A visit from a poet can seem like a big investment for schools, particularly in the current financial climate. But, if done right, it can be a valuable learning experience for the children, engaging them in a love of reading as well as enhancing and extending ideas and enthusiasm for writing.
An opportunity to see and learn from professional poets is aspirational for children. It brings poetry to life, enabling them to see creativity and writing as a profession. Poets speaking about their work, reading or performing poems and leading writing workshops or exercises brings a greater level of depth to learning about authentic writing processes.
To get the most out of a poet visit and to make it as successful as possible, here are a few top tips.
Before the visit:
- Do your research first. Find out as much as possible about potential poets, considering how they might engage and appeal to your children. Many poets have audio or video resources on their websites. The Poet section of the CLPE website contains poet performances, and the Children’s Poetry Archive have a wide range of audio recordings, which will give you a good idea of what you might expect.
- Make contact with your chosen poet to agree a timetable well in advance. It is important that this is a collaborative process, so that the visit is part of a planned programme of learning rather than being something of a ‘strange interruption’.
- Communicate clearly with the poet, finding out what they offer and what a realistic programme might be. Will the visit be in person or virtual? Do they need any particular resources? Do they have any specific dietary or access requirements?
- Be realistic about your expectations – you’d never expect a Year 6 teacher to teach every child in the school on the same day, so don’t expect this from a poet! Some poets may have a range of poems that work for children of all ages, but some might want to focus on a specific phase. Lean into where they feel they will make the most impact. A good model might be a whole school introduction, with the poet reading poems in an assembly, enabling every child to be able to feel part of the experience, followed by focussed work in classes where the poet’s work is most relevant.
- Set the scene beforehand. Allow the children to get to know the poet through their website or any video or audio resources you can find, and read a few poems by them.
- Consider including a book sale at the end of the school day where parents can take their children to buy books and have them signed as a memento, engaging a local bookseller to support with this. Some poets may wish to sell books themselves.
On the day:
- Share a photo of the poet with all the staff and children – including school office staff – letting them know they are coming and making sure they are ready to welcome them.
- Ensure resources, including technological requirements for a virtual visit, are ready and available.
- If the poet comes in person, make sure they are welcomed, know where facilities are, and are shown to a space where they can make themselves comfortable and where they can get water, tea or coffee.
- Don’t fill every available break with additional activities like pupil interviews or book signings; it is important that adequate breaks and lunch are provided.
- Ensure activities run to schedule so the day doesn’t become too long for the poet, especially if a signing is included. Attaching post it notes to books with names for dedications will help to speed things up.
- Send a thank you card, letter or email to the poet.
- Make sure the poet is paid promptly – it’s important to realise that visits are often a poet’s main source of income.
- Create a central display with the poet’s books, alongside photographs and work from the visit.
- Share the event on your website, in your newsletter, or in local press, helping to raise the profile of poetry in the school and wider community.
- Follow up and extend the work done in your English lessons. The poetry plans on CLPE’s website can be used direct or drawn upon to support schools’ own plans. This gives the visit added purpose and allows the flame of excitement on the visit day to burn for longer.
As poet Matt Goodfellow reflects, “Poetry is an area that teachers and children often lack confidence in. A visit shows poets are real life people, and can show a different side to writing, facilitating creativity outside of the usual constraints of the curriculum. It’s often the children who are usually reluctant to engage in literacy that shine and their teachers see a side of them that’s not been seen before. They feel free to discuss their thoughts, feelings and ideas using their own words; they’re often the natural born poets.”
Charlotte Hacking is the Learning and Programme Director at the Centre for Literacy in Primary (CLPE) Education and a judge on the CLPE Poetry Award, the CLiPPA. This year, the CLPE are working with Macmillan to celebrate 30 Years of Macmillan Children’s Poetry. This includes conducting the Big Amazing Poetry Survey, to gain a picture of poetry practice and provision in primary schools. Primary teachers can fill in the survey and contribute to this important research between 16th January and 6th February 2023.
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