Charlotte Hacking: See a Poet, Be a Poet

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.

Matt Goodfellow with children from Swaffield Primary and Manor Leas Primary schools

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.
Matt Goodfellow with children from Swaffield Primary and Manor Leas Primary schools

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

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.

Charlotte Hacking: The Power of Poetry to Reflect, Share and Broaden Children’s Realities

Poetry has the potential to help children to see themselves reflected in literature and to express themselves through their own writing. It can open doors to children’s own desires to read and express themselves through poetry. Poems shared can reveal what this genre can offer to children as a medium in reading and in writing.

IMAGE: Ellie Kurtz

Everyone can see their place in poetry, but only if it is showcased. Children need to see the universality of poetry and that poetry is for them; it transcends age, culture, race, religion. The poet videos on the CLPE website contain a wide range of poets performing a wide range of poetry and are added to each year in line with CLPE’s poetry award, the CLiPPA.

2021 CLiPPA Shortlist – image by Ellie Kurtz

Such resources are particularly important in opening up children’s perceptions that poetry can also be for them. One teacher on our Power of Poetry project had shared Valerie Bloom’s ‘Haircut Rap’ video with her children. One of them remarked, ‘I didn’t know poets can be black people too. I thought Valerie Bloom was white.’ We keep access to our poetry resources completely free to expand the range of poets and poetry used in classrooms, ensuring these reflect the realities of all children so they can see themselves in the world of poetry and that it is a space for them.

Image: Ellie Kurtz

Poetry is a carrier of culture. It marks, shares and shapes who we are and our feelings and experiences of the world and is an important vehicle to explore individual identity and the identity of others. Hearing poets like Jackie Kay, Nikita Gill, Matt Goodfellow and John Lyons enables children to hear a variety of voices and broadens their understanding of language as a whole. As one school, who worked with us at CLPE, reflected, ‘The children are now more engaged with poetry. They were a particular fan of Matt Goodfellow and never realised a poet could be ‘so cool’! It was great to introduce them to more female poets too. Now when asked ‘What does a poet look like?’ they respond by saying ‘any one of us’, which is wonderful to see. As Emmie (one of the children) put so beautifully ‘Poetry has no limits’.’

Image: Ellie Kurtz

If poetry is not given a voice, if it just stays on the page, it is not going to come alive for most children. CLiPPA has a shadowing scheme attached to the award that encourages children to do exactly this. Groups of children put together a performance of a poem from one of the shortlisted collections. The winners are invited to perform at the event and feel the excitement of seeing poetry performed live. Some incredible responses have been seen since we started the scheme in 2015, such as this outstanding interpretation of Karl Nova’s The Dancer by Quincey, a Year 6 pupil.

Image: Ellie Kurtz

Poetry gives you a voice to express what you want, in your own way. Children need to see that poetry can be used to encapsulate moments that are new, funny or familiar or as a more cathartic experience to express feelings such as guilt, sadness or loss. Being Me: Poems About Thoughts, Worries and Feelings by Liz Brownlee, Matt Goodfellow and Laura Mucha has garnered the most entries in the shadowing scheme this year, perhaps because it bears witness to children’s thoughts, feelings, experiences and emotions in a way that genuinely offers recognition, affirmation and hope. The poets have worked in perfect harmony to create a collection that shows child readers that their emotions and experiences matter, as well as demonstrating how writing about such things can help them make sense of their own thoughts and feelings. As a teacher reflected: ‘Poetry gives the children an increasingly rare opportunity to express thoughts, feelings and ideas about their world; to feel like a writer, to be a writer. Writing poetry is a place where their thoughts, feelings, ideas and humanity are valued and recognised.’

Charlotte Hacking

Charlotte Hacking is the Learning and Programme Director at the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education. Charlotte led and developed the CLPE’s Power of Poetry research project and the poetry courses and webinar programme at CLPE. Charlotte has been the CLPE judge for the CLiPPA since 2014.