Playing with words

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By Pie Corbettpoet, author and freelance educational consultant

Encourage children to be adventurous with language and write lively poems

The new Framework for Teaching Literacy identifies the importance of encouraging children to write inventively – developing original playfulness with language and ideas. List poems are a simple and effective way of helping children develop confidence as writers. They provide a repeating pattern that allows children to focus on using words effectively and creating new and interesting ideas. For example:

I want to write a poem
made of a ladybird's scarlet wings.
I want to write a poem
made of crumbs from the last jammy dodger.
I want to write a poem
made of the sudden screech
from a car tyre
shuddering to stop!

It is worth remembering that many poetry forms are not suitable as models for children’s own writing. For instance, while they may well enjoy reading a Charles Causley ballad, the form is too demanding for most children to imitate. List poems are ideal because the form does not dominate the writing, but allows the children to focus upon creating their own ideas. The form should liberate, not constrain.

One problem you may find is that some children just write dull lists that seem to go on forever! Show them how to elaborate and extend a few of their ideas, and ask them to select their favourite lines and improve them in the same way. Let’s say that a child has written:


With my magic eye
I saw a snake.
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