Poetry and the Possibility of Language

1. Building the Field: Reading and Responding to Poetry

Suggested Learning Intentions

  • To read and interpret poems
  • To use performance techniques when reciting poetry

Sample Success Criteria

  • I can explain a personal connection I make to a poem using evidence from the text
  • I can use voice and movement to present a personal interpretation of a poem
  • A wide selection of poems for student use. Refer to the reference section for suggested online poetry sites.
  • Paper
  • List poem planner template: docx PDF
  • Exploring voice tone activities: docx PDF
  • Poetry performance: peer feedback and self-reflection: docx PDF

This stage aims to develop student knowledge and understanding of poetic forms and features. Students will be encouraged to make personal connections to the ideas presented in poems and to explore performance techniques while reciting poems to their peers. 

It is strongly recommended that teachers review all stimulus texts prior to their use to ensure their appropriateness and to enable rich, respectful discussion. For guidance on text selection refer to the Teaching and Learning Resources — Selecting Appropriate Materials policy.

Display the following questions for discussion:

  • What is poetry?
  • What are some of the topics or themes that poets might write about?
  • Why might people write poetry?

Facilitate a general discussion about these questions and record responses on an anchor chart. 

Explain to students that they will be creating a poem where everyone contributes lines anonymously. Provide each student with a piece of paper. Ask them to write on the first line, ‘Poetry is …,’  then finish the sentence. For example, ‘Poetry is drawing with words.’ Students then fold their paper over so their sentence cannot be seen, then pass the paper to another classmate. The process is repeated until one side of the paper is filled. Students should use a different idea for each entry.

Turn the paper over and repeat, using the sentence stem, ‘Poems are about …’

When the papers are filled, invite the students to form pairs or small groups. Each student should have one piece of paper to open and read all the entries out loud. This becomes a draft poem, filled with the ideas of everyone in the room.

Show the students an example of list poem, for example, excerpts from Joe Brainard’s, I Remember, or Naomi Shihab Nye’s found poem, One Boy Told Me.

Draw student attention back to the group responses to; ‘Poetry is …’ and ‘Poetry is about…’ Explain that each group will select lines to create a list poem. They can rewrite, rearrange and further develop the ideas in each line. A template planner is available in the Materials and texts section above. 

Suggest students look for similar themes or ideas to group together. They might also choose to repeat a line at the end or beginning of each stanza. An explanation of this collaborative technique is available on the Red Room Company website.

Invite each group to read their poems aloud to the class. 

Display the list poems as a record of the students’ early thinking.  

After engaging in a shared reading of a range of poems, students select and perform a poem for their peers.  They may work on developing dramatic techniques if necessary.

It is strongly recommended that teachers review all suggested stimulus texts prior to their use to ensure their appropriateness and to enable rich, respectful discussion. For guidance on text selection refer to the Teaching and Learning Resources — Selecting Appropriate Materials policy.

Shared and Modelled Reading

Present Michael Rosen reading one of his poems. For example, No Breathing in Class.

Facilitate a discussion about the poem. Question prompts could include:

  • What do you think this was poem about? 
  • What thoughts or feelings did you have when you were watching his performance?
  • What might the poet have used for inspiration for this poem?
  • What are some of the emotions that the poet captured in the performance?
  • How did the poet use his voice and body to communicate effectively? For example, speed, volume, pitch, emphasis, pauses, facial expressions and body language.

Rosen’s performance techniques could be discussed in detail and recorded for future reference. Ask the students to provide examples of Rosen using voice and tone, facial expressions and gestures.

Rosen’s performance also provides an opportunity to discuss onomatopoeia. Ask the students to suggest examples of Rosen using sound effects in his performance. Ensure they are familiar with the term onomatopoeia and brainstorm a list of other words that mimic natural sound. For example, woof, clatter, moo, ribbit, tick-tock, hiss, plonk.  

Develop student understanding of onomatopoeia by sharing and discussing Poetry for the Classroom and collaboratively brainstorming made up or invented words that describe the sound of an action or thing. Discuss how the use of onomatopoeia heightens the imagery created in the poem and enhances poetic performances.

Continue to share poets reading their work and to read a variety of poems to and with the students. Regularly model using voice, tone, facial expressions and gestures and discuss how these performance techniques add to the meaning of the poem.

