sheet, i.e. 'tiptoeing past the...', 'hopping over the...'. It was up to the children to complete the sentences in as weird and wonderful a way as their imaginations could muster.

Having come into the classroom from the hall, the children then wrote a poem describing what happened on their journeys. I modelled the following poem, to help spark their imaginations:

Escaping From School

I sneaked through classrooms
As dark as an ogre’s cave.

I hopped over a sticky, slimy swamp
Made out of mouldy school dinners.

I got lost among letters
In a jungle of words.

I balanced on a tightrope
Made out of pens and pencils.

I tiptoed past the dragon
Who lives in the headmistress’s room.

I jumped onto a raft
Made out of torn-up maths books

I ran down cavernous corridors
And crept towards sweet freedom...

... but the Receptionist said
“Sorry, you can’t get out that way.”

Admittedly the understated irony of that last stanza was lost on some of the Year 2 children, but I had fun writing it, and the children certainly came up with some wonderful poetry of their own, my favourite line being 'I sneaked past the demon dinner lady'. An idea for a poem, methinks!