Last weekend I attended the 2018 NATE conference and, just like the year before, I left with loads of thought-provoking ideas. One workshop in particular was so inspiring that I decided to try out some of the tasks with one of my classes.
At the conference the Award-winning poet Jonathan Edwards delivered a hands-on and enjoyable workshop exploring exciting approaches to teaching poetry and creative writing.
Jonathan began the workshop by asking us to write for 5 minutes about someone close to us. He asked us to start our writing with ‘my father is…’ but changing ‘father’ to the person we had chosen to write about. This task was a great way to get the creativity flowing and , when I used it with my pupils, it worked well as a starter to get them focused on the lesson ahead. I also liked that it was a short sharp task and pupils could write as much as they could within the time limit.
After pupils had shared some of their writing we moved on to Jonathan’s next task: writing about a person/thing from their toes to their head. The pupils were introduced to ‘Blood’ by Ian Duhig – another recommended poem by the workshop leader. ‘Blood’ is a great poem to show the pupils as it uses the same structure and has a twist at the end. The poem also has brand and well-known item references throughout and this is an interesting challenge for pupils – can they consider the clothing choices of their chosen person? This task can also be differentiated in terms of challenge; you might want to encourage some pupils to add a twist to the end of their writing, like ‘Blood’, or even write about a famous figure. One of the attendees wrote a fantastic piece on Julies Caesar and therefore this task could be used in connection with subjects like History and Modern Studies.
The final task was my favourite one in the workshop and it also turned out to be beneficial in the classroom. Pupils read ‘Not The Furniture Game’ by Simon Armitage – a poem that is made up of unusual, humorous and original metaphors. Once the poem has been read the pupils started thinking about the metaphors in the poem they thought worked well and those they deemed as ‘random’. It was interesting to hear the pupils’ differing views on this and the ones which stood out to each individual. We then moved on to a task that Jonathan introduced me to in the workshop and I think it is a fantastic way to encourage pupils to move away from clichéd language. Pupils were given a piece of A4 paper and, whilst keeping their chosen person in mind, were asked to fold this into 8 pieces and write down:
two body parts
two words of their choice
Once pupils had completed this part of the task they could start to play around with the language and create metaphors. I allowed them to add a few words to these in order to make them more logical if they wished; pupils then had the opportunity to get up from their seats and ‘borrow’ words chosen by other pupils in the classroom in order to create more of their own original metaphors. I was blown away by some of the examples including:
Her hair was the sandy beaches of Bora Bora
His eyes were a mesmerising Disney film
His arm was a jubilant musical
This approach was a great way to encourage pupils to be ambitious and take a step away from the over-done language they can be used to using. It exposed them to how fun and exciting poetry can be and allowed them to be creative with their writing. In the next lesson pupils will create their own poem based on their chosen person and ‘Not the Furniture Game’ will be an inspiring model for them if they require a scaffold.
Throughout all of these tasks I wrote with the pupils and this was extremely beneficial for them as they could see the struggles and triumphs all writers go through when creating pieces of work. They were also really interested to hear what I had created and seeing me engrossed in the task also helped them to stay focused. I often think teachers can shy away from writing with pupils but I find it makes my job easier as I’m more aware of possible issues; it also shows pupils that we enjoy writing and I think that is extremely important.