Suggested poems include: Shel Silverstein, With His Mouth Full of Food, or Clarence; and Aoife Mannix, Today I’m Not Going to School

Discuss the similarities and differences in format, mood and subject of various poems.

Extend student understanding of the choices poets make to intensify mood comparing Michael Rosen’s humorous poems with The Absentees, his poem to mark Holocaust Memorial Day in 2018. 

Invite students to read short passages from a selected poem, experimenting with voice, tone, facial expressions and gestures.  Encourage different students to read the same passage and compare the aural interpretation of the poem.

Exploring Dramatic Techniques

If students are unfamiliar with performance techniques, the following activities are suggested to explore and develop performance skills and confidence.

1. Facial expressions

Students work in pairs, with one student covering their mouth with a piece of paper. That student then acts out emotions such as happiness, rage, sadness, excitement, boredom and so on. The other student tries to identify the emotion.

2. Exploring gestures

Brainstorm a list of gestures that we use instead of speaking. 

For example:

  • Holding out one arm, palm open, or finger pointing
  • Hand to forehead, palm facing out, or closed fist
  • Arms folded across the body
  • Hands on hips, behind back or in pockets
  • Shoulders hunched
  • Shoulders back

Ask students to suggest what each gesture might indicate. Explore multiple meanings and gestures from other cultures. 

Further teaching ideas are available for developing empathy in drama.

3. Varying voice tone

Encourage the students to experiment with varying voice tone by reading a list of statements varying their tones and expression. Students select a statement card and a tone card from the Exploring Voice Tones resource, available in the Materials and texts section above, to read to their peers. The group could also write their own statements and brainstorm voice tones to add to the list.  

Collaborative reading and performance

Provide students with a wide selection of poems that have been reviewed and are appropriate for students in your class. For guidance on text selection refer to the Teaching and Learning Resources — Selecting Appropriate Materials policy.

Explain that the students will work in small groups to select, rehearse and perform a poem with their classmates. Encourage students to select poems that they connect to and enjoy.

Students could further explore list poems with collaborative reading and performance. Poems include:

Allow time for students to prepare their presentations. Provide the option for students to video their performance. 

Enable students to engage with the meaning of poems and explore performance techniques by recommending poems that explore familiar themes and are matched to the students’ independent reading level.  Students could be further supported by listening to poets read their work. For example:

Enable students to develop fluency and expression by supporting them in targeted teaching groups. Workshop difficult words or phrases and model and encourage using dramatic techniques.

Extend students by encouraging the performance of poems with a higher degree of complexity, more challenging themes, vocabulary and language features. For example:

Discuss the importance of having a safe and respectful space to share our ideas and performances and the nature of constructive feedback.

Familiarise students with the feedback form and protocols. A downloadable version of the feedback form is available in the Materials and texts section above.

Perform a poem to the class and invite students to complete the feedback form based on your performance.  Support the students to elaborate on their feedback responses and to provide explicit examples of dramatic techniques. Model completing the self-reflection section of the task if required.

Organise students into small groups and explain the performance and feedback procedure:

  • Half the group will present their selected poem, while the other half completes the peer feedback form. 
  • The audience group will share their observations respectfully with their peers. 
  • Repeat the process so that all students have performed, received and provided peer feedback.

Students then complete the self-reflection section of the feedback sheet.

Revisit the opening questions:

  • What is poetry?
  • What are some of the topics or themes that poets might write about?
  • Why might people write poetry?

View the video clip REEL: Children and Poetry.

Ask the students to listen carefully for the words the children use to describe what poetry means to them. 

After viewing the video, ask the students to write a short personal response to the questions listed above. Encourage students to present their response as a short poem modelled on the list poems created earlier in the session. Invite comment about how their ideas had changed after reading and listening to a range of poems.

Collect the personal responses and peer feedback sheets for assessment. 


Enable students who may have difficulty expressing themselves clearly in writing to use drawings or make an audio recording of their response. 

Extend students by encouraging the use of descriptive and emotive vocabulary. Suggest they compose their responses using the style of poetic language modelled in the video, REEL: Children and Poetry.

