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Sunday 29 June 2014

Poem for Icknield Infant School's 60th Anniversary

Last week I spent a lovely couple of days visiting classes at Icknield Infant and Nursery School in Hertfordshire, helping Years 1 and 2 write poems to celebrate the school's 60th anniversary. With Year 2 I got them to imagine what the school of the future might be like. The future, I think, is a great concept to inspire children's imaginations, since by its very nature there is no right or wrong answer. The children accordingly produced some extremely imaginative, often very funny work.

When a school books me to work on a specific theme, I try to write that school a special poem on the theme. Here, then, is the poem that I shared with the Year 2 children in order to stimulate their writing:

The School of the Future

In the school of the future
we’ll read books written by laser beams
zapped onto dazzling slabs of emerald.

In the school of the future
the world’s best chefs will download dinner
directly into our stomachs.

In the school of the future
all exams will take the form
of video game tournaments.

In the school of the future
lessons will start on the stroke
of midnight.

In the school of the future
every child will sit next to
their very own farm animal.

In the school of the future
all teachers will be replaced
by zombies.

In the school of the future
everyone will love each other
like their own family. 

Friday 13 June 2014


This is a workshop idea that gets children thinking about a familiar space in different, interesting ways. It also gets them moving about and exploring the space. The session could be run in a classroom, but I think it would be really nice to do it outside. 

Thinking & Listening

Read my poem 'Dreams' to the class, perhaps more than once (the poem is reprinted at the bottom of this post). Test the class for memory of what the different objects 'dream' of. Identify some objects in the space you are in, and discuss some of the different things that it might 'dream about', supposing such a thing were possible. 

Gathering Ideas

Each child is given a selection of thought-bubble-shaped post-it notes:

They then go round 'labelling' the environment, describing what the different objects 'dream' about. Try to encourage them to use all of their senses in exploring the objects. It is important that they mention the NAME of the object in their writing, so they might end up with a sentence like 'the tree dreams of birds nesting in its branches'. They would then stick this onto the tree!

Creating Poems

Once everyone has used up their post-it notes, each child then goes round the space collecting in other peoples' notes. They then arrange these into an order they are happy with, to form the lines of a poem. This poem can then be transcribed into their books. The activity can be done in pairs or small groups. 

Dreams (published in My Grandpa's Beard)

The blue sky dreams of fluffy clouds
The prisoner dreams of an open door
The footballer dreams of cheering crowds
The soldier dreams of an end to war
The snake dreams of flying like a flock of birds
The bird dreams of burrowing like a mole
The book dreams of being more than words
The broken man dreams of becoming whole
The insomniac dreams of having dreams
The dreamer dreams of being awake
The battlefield dreams of an end to the screams
The birthday girl dreams of her birthday cake
The follower dreams of leading the pack
One dreams of becoming two
Going up the hill, Jill dreams of Jack
And me, I dream of you.

Wednesday 11 June 2014

Workshop Idea + Poem - 'Edible Bedroom' (upper KS1/lower KS2)

Here is a fun lesson plan designed to stretch the imagination. I think it would work best with Years 2 and 3, but I see no reason why, with the right kind of attitude, it couldn't work with children of any age, right the way up into secondary school. With much younger children you might like to substitute the individual poem writing for group poems.

Warm Up

Each student writes two lists: (a) things you might find in a bedroom, and (b) items of food. Depending on age, this could be preceded by a brief class discussion regarding which items might go in the lists.

Listening Skills

Perform my poem 'Edible Bedroom' for the class. The poem is available on my website, and is also reproduced at the bottom of this blog post. Test the listening/memory skills of the class by asking what each of the items in my bedroom was made of. (e.g. "who remembers what the desk was made of?"). You might like to read the poem through more than once.


Explain that the children will be writing poems about their own edible bedrooms. In order to ease them into this process, model a couple of sentences on the board, using some ideas from the class. For example, ask someone to name an item found in their bedroom, and ask someone else for an idea as to what this might be made of. Model interesting vocabulary (adjectives, alliteration, simile, etc) when writing up the sentences.


Using their lists, students each write poems about their own edible bedrooms. Weaker writers could simply match up the items on their lists; more confident writers could bring in other ideas. Depending on age/ability, worksheets could be provided, encouraging completion of the following sentence : 'My..... is made of.....'.

Edible Bedroom

My bed is made of apple pie
The finest known to man
My lights are made of blueberries
My books from marzipan.

My desk is made of marble cake
My sink is made of jelly
A great big blob of mayonnaise
Is smeared across my telly.

My carpet’s made of Skittles
And my pens from Peperami
My pillow’s stuffed with apricots
Enough to feed an army.

My mattress is a slab of cheese
My shelves are made of meat 
You may think with a room like this
My life is far from sweet.

