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Building a Poem - Lesson Plan

This simple, involving lesson plan is intended to encourage creativity in your students, and make them think about how they construct poetry.

To begin, write a noun on the board. For example, dog. Then ask the class to contribute a verb - ‘what is the dog doing?’ Dog runs. Next, ask where is it doing this, and add the selected place preposition into the line. Dog runs down the road. Continue with questions such as - how is it running? Why is it running? What is the dog like? What type of dog is it? The result should be a fully formed poetic line or two, such as:

The sleek greyhound runs down the road,
Furious owner chasing at its heels

Tell the class that, together, from a one-word beginning you have built part of a poem. Pick five or so students to come up at the front of the class and add words along a line, to create their own, like in the game ‘Consequences’. When the class are confident of how the exercise works, divide them into groups - or individuals, if they are sure of what to do and want to produce their own work - and give them a few minutes to come up with a verse, based around these principles. To make the task simpler, you can give each group the same word to start the poem, and see the different directions it is taken in. Next, hold a class reading of the different verses. If you wish, you can ask the children to continue with their poems for homework.

For the second part of the lesson: explain that anyone can work this way. Take a few lines from a popular poem: for example this quote from Edward Lear’s ‘The Owl and the Pussycat’:

‘The owl and the pussy-cat went to sea

In a beautiful pea-green boat,

They took some honey, and plenty of money

Wrapped up in a five-pound note.’

Ask your class to find the first noun - here the owl. From there, you can follow the path of who it was with, where it was going, what its surroundings were, and what other things were also there. Point out how simply Lear (or your author) has filled in the scene, just by a few small details. A possible exercise with ‘taking apart’ the poem would be to physically cut up a few lines of well-known text, and ask the groups to put them back together again in the correct order, e.g. the second verse of this poem.

Now the pupils have seen how a poem can be ‘built’, and how this could possibly apply to a famous piece, you can ask them to extend their own as previously stated, or create another in an established style. Suggest they write about two other animals that go on a voyage somewhere, and how theirs was different - if the class responds to this, encourage them to be as amusing as they like.

As an example you could present this verse:

‘The goat and the wildebeest went to France,

In a bright purple hovercraft

They took a bagel, and a book of fables

That they liked to read in the bath’

Encourage the children to keep to the same rhythm as your chosen poet - this should make them think more about the flow of their writing, as well as making it simpler to create. When they have a sample piece in mind, the task of writing a whole poem should be less daunting.