Adamson, R., 2008. Red Room Poetry: My Grandfathers Ice Pigeons. [Online]
Available at: https://redroomcompany.org/poem/robert-adamson/my-grandfathers-ice-pigeons/
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Australian Children’s Poetry, n.d. Australian Children’s Poetry website. [Online]
Available at: australianchildrenspoetry.com.au/
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Australian Poetry Library, n.d. Australian Poetry Library. [Online]
Available at: https://www.poetrylibrary.edu.au/home
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Brainard, J., 2001. I Remember. [Online]
Available at: https://sites.evergreen.edu/statements/wp-content/uploads/sites/6/2014/09/I-Remember-Joe-Brainard-1.pdf
[Accessed 28 June 2022].

Centre for Literacy in Primary Education, 2020. Poetryline: Poet Performances. [Online]
Available at: https://clpe.org.uk/poetryline/poets
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Centre for Literacy in Primary Education, n.d. Poetry Line: Poems. [Online]
Available at: https://clpe.org.uk/poetry
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Coelho, J., 2014. Onomatopoeia by Joseph Coelho. [Online]
Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UN4sHJbgwxQ
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Drama Victoria, 2020. Drama Victoria Presents ... Empathy in Drama. [Online]
Available at: https://vimeo.com/415079326
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Hegley, J., 2020. What a Poem's Not. [Online]
Available at: https://clpe.org.uk/videos/video/john-hegley-what-poems-not
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

History Works, 2018. The Power of Words - Summoning up the Absentees by MIchael Rosen. [Online]
Available at: https://vimeo.com/251147624
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Kay, J., n.d. No. 115 Dreams. [Online]
Available at: https://clpe.org.uk/videos/video/jackie-kay-number-115-dreams
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Lyons, J., 2020. Tell Me Mamma. [Online]
Available at: https://clpe.org.uk/poetry/poems/tell-me-mama
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Mannix, A., 2020. Today I'm not going to school. [Online]
Available at: https://clpe.org.uk/videos/video/aoife-mannix-today-im-not-going-school
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Mare, W. d. l., 1912. The Listeners. [Online]
Available at: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/47546/the-listeners
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Nesbitt, K., 2020. Ken Nesbitt's Poetry 4 Kids. [Online]
Available at: https://www.poetry4kids.com/reading-level/grade-six/
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Nichols, G., 2020. I like to stay up. [Online]
Available at: https://clpe.org.uk/videos/video/grace-nichols-i-stay
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Nye, N. S., 2011. One Boy Told Me. [Online]
Available at: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/56601/one-boy-told-me
[Accessed 28 June 2022].

Owen, G., 2020. Conversation Piece. [Online]
Available at: https://clpe.org.uk/poetry/poems/conversation-piece-gareth-owen
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

PoetryEverywherePTV, 2009. Poetry Everywhere: One boy told me by Naomi Shihab Nye. [Online]
Available at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=biJ3FP8aDjY
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Red Room Poetry, 2003. Red Room Poetry. [Online]
Available at: www.redroomcompany.org/
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Rooney, R., 2020. Tips for the New Boy. [Online]
Available at: https://clpe.org.uk/videos/video/rachel-rooney-tips-new-boy
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Rosen, M., 2008. No Breathing in Class. [Online]
Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z1cfVQyrQ3Q
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Rosen, M., 2020. Poems and Stories About My Family. [Online]
Available at: https://www.michaelrosen.co.uk/poems-and-stories-about-my-family/
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Sargeant, E., 2007. Edward Sargeant - The Listeners. [Online]
Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mAmpKUHwGRU
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Shapiro, J., 2012. Reel: Children and Poetry. [Online]
Available at: https://vimeo.com/32787437
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Silverstein, S., n.d. Shel Silverstein Books. [Online]
Available at: https://www.youtube.com/user/ShelSilversteinBooks
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

The Children’s Poetry Archive, n.d. The Children’s Poetry Archive. [Online]
Available at: www.childrens.poetryarchive.org/
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Wakeling, K., 2020. Comet. [Online]
Available at: https://clpe.org.uk/videos/video/kate-wakeling-comet-0
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Wattpad by Mr Boyd, n.d. "List Poem" instructions and examples. [Online]
Available at: https://www.wattpad.com/17788735-list-poem-instructions-examples
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

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