Back Wednesday 14 Sep 2016 4:42 pm

National Poetry Day 2016 on the Poetry Station

National Poetry Day is coming up on Thursday 6th October. If you are wondering what to do with your students to celebrate, we have the full package for you: a selection of poems with visuals plus suggestions for classroom activities to go with them.
main image for blog post 'National Poetry Day 2016 on the Poetry Station'

The poems are linked to this year's theme, messages, and are all available on EMC’s website ‘The Poetry Station’. This is a fantastic resource for teachers which includes music, film, and animation, as well as readings by actors and authors, from the unpublished world of slams, live events and song writing, to the published, literary and classic traditions of poetry.

On The Poetry Station’s National Poetry Day page you will find:

  • ‘Making Sense of Me’ – a collaborative poem with words, voices and animation by Eastbury students. The students worked with a with a spoken word educator and a team of animators in this project part-funded by the English and Media Centre and part-funded by Eastbury Community School.
  • ‘Hippo to her Husband’, ‘Hippo to his Wife’ and ‘Listen Mr Oxford Don’ by John Agard, all performed by the poet
  • ‘And Still I Rise’ by Maya Angelou, performed by the poet
  • ‘Declaration of Need’ by John Hegley, performed by the poet
  • ‘Please Mind the Gap’ by Sarah Olowofoyeku, performed by the poet
  • ‘London’ by William Blake, performed by poet Owen Sheers
  • ‘To His Coy Mistress’ by Andrew Marvell, performed by actor Greg Wise
  • ‘Dear Tina’ by Inua Ellams, performed by the poet
  • ‘Valentine’ by Carol Ann Duffy, performed by actor Juliet Stevenson

Classroom activities

Barbara Bleiman, poetry enthusiast and one of EMC’s consultants, has put together some classroom ideas (below) around the Poetry Station selection to get your students engaging with the poems and having fun with them.

Write a message back to one of the poems.

For instance:

  • Marvell’s ‘coy mistress' replies
  • Tina replies to the writer of the message in ‘Dear Tina’
  • The lover addressed in ‘Valentine’ writes his or her own valentine, using another unusual metaphor – not an onion but perhaps something else equally surprising.

Animals giving a message to each other

  • Listen to John Agard’s two hippo poems, in which a hippo addresses her husband and vice versa.
  • Pick another pair of animals and write their messages to each other e.g. Peahen to her Husband, Peacock to his Wife or Giraffe to His Wife, Giraffe to Her Husband.

A message to the world

Blake’s poem ‘London’, has a strong political message about what kind of world he thinks he’s living in and what’s wrong with it. Blake’s London is not a place of equality or justice – it is full of problems. Maya Angelou’s poem ‘And still I rise’ is a powerful statement of political and personal ideas – a message to the world.

  • Write your own message about inequalities and injustices in your world. You could follow Blake’s lead, by starting your poem with ‘I wander through...' the streets of your own home town, or choose a different way of writing your message about modern society.
  • Alternatively, you could take the form of Angelou’s poem and adapt it, to fill it with your own ideas about yourself. For instance, you could keep coming back to the refrain ‘And still I rise’ but everything else could be about yourself and the ways you want to show the world who you are and what you’re capable of.

Please Mind the Gap

‘Please Mind the Gap’ takes an everyday public ‘message’ from the tube, or from train stations and gives it a much deeper message about the divisions in society.

  • Pick some messages that you’ve come across on notices in public places and do something similar with them – give them a deeper meaning. Some examples might be ‘Keep clear of the doors’, or ‘Road ahead closed’, or ‘Please do not feed the animals’ or other such signs.
  • Alternatively, you could collect as many of these kinds of public notices as you can and turn them into a humorous poem, by repeating phrases, or twisting phrases, or changing the message. For instance, what if you said, ‘Obstruct the doors!’ rather than ‘keep clear’ of them? Could you create a humorous situation in which obstructing the doors might make sense?

Sending a letter

Letters have gone out of fashion. Few people write them anymore. People tend to email or text or WhatsApp each other instead. But perhaps a letter allows you to say more, and say it with more care, than these other newer forms of communication.

