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/


Brian Moses: Stretching Similes

Stretching Similes

Many of the similes used in everyday speech have been used again and again, so there is no element of surprise:

When he saw the ghost he turned as white as a sheet.

I looked into the cupboard but it was as black as ink.

Whether we are writers, teachers of writing, or both, our job must be to develop the element of surprise wherever we can. James Joyce in The Dubliners writes of ‘…a goods train winding out of Kingsbridge, like a worm with a fiery head winding through the darkness…’

In my sessions with young writers I often ask them to take a well known simile and stretch it till it says something new. As slow as a snail could become as slow as a snail pushing a brick. Make a giraffe even taller by stretching as tall as a giraffe to as tall as a giraffe on stilts.

Other comparisons might be:

As weird as a dandelion clock saying ‘tick-tock’.

As slow as a farmer pushing his tractor up a steep hill.

As fast as a cheetah on roller skates.

As unhappy as a shoe being worn by a smelly foot.

Something Hiding Beneath My Bed – Poems of Childhood Candy Jar Books

I often ask young writers to develop these ideas into a poem which builds on one stretched simile after another. I ask them to choose an animal and turn it into a super creature. Some alliteration can be effective here – my crazy crocodile, my magnificent maggot, my fantastic flamingo.

I always start with a class poem which will act as a model for anyone wishing to follow it, but also emphasise that anyone wishing to adapt the model and take off in another direction should feel free to do so.

Think of a first line, perhaps to do with the creature’s size.

My terrifying tortoise is as heavy as a hippo lifting weights

and as long as the Channel Tunnel.

Then think of its strength and speed:

It is as strong as a weightlifter holding aloft the Eiffel Tower

and as fast as Usain Bolt with rocket boosters.

How noisy is it?

It is as noisy as a howler monkey screeching into a microphone.

We then carry on adding to the poem by thinking about what the creature eats and drinks or how much it eats and drinks. Does it have any special features – claws, wings, a tail? Is it fierce or friendly? Does it need protection or does it protect you?

My Huge Hamster

My huge hamster is as big as an elephant with a pork belly

and as strong as a shark using its tail to lift up the Houses of Parliament.

Its as tall as a twelve storey building on tiptoe

and as heavy as a brick-eating bull.

It is as fierce as a snake when it is bored

and as fast as a cheetah riding a motorbike.

It is as noisy as a lion in a rock band

and as greedy as a panda thats been starved for days.

It is as funky as a chimpanzee in a disco

and is mine, mine, mine.


In his book Moon-Whales, Ted Hughes has poems that can provide models and inspiration for further imagination-stretching pieces about space creatures. The Snail of the Moon has a wail ‘…as though something had punctured him. Moon-Heads are ‘shining like lamps and light as balloons’ and Moon-Witches are ‘…looking exactly like cockroaches’.

Again find alliterative titles – The Jaguars of Jupiter, the Slithering Snakes of Saturn, the Voles of Venus. This time as well as describing these creatures in colourful language, think of how they interact with others. Do the Monkeys of Mercury visit the Pythons of Pluto or fight with the Newts of Neptune.

Alternatively, come back to Earth again and find nasty creatures in the local environment – the Ogre of Oswestry, the Terrifying Troll of Tring or the Dreadful Dragon of Dorchester…

The Dreadful Dragon of Dorchester

Was as plump as and old oak and tall as a willow.

His footstep was an earthquake,

a mountain was his pillow.

Brian Moses

Brian Moses has been a professional children’s poet since 1988. To date he has over 220 books published including volumes of his own poetry such as Lost Magic and I Thought I Heard a Tree Sneeze anthologies such as The Secret Lives of Teachers and the recently published The Best Ever Book of Funny Poems and picture books such as Walking With My Iguana and Dreamer. Over 1 million copies of Brian’s poetry books have now been sold.