Keeping Creative at Home: Five easy ways into poetry

14 April 2020

Alice Watson & Helen Bowell from The Poetry Society share tips for getting young people into reading and writing poetry

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Whether you're a teacher, a parent, or both, we hope our Keeping Creative at Home blog series will help you and your children through this tricky period of adjustment.

We're aware there's currently a lot of pressure on parents in particular around home education. So, first and foremost, all of the activities in this series are designed to be fun, creative experiences for your children (and hopefully for you too!) – but there is also potential for learning in all of them.

These activities are suitable for a range of ages and can easily be adapted by teachers to suit the needs of their students.

Many of us aren’t able to be creative in our normal ways at the moment. We can’t go to choir rehearsal, or the theatre, or a museum… but we can all still read, watch and write poetry. And now, more than ever, we find ourselves turning to poems for comfort, and to express our thoughts and feelings in a creative way.

Vitally, poetry can also support wellbeing. When The Poetry Society asked young people whether they’d like to have dedicated time to write creatively at school in 2018, 95% said, “yes please!”, and over half of those young people said having time to write would have a positive impact on their mental health.

Here are some easy ways into reading and writing poetry from across The Poetry Society’s materials.

1. Does this smell like a good poem?

Sometimes the hardest thing about writing is knowing where to start, so why not try using smells for some inspiration!

The first step is to create your own smelling pots – so grab a few empty jars and head to the kitchen or garden. Pop anything that smells into a jar – fresh-cut grass, spices, sweets, herbs, onions, garlic, ginger, orange, cheese… get creative!

Next, smell one of the jars. Adults can cover the sides up and ask the young person to guess what it is. Do they like the smell? Does it remind them of a particular memory, place or occasion?

Thinking about what these smells mean to you, use the smells to create similes or metaphors. For example, I felt as happy as cut grass on a spring day.

Want to go further? Try one of these:

2. Overcoming page fright

If you want to write poetry, you’ve got to read it. But lots of us find it hard to connect with poems written hundreds of years ago. Have a go at writing a poem or spoken word piece that looks at how part of your life is influenced by another culture.

First, watch Hollie McNish read Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s famous poem ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’, and her own poem in response ‘British National Breakfast'.

Watch here

Next, make a list of all the things that influence you, from foods or objects to songs and people. Are there words or phrases from other languages that you use all the time?

Thinking about how each of these things compares with a stereotypically “British” equivalent, list as many comparisons as you can. How do they compare? How do each of these things make you feel?

Use these ideas to turn these two lists into a poem describing an event where two cultures collide.

Want to go Further? Try this:

Page Fright

3. Writing about your family or friends

Read the poem ‘New Baby’ by Jackie Kay in our ‘My Family & Other Pests’ resource by poet David Harmer.

Read here

Can you write a poem about your own family or friends? Start off by writing down the names of four people, either relatives or friends. Now, think of a word or phrase to describe each character, for example: noisy, loud, loving, funny, ticklish…

Then try to expand on the characters and characteristics they’ve chosen and complete some verses that echo Jackie Kay’s poem. You can use the frame below to help:

My dad is...

He always...

He is like a...

My mum is...

She sounds like...

Yesterday she...

My best friend is really...

She says...

Sometimes I wish...

My grandad...

I wish he...

Tomorrow I am going to...

Want to go further? Try this:

Poetry Train

4. Complete a writing challenge

Young Poets Network is The Poetry Society’s global online platform for writers aged up to 25. All year, we publish features about poetry, as well as writing challenges and opportunities from other organisations.

For this time of lockdown, we’ve gathered together our top 10 writing challenges from across the Young Poet’s Network’s nine-year history. The list includes some of our most popular challenges, as well as what we think are the easiest ways to generate poems in a stressful situation.

Each challenge asks you to write about a particular theme, or in a particular form or style, with plenty of examples and ways into the topic. They’re initially released as competitions and we publish the winning responses and send prizes all over the world. But even after they close, they function as free online writing workshops for you to adapt in any way you like. And once they’re closed for entries, you can also read the winning poems for even more inspiration!

Our tip – pick a poetic form or writing constraint, like writing a poem using only one vowel. That’ll help you find new perspectives and creative ways to talk about the everyday.

Want to go further? Try this:

Young Poets Network

5. Reading 'unseen' poems

Do you ever find it difficult to ‘get’ a poem the first time you read it? Now is the perfect time to read some new ‘unseen’ poems and practice analysing them yourself.

Former Foyle Young Poet and current Birmingham Poet Laureate, Richard O’Brien, has a great toolkit to get under the skin of a poem on first reading. In this article, Richard looks at Foyle Young Poet’s winning poem, ‘Daughters’ by Phoebe Stuckes. To ‘engage with the poem on its own terms, and see what follows’, Richard thinks carefully about first and last words, repetition, themes, metaphors and more.

Read it for yourself. What do you notice?

Read here

Want to go further? Try one of these:

Issuu anthologies

Foyle Young Poets pages

Looking for further inspiration?

You can find plenty more free online teaching resources on Poetryclass, and prompts, workshops and competitions on Young Poets Network.

At the Poetry Society, education is at the heart of what we do – from sharing free poetry lesson plans with teachers worldwide, to running prestigious free writing competitions; from placing poets in schools, to recognising teachers for their excellence in poetry education.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be creating even more online resources for distance learning. If you’d like to make any requests, need help finding a resource, or just want to say hello, get in touch at

Happy reading and writing!

Education Officer Alice Watson and Education Co-ordinator Helen Bowell deliver projects with schools and young people at The Poetry Society, a National Portfolio Organisation based in Covent Garden, London.

Find out more about the Poetry Society

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