Teresa Cremin: Becoming Poetry Detectives

Outside the classroom, children’s lives are packed with poetry. They freely engage in language play, experiment with jingles, jokes and lyrics and imbibe rhymes, songs, chants, often heard and voiced, as well as felt, in the blood and along the bones?

However, do they see this as poetry?

Do we?

Do we celebrate the rich diversity of poetry in life – online and off- in our classrooms?

Do we recognise poetry voiced both as spoken interaction and as word play and language pattern?

Or do we, as educators, tend to profile poetry as written – found in the printed pages of recognisably distinct and often separately shelved ‘poetry books’. 

As Michael Rosen (1989) argued long ago, poetry and fiction have their roots in everyday speech, and, from their earliest years, children meet poetry in word play, nursery rhyme, rhythm and song, taking particular pleasure in the playful and often subversive nature of poetic language. They hear the tunes and runes, the rhythms and patterns of language, and feel the beat on the street and in their homes and communities. On and offline they are treated to the cadence of others’ voices and their popular cultural worlds ring out with poetries of many kinds.

So, why not invite your class to become poetry detectives -hunting out the power and potency of poetry in as many places as they can? If you join in, then you’ll be going on an extended poetry hunt together. Once on the lookout /earout for poetry, they may well be surprised at the places and spaces it lives and breathes in. They might spot it – see it – hear it- feel it – for example:

  • in graffiti on the street
  • in adverts online and on TV
  • in slogans and word play in newspapers and magazines
  • in songs in community clubs and popular music
  • in clapping games and two ball chants on the playground
  • in the lyrics of hymns and patterns of faith texts in assembly
  • in picture fiction, hidden in the pages of Joe Coelho’s fabulous Our Tower or the more overtly rhyming text of Hannah Lee’s My Hair for example
  • in novels where the protagonist writes, such as in Stewart Foster’s Can You Feel the Noise? or Helen Rutter’s The Boy Who Made Everyone Laugh
  • in verse novels such asSharon Creech’s Love that Dog and Hate that Cat
  • in performances at Poetry Slams, festivals or readings from the brilliant  Poetry Archive
  • and of course in their own class’s poetry collections.

The combined investigations of a class of 32 Poetry Detectives and one poetry teacher will make a stunning display! Such explorations are also likely to lead to renewed attentiveness to the sounds and succour of words and to conversations about the language of poetry, the aural and the written. Critically, they may also widen your own and the children’s conceptualisations of poetry, its form and nature. Why not become Poetry Detectives and see what you find?

Teresa Cremin

Teresa is Professor of Education (Literacy) at the Open University. An advocate of developing teachers’ creative artistry, Teresa’s research focuses on teachers’ and children’s literate identities and practices. Her new edited collection is Reading Teachers: Nurturing reading for pleasure  (with Helen Hendry, Lucy Rodriguez Leon, Natalia Kucirkova, 24 teachers and 8 colleagues). Teaching English Creatively is about to go into a 3rd edition (both Routledge).

Teresa is passionate about developing readers for life and leads a professional user-community website based on her research into volitional reading.