English KS1 / KS2: How to write poetry about your life

Poet Joseph Coelho outlines that encouraging and sharing poems that talk about and connect to children’s personal experiences is important on many levels.

He looks at where ideas come from and how noting them down, then drafting, revising, and redrafting can help improve writing ability.

He discusses being inspired by and exploring a real event through poetry: what does the experience evoke and how do we express it.

He investigates how understanding different poetic forms can affect the audience's responses and uses the example of concrete poetry, where the spacing of a poem on the page can be altered to reinforce the themes and meaning of the poem.

Teacher notes

Ideas for the classroom

Before watching:

Explore with the children the things that mean something to them in their own lives, special people, special places, special things and special interests. You should model this by sharing your own examples first. You could carry this out as a shrine box activity where each child is given a shoe-boxed sized box which they can fill with photographs, favourite toys, bits of writing, mementoes etc. that help them talk about the things that matter to them. These then look wonderful as a shared display in the classroom for children to continue to browse and compare similarities and talk about topics and objects of interest.

After watching:

Talk about what they learnt about Joe from the video. Where he comes from, what things have happened to him and how he writes about them. Explore some of the common topics that mean something to the children, family, friends, home, hobbies, toys etc. and give time for the children to draw something that is special to them or a memorable time they have had. When they have the moment or thing concreted in an image, annotate the image with words and phrases to describe it and the emotions that it conjures. Now support them in making these words and phrases into lines that could make up a poem. It helps to explore other poems that could be drawn on as reference for how other poets have done this.

When children have worked up their drafts, allow time for them to publish these using presentation handwriting or using a word processor to allow children to experiment more freely with how they present their poems on the page. Display the finished poems prominently for a wider audience to appreciate. Allow space for children to perform poems if they wish, these could be videoed and added to the display via a laptop or tablet in the display area.

Further reading for Key Stage 1

Here’s a Little Poem (anthology), edited by Jane Yolen and Andrew Fusek Peters

Further reading for Key Stage 2 (ages 7-9)

Werewolf Club Rules by Joseph Coelho; Moon Juice by Kate Wakeling; Dancing in the Rain by John Lyons

Further reading for Key Stage 2 (ages 9-11)

Michael Rosen’s Big Book of Bad Things by Michael Rosen; Cosmic Disco by Grace Nichols; Talking Turkeys by Benjamin Zephaniah

Curriculum Notes

This short film will be relevant for teaching English at primary school.

More from Understanding Poetry with Joseph Coelho:

How to perform poetry
How to express yourself with poetry
How to have fun writing poetry
Playing with words
How to interpret poetry
Do poems need to rhyme?
Poetry formats
Making pictures with words
How are music and poetry connected?