With covers made of candyfloss
All piled in a heap
You may think I’d go bonkers
From a total lack of sleep.

It’s true my room is crazy 
It’s not easy to relax – 
But when I find it hard to snooze
I’ve lots of midnight snacks.

Wednesday 4 June 2014

Poem + Workshop Idea - Key Stage 1

My Dog

My dog is cuter
than a baby snuggling with a teddy bear.

My dog is naughtier
than a boy putting a rat in his teacher’s handbag.

My dog is fluffier
than a bed made out of cotton wool.

My dog is braver
than a medieval knight riding into battle.

My dog is sillier
than a clown doing a backflip with his pants down.

 My dog is funkier
than a chicken dancing to Gangnam Style.

My dog eats more
than a Tyrannosaurus at a buffet.

My dog barks louder
than the eruption of twenty volcanoes.

 But enough about that –
you should see my cat! 

Based on the ideas in the poem above, children could write their own 'exaggeration' poems using the attributes of their own (real or imagined) pets. Perhaps aided by a set of pictures placed in the centre of each table, begin by writing words to describe their animals. Once a collection of these words has been amassed, the teacher then models some sentences on the board using a couple of them. Children then have a go at using the adjectives as the basis on which to create their own sentences. It could be that each child writes a single sentence as part of a group poem, or each child could write several sentences to form their own poem.

Tuesday 3 June 2014


Here is an idea based on celebrating that which is normally perceived as negative. The outcome will probably be some light-hearted poetry, although it is hoped that students will be led to reflect on deeper issues to do with self-identity too. It will also require some gymnastics and contortion of the imagination!

Each pupil writes a list of things about themselves that they don't like. They then pick something off the list, and write a poem praising that thing. It could be from the point of view of an imaginary King, Queen or Superhero (e.g. 'The Queen of Bad-Spelling' or 'Captain Awkward'). A good technique to get started might be to come up with some examples of elaborate hyperbole: "I am so awkward that...," "I am so stupid that...". Here is my own poem to use as an example:


I am the greatest person in the world
at failing to make friends.
Put me in a room full of people
and I’ll still be as lonely
as a sumo wrestler at a breakdancing contest.
I collect strangers
like a cat collects dead frogs.

You could count the number
of schoolmates I made
on the digits of a quadruple amputee.
My friends from university
number ten to the power of zero.
Need advice on failing to connect
with potential pals?
Call No Friends Man –
the solitary superhero.

Yes, my ability to not make friends
is truly legendary.
It’s just a shame
there is no one around
to call me a legend.

Sunday 1 June 2014

Workshop Idea: Avoiding Cliche and Creating 'Striking Lines' (KS2/3)

This workshop idea is all about avoiding cliches and encouraging the use of striking, original lines in their place. It is very playful, and can be adapted to include an informal sense of competition. Hopefully pupils will emerge with a sense of what a cliche is, and how it can be avoided.

  • Warm Up

A cliche is a phrase that has become bland and unexciting through overuse. It may have started off original and interesting, but is no longer so. Teacher begins by asking the class for examples of some cliches - phrases or descriptions that lots of people say all the time. The following sorts of things might emerge:

it was raining cats and dogs
as shiny as a diamond
as fast as a cheetah
at the end of the day
I lost track of time
head over heels in love

Once this brief exercise has been completed, each student needs to write their own list, giving as many cliches as they can. There could be a prize for the student who comes up with the most!

  • Group Poems

Students get into teams with the others on their table. They need to sort through their lists, and make a poem out of their cliches, aiming for five to ten lines for the completed poem. They can add connectives if they like, to help the poem make grammatical sense, or they can just leave the lines as they are. Each team then nominates someone to read the group poem to the class. 

  • Creating 'Striking Lines'

Cliches started out as ways of saying something in an interesting way. It is not interesting any more because everyone says it! Students now need to make them interesting again. Each student needs to go through their list of cliches, and, for each one, try and make it more interesting. This could be done by asking what each cliche is trying to say, and then thinking of how to say that thing in a more exciting, original way. For example:

Cliche: "it was raining cats and dogs"
What does this mean? It was raining a lot
Original way of saying it: "the rage of demons was pouring from the sky"

Cliche: "she was head over heels in love"
What does this mean? She felt very strongly
Original way of saying it: "her heart was a clump of lava scratching against her ribs"

The key here is to remember that there are no right or wrong answers, except to say that each student should aim for lines they haven't encountered before. Other than this it really is a case of being playful with language.
Anything goes!


Students come together back in their groups, this time with their new lists. Each group has to nominate the 'most striking line' from the collection of lists they now have in front of them. They need to collaborate in order to choose it. If they really can't decide they can come up with a new line. Each team then nominates some to read their line out, and they have a battle with the other teams. The teacher chooses a winner for Most Striking Line.