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not so much ... as
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Not so much a lesson,
a song and dance
To mark National Poetry Day,
Michael Rosen suggests fifteen
to make a classroom poetry friendly
Tuesday 2 October 2007
This article appeared
on p7 of the EducationGuardian section of the Guardian
Tuesday 2 October 2007.
It was published on guardian.co.uk at 23.48 BST
on Tuesday 2 October 2007.
It was first published at 23.48 BST
on Monday 1 October 2007.
One of the oddities that has emerged out of years of
government-inspired curriculum development is the notion that there are perfect
lesson-plans which you follow and these will deliver perfect results. I think
the best learning takes place when you create an atmosphere of curiosity and
excitement. So, I ask myself, how can we handle poems so that a whole class will
be curious and excited enough to want to read, write, perform and think about
poems? Poetry has never been written with the intention of making young people
irritated, bored, anxious or humiliated, and yet the consequence of the test and
exam system often does just that. So, rather than begin with lessons, we can
talk about structures with a view to making your classroom poetry-friendly.
1. Find any poem that you think is interesting. Copy it out in your own
handwriting on to as big a piece of paper as you can. Pin it up on the wall.
Don't ask any questions about it, don't set any homework in relation to it. You
could try leaving some post-its next to it, so that the class could write things
on the post-its and stick them to the poem. If anyone asks you questions about
the poem, see if you can ask back a question about how we might find out the
answer. Looking in a book? On the internet? Writing a letter to someone? Or how?
After a week, take the poem down and put up another one.
2. Read poems to the class when they know that you can't set them work - that
is, just before breaks or at the end of the day.
3. Bring in a pile of poetry books, divide the class into twos or threes and ask
them to go away and prepare a poem to perform to the rest of the class in 20
minutes' time because that's when you're going to have a poetry concert.
4. Discuss with the children all the different ways you could perform poems:
mime, dance, song, using instruments, cutting bits, adding in repetitions that
aren't in the original poem, turning some of the scenes of the poem into
tableaux and so on.
5. Look at a poem together. Ask questions that you don't know the answers to. Is
there any part of the poem that reminds you of anything that has ever happened
to you, or that you've heard of happening to someone else? Why and how did it
remind you? Is there any part of the poem or sound of the poem that reminds you
of anything that you've ever read before? Why? How? Have you got any questions
that you would like to ask about the poem?
Ask if any of your students could have a go at answering these questions. Is
there anywhere we could go to find answers? Books? Internet? What if you could
ask anyone or anything in the poem a question, what question would it be? Would
any of your students like to pretend to be that person or thing and answer that
question? What if you could ask the poet or the publisher of the poem a
question? What question? Anyone want to pretend to be the poet or the publisher
and answer it? Anywhere we could find out more about the author or the time and
place that author lived through? Are there any patterns or shapes in the poem
that anyone wants to talk about? Do you like these? Or not?
6. Choose a book of poems by one poet. What if we turned that book of poems into
a show? We could use any poem or part of a poem, we could make up our own, we
can use music, photography, costume ...
7. Choose an anthology of poems around
a theme. Let's look at this theme. Can we make up some poems on this theme? Make
a show of some of the poems in the book mixing it with your students' poems.
8. Have a poetry cabaret night with your students' parents. Everyone is going to
bring either a poem they've written or a poem they like and perform it. Turn out
all the lights, use a microphone and stage lights. The audience will sit round
tables and then poets and performers get up out of the audience to perform their
poem. Two sets of 20 minutes each with music in between. Interval - juice and
cakes made by the parents.
9. Poetry swap time! Have a session where the teacher and the class swap poems
they've chosen and read them out.
10. Turn the poems that the children write into poem posters, poetry booklets
11. Writing poems can start from many, many different places. Use photographs,
moments in stories, dreams, music, dance. Use the soliloquy principle, ie stop
the action in any art form, any moment, any scene in your own life and ask the
protagonist (or yourself) "What are you thinking?" "What can you see?" "What are
you going to do?" The answers can make a poem.
12. Write poems for your class or about your class and with your class. Often!
13. Invite a poet to your school and ask her questions.
14. Go to a poetry reading at the local book festival.
15. If an Ofsted inspector comes into your room, ask him to read a poem to the
· October 1-5 is Children's Book Week. booktrusted.co.uk/cbw has a free
downloadable resource pack, activity sheets for KS1 and 2, and a children's
· October 4 is National Poetry Day. nationalpoetryday.co.uk has information
about poetry events and readings, as well as downloadable lesson plans, a poster
competition for primary school children (hard copies have also been distributed
via Junior Education and the Poetry Society), and education packs. Lessons for
secondary schools are based on the lyrics of Bob Dylan.
· The Children's Poetry Bookshelf, childrenspoetrybookshelf.co.uk, is asking
children aged 7-8 and 9-11 to submit poems of no more than 25 lines on the theme
of dreams. The website has a downloadable entry form and information on how to
enter. Children can also submit poems and book reviews for publication on the
· Michael Rosen is the Children's Laureate
and chair of the
judges for the children's poetry competition
Not so much a
lesson, more a song and dance,
Not so much a policy line
as a turn full circle
Tuesday 4 September 2007
Suzanne Goldenberg in Washington
This article appeared on p15
of the Main section section of the Guardian
Tuesday 4 September 2007.
It was published on guardian.co.uk at 00.01 BST
on Tuesday 4 September 2007.
The Bush administration had been desperate for a foreign
policy success after the debacle in Iraq and the stalemate with Iran over
uranium enrichment, and the deal with North Korea to disable and declare its
nuclear programme promises to do just that.
But it is also a repudiation of a guiding principle of the
administration in its dealings on the world stage.
In his now famous state of the union address in January 2002, President George
Bush declared the regimes of Iraq, Iran and North Korea an "axis of evil". Now
Saddam Hussein's regime has been overthrown. Iran claims it has reached an
important goal of uranium enrichment despite the UN sanctions. But North Korea
has been brought in from the cold.
The events that led to the apparent agreement between Pyongyang and Washington
at the weekend emerged from two days of talks in Geneva between North Korean
officials and the assistant secretary of state for east Asian and Pacific
affairs, Christopher Hill. It was exactly the sort of session that the
neo-conservatives within the Bush administration had opposed.
But with the exit of hardliners such as the Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld,
diplomats such as Mr Hill had greater scope for diplomacy.
With this agreement the Bush administration has apparently come full circle in
relation to North Korea. During the dying days of the Clinton administration in
the autumn of 2000, diplomats believed the US and North Korea were very close to
a deal under which Pyongyang would cease the development, testing and export of
missiles in exchange for full diplomatic recognition and billions in aid. At
first, President Bush seemed inclined to carry on the negotiations; the then
secretary of state, Colin Powell, said in March 2001 he planned to "pick up
where President Clinton left off".
However, at a press conference later that month President Bush lambasted the
North Korean leader for making nuclear weapons while his people starved. The
9/11 attacks calcified his attitude towards Kim Jong-il and steered policy
towards regime change.
But after North Korea tested a nuclear device in October last year there were
concerns about a real axis between Iran and North Korea, and about
proliferation, while the administration was waiting for Mr Kim's regime to
Even so, a former administration official who was a proponent of the hard line
on North Korea warned that the deal at the weekend had come too soon.
"There is still simply no evidence that Pyongyang has made a decision to abandon
its long-held strategic objective to have a credible nuclear weapons
capability," John Bolton, former US ambassador to the UN, wrote in the Asian
Wall Street Journal.
Not so much a
policy line as a turn full circle,