  • Watch ‘Dear Tina’ and talk about what the speaker manages to convey and why the form of a letter seems to work specially well in this poem.
  • Write a letter/poem to someone you know, where you tell them something important about how you feel about them, or about your relationship with them, or something important about yourself that you want to share with them.
  • Alternatively, look through the texts on your phone, or other short messages you’ve sent recently. Pick one that you might be able to develop, as a more interesting letter/poem. Here’s an example of someone’s text:
  • 'Sorry no. My niece is having a party that evening. I’ve got a really crazy September. Can’t think when I’m next free.' Ideas for how to transform it: turn it into a letter/poem about the pace of modern life; turn it into a letter/poem about wanting to avoid someone;  turn it into a letter/poem about how difficult it is to say no to people. Here's one person's attempt:

                        Dear Mary,

Sorry no, sorry no,

I do apologise,

It’s with great regret,

I hope you understand

                        I hope you don’t mind,

If only I could

                        Unfortunately, as luck would have it,

                        By chance I find myself unable,

What a pity, what a shame

                        I’d really love to

                        But I simply


Picking a favourite message poem

  • Watch several of the message poems on The Poetry Station.
  • Decide which is your personal favourite and why. Is it a message to someone or a message about something?
  • Get into groups and share your thinking. See if you can agree a group favourite by persuading each other of the qualities of your favourites.
  • Have a class vote to see which is the favourite message poem in the whole class.

A group poem with a message – Animate!

KS3 students at Eastbury school in London, worked with a spoken word educator and a team of animators to write a group poem with a strong shared message. They then went on to make it into an animated film. Their ‘message’, ‘Making Sense of Me’ was all about developing the confidence to overcome hurdles and achieve your dream. Watch the poem and discuss your first reactions. Talk about the metaphors the pupils chose to express the idea of feeling low confidence and then breaking through that, and the visual images they created to go with the words. Which bits of the film did you like best? Which images, which words?

Activity 1 – writing a group poem

  • Write a group poem of your own, following these steps. (You could, if you have time, go on to produce visual images to accompany it.)
  • Agree a theme, a message, that you, as a group, want to write about. Here are some possible ideas to get you started on finding a message:
    • We should reach out to the world and be open, rather than closed
    • Everyone has the right to be respected and treated fairly
    • Bullying needs to be tackled, not ignored
    • Doing well at school is more than just getting good grades and doing well in exams
    • People have different cultures, faiths and origins – it doesn’t mean that they can’t get on with each other
    • Adults should listen more to young people.
  • Agree a basic structure for the poem e.g.
    • Starting each line with the same phrase ‘I used to…’ for the first half followed by ‘Now…. for the second half, or ‘We all…’ followed by ‘But…’ for the second half, or ‘When you’re feeling…’ all the way through.
  • On a sticky, each individually write one or two phrases, or lines about your chosen message. You could think of metaphors to express what you feel, like the Eastbury pupils did.
  • Read aloud what’s written on all your stickies and spread them out on a table. Try to sequence them and iron out any awkward differences, make improvements, or add in words to make them connect well with each other e.g. if everyone has started with ‘I hate it when….’ except for one person, you might want to work together to rephrase their line. Read aloud again what you have now got, in order, and see if you want to re-write or add anything or change the structure. Here’s an example of the kind of conversation you might have:

A: It’s great the way all of the lines start ‘I hate it when…’ but it’s a bit depressing.

B: How about having five or six lines at the end starting ‘But I love it when…’, so it ends more hopefully?

C: Or how about alternating it?  One line saying ‘I hate it when…’ followed by one line saying ‘I love it when…’ and so on.

D: Let’s do that! And can we also do it more like the Eastbury poem, with more unusual images? Like, ‘I hate it when you go on and on, like a siren in a traffic jam.  I love it when you stop, and all the street is empty and still.’

  • When you’re happy with your structure, your order and your lines, write it out on a sheet of paper, ready to read out to the rest of the class.

  • If you can, now add visual images to create a series of still pictures to go with the words. (You could also choose some music, ot even go on to do a fully animated film like ‘Making Sense of Me’ if your school has the facilities to allow you to do this, and the time available to make it happen!)

Activity 2 – writing a poem of your own

Having watched the ‘Making Sense of Me’ video, you could have a go at writing a poem of your own, on any of the topics suggested in Activity 1, or another topic that you personally feel strongly about. You might want to write it as a message to yourself, or to parents, teachers or politicians, or other students.  Your message could be to a younger brother or sister, giving them advice and ideas about their life e.g. ‘When you start at secondary school…’ or ‘How to stay strong when things are worrying you…’


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