Teresa Cremin: Poetry, Pleasure, Play and Repetition

Poems entice readers to read and revisit them, again and again. In this way poetry is like music, children (and adults) often return to the same pieces, recognising and appreciating something about them that speaks and satisfies.

I wonder though, as educators, especially in the junior years, do we tend to profile the complexity of poetry first, studying such texts at the relative expense of developing children’s pleasure in the sounds, patterns and meanings of words at play? Perhaps we could build in more space for pleasure, play and repetition?

In a rich literacy curriculum, the teaching of and playful engagement with poetry are interrelated. But if we really value poetry, then surely we can allow ourselves to trust the form more? Surely we can allow its brevity and diversity to involve and affectively engage the young? Maybe we can achieve a better balance by offering a rich range, and invoking repetition and revisitation as key principles, especially in class readings and performances? There are parallels again here with music; we revisit many songs in assemblies and children experience the security of the known, sing along with pleasure and develop a positive attitude to song.

Children’s earliest encounters with poetry often include repetition (and song), parents re-visit the recurring rhythms of nursery rhymes almost ad infinitum whilst bathing and playing with their youngsters.  Later poetry in books, such as Mike Rosen’s A Great Big Cuddle, and in rhyming picture books such as those by Jeanne Willis, Trish Cooke and Julia Donaldson, also demand repetition. Through repeated readings of these early ‘poems in common’, children learn how the poem/narrative verse ‘goes’, they join in physically, taste the sounds on their tongues and feel the rhythm in their bones. In the process they find pleasure in word play and develop favourites.  By repeating and re-voicing nursery rhymes, two ball games, jokes, playground chants and faith songs for instance, as well as poetry introduced in the curriculum, young people develop an early awareness of rhyme, alliteration and assonance.

Repetition matters in later experiences of poetry too. In many school contexts in which we work to build positive attitudes and interest in poetry, repetition has potential.  Older readers need rich opportunities to revoice for themselves the sounds of poetic texts that tempt, and to hear and participate in poetry as experience, for its own sake, without being expected to offer a response that ‘explains’ the meaning.

Many poems only take a minute or two to read, so surely as teachers we can enable the young to savour the flavours on repeat.  Some teachers read the same poem each day and only discuss it on Fridays, others let themselves be led by the children’s choices, and then read and re-read the top three for instance. Still others invite groups to select poems to illustrate, put to music and/or perform, as this too nudges multiple re-readings. Working playfully together children will revisit the text many times, and, in the process, meanings will surface through their artistic engagement and collaborative interpretations. Class poetry performances operate in the same way too, especially if there is volition and choice around which poems are used and how to re-create them.

Perhaps poetry doesn’t always need as much professional direction and assistance as we feel the need to give it?

Why not try and make more space for poetry, for pleasure, for play and repetition.

Teresa Cremin

Teresa is Professor of Education (Literacy) at The Open University. An advocate of developing teachers’ creative artistry, Teresa researches teachers’ and children’s literate identities and practices. Her recent books include Teaching English Creatively (2023); Reading Teachers: Nurturing reading for pleasure (2022) and Reading for pleasure in the digital age (2020).

Teresa is passionate about developing readers for life and leads a Research and Practice Coalition focused on reading for pleasure.  The work involves supporting over 100 OU/UKLA Teachers’ Reading Groups annually, 60 + OU Reading Schools to develop rich reading cultures and 36 HEI partnerships in order to enable the development of children’s (and teachers’) reading for pleasure. https://ourfp.org/


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.


Teresa Cremin: Quickfire Poetry that Matters

Quickfire Poetry that Matters

Are you and the children setting yourselves any New Year’s resolutions? What are their hopes and dreams as they enter another year with the pandemic a backdrop to their lives?  How might poetry play a part in expressing these?

Children often write effectively about issues that matter to them: that have emotional relevance and connect to their values, concerns and future focused desires.   You can support them by discussing these, recognising them as rich writing material and perhaps simply sharing possible intentions in 2s or 3s. For example, I want to… read more, exercise more, smile more, help others, go to bed earlier, be kinder to the environment, eat more fruit, listen first, be more positive and so forth. You could also jot some down on strips of paper to pass round as examples to use, add to and adapt.

It’s easy to move from this brief warm up to exploring more imaginative one-liners framed by a slightly less pragmatic desire. For instance, using the starters I would like to…, I would love to…, I hope to…. and inviting ‘almost impossible’, ‘ingenious’ and ‘novel’ conclusions to the sentence. All the examples have been written by young primary aged poets.

Additionally, you could offer provocative questions on strips of paper, and invite children to write their own ‘challenging to answer’ questions too, then pop them in a top hat for random selection, copying, ‘answering’ and returning the question to the hat to select another.  You might construct it like a game of consequences, with a question written on the top of the sheet, and poets adding their responses underneath. I find occasional peaking and sharing of particularly arresting question-and-answers helps. 

