1. Using poems to stimulate writing activities

If pupils listen to and read poems or stories that they enjoy, they are more likely to be interested in developing their own reading and writing skills in their home language or in the language of the classroom.

In order to become successful writers, pupils need several ‘tools’. Firstly, they need something to write about. In Activity 1, you will use examples of name or praise poems or stories to give pupils ideas. Then you will guide them in writing the first draft of a name or praise poem or story. It is important for pupils to understand that writers ‘craft’ their poems and stories. This means writing several draft versions, to which they make improvements, until they are satisfied that their poem or story is the best they can make it.

Case Study 1: Reading and writing name poems and stories at a teacher workshop

At a four-day workshop in Johannesburg in South Africa, some teachers of English read poems and stories about names. In these, the writers described how they came to have their names, what they liked or did not like about them and what words or images they associated with them. The teachers really enjoyed what they read and asked if they could write their own name poems or stories during the workshop.

On the second day, each teacher read his or her first draft to a partner. They gave each other feedback on what they liked and what they thought could be improved, for example by adding details and choosing different vocabulary or punctuation.

On the fourth day, having worked on their drafts the day before, they each read their completed poem or story to the whole group. There was laughter, there were some tears and there was much applause.

When they were asked to reflect on their experience, they said:

  • no one had been ‘stuck’ for something to write about;
  • while most wrote in English, they enjoyed using occasional words or phrases in an African language to express a particular idea;
  • they benefited from the feedback on their first draft;
  • they felt proud of the final version;
  • they enjoyed listening to the other stories/poems;
  • many of the poems were similar to traditional praise poems and songs.

The teachers decided they would read their own and other name poems or stories to their pupils and help them to write about their names.

Activity 1: Drafting name or praise poems or stories

Use Resource 1: Preparing lessons on name or praise poems to prepare for this activity and Resource 2: Name poems and stories or Resource 3: Praise poems and stories for ideas. Choose either name poems/stories or praise poems/stories.

  • Ask pupils to suggest what a name poem/story or a praise poem/story would be about.
  • Ask them to listen while you read aloud the poem(s)/story(ies) you prepared.
  • Ask them questions about what you have read to them.
  • Ask pupils to discuss with a partner either what they know about their name or that of a family member and how they feel about this name, or what they know about the person, animal or object they wish to praise.
  • Next, ask some pupils to report to the class on their discussion.
  • Ask pupils to write the first draft of a poem or story about their own or family member’s name or in praise of their chosen person, animal or object.
  • Collect the drafts in preparation for the Key Activity.

Did writing name or praise poems/stories give your pupils ideas for writing?

Were you pleased with the way you organised the lesson? What changes would you make next time?

With younger children, you might write a name poem together, sharing ideas and using familiar words in the classroom language.

Section 4: Using story and poetry

2. Working in groups to write life stories