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Reading a bonfire, top to bottom

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By Geoffrey Summerfield

Perfect to share in winter time, this poem is ideal for building children’s store of vocabulary and discussing the meanings of words using the context in which they appear. Its interesting form – describing a bonfire from the top down – provides a framework which children can use to create their own poems in the same style. As well as using similes, it provides the opportunity to introduce the concept of metaphor.

These teachers’ notes accompany the PRINT ONLY guided reading leaflet in Literacy Time PLUS Ages 7 to 9, November 2008.


Shared learning and teaching

Before reading

  • Talk about bonfires the children have seen. What is the atmosphere like at a Bonfire Night party? How would they describe the fire? List their ideas to compare with the poem later.
  • Practise decoding any words your children could find difficult to read, such as expire, dissolved, ruin and furnace. Discuss the silent ‘w’ in wrestle and wrist and the soft ‘g’ in singe. Think of other examples.
  • Discuss the title and what this might suggest about the poem to follow.

Previous learning

Children should be able to recognise adjectives and understand their role in a sentence. They should be familiar with simple similes and how they are constructed.

Reading and responding

  • Read the poem together. Which lines do the children think should be read quietly and which could be more dramatic? Try splitting the poem up, with different children reading each line. Are there any lines which would sound better read by the whole class?
  • Do they now understand the title?
  • Make a glossary of the poem, using the context to work out the meaning of unfamiliar vocabulary.
  • What tense has the poet used to write the poem? Why? Talk about the structure of the poem and the use of capital letters and full stops.
  • How do we know it is a very big bonfire? What tells us that it will not last very long?
  • How does the poet describe the heat and smoke? Give the children time to investigate this, working in pairs and listing what they find. Discuss their ideas.
  • Find the similes (eg, ‘smoke as thick as wrists’). The poet compares the bonfire to various things – list these together. Note the use of fingers, wrists and fists. Why would the poet suggest the bonfire is like hands?
  • Discuss the line ‘Fingers of smoke in sparking gloves…’ and explain that this is a metaphor.
  • How would you have felt if you had been there?
  • Who was Guy?

Key learning outcomes:

  • To investigate the poet’s use of figurative and expressive language to create images and atmosphere;
  • To prepare poems for performance;
  • To write poems using similes and adjectives.

This resource supports work in the Year 4 Literacy Framework Poetry Planning Unit 1 – Creating images.

Shared writing

Create a class poem in the same style by writing sentences about a giant – describing him from top to bottom. The guy wore a ‘coat of flame and ruin’. What was the giant’s coat like? Write sentences describing his hair, boots, tummy, nose and teeth, using similes where possible. Arrange them until they are in top to bottom order.

Group and independent activities

  • Challenge the children to create their own similes to describe smoke, flames and the noises of a bonfire.
  • Give each child a piece of black paper and chalks or oil pastels. Ask them to draw a picture of the bonfire using all the ideas in the poem. Display, and discuss the children’s different interpretations.
  • Write top to bottom poems about a Christmas tree, deserted old house or Rapunzel in the tower. Use the activity sheet to support this activity.


  • Which line of the poem do the children like best? Explain choices and vote to find the winning favourite.
  • Invite another class to a performance of the poem with the children’s pictures forming a backdrop.
  • Perform the children’s own ‘top to bottom’ poems and discuss them.


  1. Kirstin McCreadie Assistant Editor
    on 9 November 2010


    Dear Keiran,

    The poem is on the Poster, ‘Reading a bonfire, top to bottom’. This is only available to subscribers of Child Ed PLUS. A 12-month subscription starts from just £15 visit for more information.

    Best wishes, Kirstin.

  2. kieran philis
    on 6 November 2010


    i cant even read the poem where is it?


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