Poster for National Poetry Day 2023 on the theme of refuge. An image of a tortoise. Illustration by Daria Hlazatova from Chernivtsi, Ukraine

Poetry in the Classroom

Posted by Speakeasy News > Thursday 05 October 2023 > Webpicks

This year's UK National Poetry Day is on 5 October. A great opportunity to get some poetry into your class, and to explore this year's theme: Refuge.

The National Poetry Day site has lots of poems and teaching resources. We picked out some which are especially well adapted to ESL learners. There are short films by poets on the theme of refuge, which can be a place, a person, a community, a thing.

Take a Deep Breath by current Children’s Laureate Joseph Coelho would be a great at the start of a lesson to get everyone calmed down and ready to learn (from A1+). It’s all in the present tense and mainly in the imperative and lends itself to acting out (close your eyes, take a deep breath and let it out…) The worksheet covers feelings, calm and pupils’ happy places.

My Treasures by Kate Wakeling is a good format for creative writing: pupils can be asked about treasures they take refuge in. The vocabulary presents some difficulties but the illustrations on the worksheet help. From A2.

From B1, on a similar theme A Portable Paradise by Roger Robinson also imagines an object you can carry with you as a private totem that you can take refuge in no matter how difficult like can seem.

At the End of the Day by Matt Goodfellow is a free-verse poem of a conversation where a teacher encourages a pupil, praising his poem and suggesting he takes notes of his ideas. The worksheet asks pupils to think about when writing has helped/can help them. The language is everyday, a little slangy, so it is best suited from A2+. The wonderful author David Almond, most famous for Skellig, is mentioned in the poem. You can see his notebooks here.

The Right Word by Imtiaz Dharker would work really well if you are tackling issues of fake news or even bullying: is the person in the shadows a terrorist, a freedom-fighter, a hostile militant, a guerilla warrior, a martyr or “a child who looks like mine”? The last line tugs at the heart strings. Comprehension and the subject matter suggest B1, but there is a lot of repetition, which will aid comprehension. Click on the resources page to download the powerpoint presentation.

Reading Out Loud
Why not ask pupils to learn just a couple of lines? Then they can give a group recitation, which allows them to practise other skills such as listening, and trying to match their delivery to the others’. Learning to recite two lines with care is very different from learning a longer piece, where the memorisation becomes the main task, rather than pronunciation, rhythm or understanding.