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Ode to a haggis

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By Brenda Williamspoet

Use a lively Burns Night poem to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the famous Scottish poet

Scottish Highland illustration

Surrounded in mystery about its origins and contents, the haggis has baffled all but the Scots themselves. One joker even created the myth that the haggis was a small furry creature, with four legs, two of which were shorter than the others, so that it could stand more easily on the steep sides of the Scottish Highlands without falling over! It is on this myth, and the reverence with which the haggis is piped in on Burns Night, that the hoax poem, on the first of the ‘Robert Burns’ activity sheets ‘First Catch Your Haggis!’ is based. When celebrating the 250th anniversary of Robert Burns, don’t forget to display the stunning poster of him so that the children can put a face to the famous name.

Activities

  1. A Scottish feast
  2. Haggis, neeps & tatties
  3. Writing a hoax poem
  4. Fantasy haggis
  5. Chieftain of the pudding race

1. A Scottish feast

Raise questions about what a haggis is, and where it comes from. Can anyone suggest what it looks like? Is it a monster like Nessie? Read the poem ‘First Catch Your Haggis’ on the first of the ‘Robert Burns’ activity sheets and briefly discuss the formal rituals of a traditional Burns Night supper, where the haggis is piped in on a silver platter and the guests stand to welcome it, served with a dram of whisky to ‘toast’ it. Explain that often the ‘Selkirk Grace’ – an old Scottish prayer – is recited at the beginning of the feast.

After the feasting, like all Scottish gatherings, everyone sings Burns’ ‘Auld Lang Syne’ that the children might be familiar with from New Years’ Eve celebrations.

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Don’t forget to download the ‘Robert Burns’ activity sheets that include the poem ‘First Catch Your Haggis’; Burns’ ‘Address to a Haggis’; a Scottish shortbread recipe and haggis fact card. The Poster, ‘Robert Burns’ is also available.

2. Haggis, neeps & tatties

Help the children to unravel the joke of the poem, ‘First Catch Your Haggis!’, by explaining that the author is trying to trick them into believing that the haggis is an animal to be hunted down. In fact, haggis was an economical way of using up scraps of meat, while neeps are just yellow turnips or swedes and tatties are potatoes.

Read the poem again as a class to appreciate the nonsense of hunting for a haggis, and the silly suggestion that neeps and tatties might be other animals. Perhaps on the second reading, the children will pick up on the clue about the haggis’ real nature in the line: ‘Great chieftain of the pudding race’ that is borrowed from Burns’ original poem ‘Address to a Haggis’ (see the second of the ‘Burns Night’ activity sheets).

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3. Writing a hoax poem

Use the poem ‘First Catch Your Haggis!’ as a model for a similar spoof poem. Invite suggestions from the children of other foods for which the children could pretend to hunt, such as Welsh Rarebit (rabbit), toad in the hole, hot dogs, fish fingers, shepherd’s pie or fairy cakes. Alternatively, use ridiculous ideas such as sausages or bacon butties. Identify different locations for the hunt – Welsh Hills, forests or fantastic locations, such as prehistoric worlds or other planets. Give each poem a title such as ‘First Catch Your Bacon Buttie’!

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4. Fantasy haggis

If the haggis in the poem had been a real animal, would it have four legs, with two shorter than the others, as suggested in the myth? As a purely imagined Scottish animal, would it wear a kilt, sporran or Highland bonnet? Invite the children to draw pictures of this creature, and also perhaps, neeps and tatties as animals, and use them to inspire short rhyming couplets. Scan the drawings into a computer, and type the couplets underneath to create a class book.

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5. Chieftain of the pudding race

Remind the children that Burns’ poem (see the second of the ‘Burns Night’ activity sheets) about the haggis extolled its sense and simplicity in using up scraps. It represents honest, wholesome and comforting food. Make a list of all the children’s favourite puddings. Ask them to first write a draft speech about their personal choice, citing its greatest qualities. These might include: melt-in-the mouth, chewiness or colour. Decide on the best speech and then as a class, create an ‘ode’ to that particular pudding.

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Reviews

  1. laura
    on 7 January 2014

    burns ideas sorted

    What a really refreshing way of introducing Burns to children and getting them to write their own poetry and odes. Such a fantastic resources, can’t wait to try some of these ideas. Thank you

  2. troy trainor
    on 25 November 2013

    great

    really good for wee and older children I would recommend it to others and all over the world.