When you open the sheets up, pairs can read and discuss which responses they think are the most effective and why and can then rehearse an evocation of their favourite in a manner which highlights its meaning. I vividly recall three eight-year-olds in London adding an ostinato to the question ‘What is anger?’ The word ‘anger’ was repeated before, during and after the poetic Q and A as if it were bubbling up and threatening to boil over, they created a real sense of frisson in the room. Using body percussion can also work. Sometimes though, a simple slow repeated voicing is the most effective and there is always a moment of delight as the unknowing young poet in the classroom recognises their own words.

Personally, I have often been amazed at children’s depth of thinking and feeling when presented with such questions, though much depends on the openness, early affirmations and exploratory, accept-all manner of the activity. To start with more ordinary responses will surface, but with time, sharing and celebrating rich ideas, (yours and any other adults, as well as the children’s) more allusive and imaginative ideas emerge. As Ted Hughes (1967) noted “the latent talent for self-expression in any child is immeasurable”.

Longer poems can also be sculpted out of these one-liners, by combining some or adding additional lines or repeating refrains or verses. Reducing the ask increases the space to think through the issues, capture thoughts and convey just ‘the best words in the best order’ in Coleridge’s words.

Quickfire poetry can help us voice our hopes and share our thoughts- why not try it in 2022?

 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 Reading Teachers: Nurturing reading for pleasure (with Helen Hendry, Lucy Rodriguez Leon, Natalia Kucirkova and 31 teachers and academics is due out in 2022), alongside the 3rd edition of Teaching English Creatively (both Routledge).

Teresa is passionate about developing readers for life and leads a professional user-community website based on her research into volitional reading. In 2022, the site is supporting over 100 OU/UKLA Teachers’ Reading Groups and 34 HEI partnerships across the country to develop children’s and teachers’ pleasure in reading. @TeresaCremin

Teresa Cremin: Poetry Possibilities This Summer

Poetry possibilities this summer

How recently, I wonder, did a colleague recommend a poetry book to you or read you an extract from a poem?

Maybe as you’re a reader of this blog, you’re positively inclined towards poetry, associate with other enthusiasts, and do receive such recommendations. Nonetheless, I suspect you know friends and teachers who are not so well versed in the living language of poetry.

Certainly, over the last year, working with teachers from 40 schools (from Birmingham, Sheffield, Rotherham and Derby), it’s been noticeable that in audits of professional knowledge of children’s texts, poets and poetry remain the poor relation. The forgotten uncle. This reminded me of the Teachers as Readers survey (Cremin et al., 2009) in which we found 22% of 1,200 teachers from across England were unable to name a single poet – dead or alive!

It appears primary teachers’ professional knowledge of poets continues to be dominated by a few well-known writers such Michael Rosen, Benjamin Zephaniah, William Blake and W H Auden. But as we all know, myriad other talented poets are writing for children today; their work also deserves to be read, heard, discussed, dramatised and delighted in.

We could spend time debating why and how this sad situation seems to persist, (and there are stunning exceptions), but surely far more important is to find ways forward. So, in this last blog of the school year, I’m offering a few possibilities, and inviting you to select one that will not only enrich your own knowledge, pleasure and understanding of poetry, but critically that of others.

~ Join the Teachers’ Reading Challenge run by the Reading Agency and The Open University and set yourself a target of reading 6 poetry books. Sharing your Certificate and the poetry read.

~ Devour a Poet each week, read their work, check out their website and share their unique voice with others.

~ Re-voice Poems in person or virtually to at least 4 friends or family.

~ Create a Poetry Scrapbook to share, with poems, collages, and illustrations to evoke their meanings.

~ Initiate Poetry Book Swaps, triggering discussion with other readers, at home or at work.

~ Make a Poetry Poster of poems or poets whose work you want to highlight with next year’s class or the staff.

~ Co-author a Poem with your own children/family, fostering a more collaborative stance towards composing poetry.

To close I’d like to offer my own recommendations of a pair of engaging new books that involve child poets and help us see the world through their eyes.

My Sneezes are Perfect is a delightful collection in the voice of a small boy, Yusuf Samee, who moved from the Netherlands to America, and makes use of poetry to reflect on his new life. His mother, Rakhshan Rizwan, explains she wrote the poems with the help of six-year-old Yusuf. Benjamin Philipps illustrations too drew me in, their childlike directness is appealing. Do read ‘Beards’…!

Take off Your Brave : Poems Just for You by four-year-old Nadim is a rich treat too. Nadim’s mother Yasmine,  on the advice of Kate Clanchy, wrote down his words and read them back to him, triggering his desire to voice more poems. With simply stunning visuals by Yasmeen Ismail, this enticing collection captures his perspective and made me feel young again!

Do read ‘Scared Sugar’… and enjoy a summer full of poetry possibilities!

Teresa Cremin

Teresa is Professor of Education (Literacy) at the Open University. An advocate of developing teachers’ creative artistry, Teresa researches teachers’ and children’s literate identities and practices. Her most recent book is Children Reading for Pleasure in the Digital Age: Mapping Reader Engagement (with Natalia Kucirkova, 2020)

Teresa is passionate about developing readers for life and leads a professional user-community website informed by her research into reading for pleasure. The site supports over 100 OU/UKLA Teachers’ Reading Groups annually and 34 Initial Teacher Education partnerships across the country,  in order to develop children’s and teachers’ delight in reading. @TeresaCremin