Poetry By Heart Blog

Summer reading for pleasure – get students learning a poem for National Poetry Day

24th June 2021

National Poetry Day will be on Thursday 7th October this year, and now is a great time to set your class the challenge of learning a poem over the holidays ready for the big day. This year’s National Poetry Day theme is Choice, and we’re excited to be working with the team at National Poetry Day to contribute to their special 2021 collection of free, downloadable, primary and secondary teaching and learning resources, launching on the NPD website on 30th June along with free poster packs. Here’s how we’re thinking about the choices Poetry By Heart offers.

Choice is front and centre in the design of Poetry By Heart. Our strapline says it: ‘Choose a poem. Learn it by heart. Read it aloud.’ To help students explore and choose poems, our free online anthologies display hundreds of poems that can be filtered by theme, era and poet gender; searched by title, poet or keyword; and scrolled through across time. There are age-graded timeline anthologies, themed collections of First World War and Romantic poems, all of Shakespeare’s sonnets, and our secret favourite, the Mix-It-Up collection, a place for younger readers to have fun picking poems through playful discoveries and journeys down digital rabbit-holes. There are videos in the Choose a Poem sections of the Learning Zone that show how to explore the collections.

Anyone using the site can choose which anthology they want to browse – and each timeline is a democracy of poets where William Shakespeare has as much prominence in the 14+ anthology as your relatively obscure (but no less fascinating) Mary Leapor, an eighteenth-century working-class poet. The anthologies span a millennium of English-language poetry, meaning that children and young people can choose poems that speak to us across the centuries, like Beowulf, or fast forward through time to poems by contemporary writers like Raymond Antrobus and Zaro Weil.

You can also explore the choices made for the Poetry By Heart national competition. Filter any timeline for poems that have performance videos and watch former finalists bring their chosen poems to life. Or click an age group icon below to go straight to a video performance gallery of finalists in that age group/key stage. What did they choose?

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After the choosing comes the learning – memorising the words as well as working out how best to perform the poem. Pupils can listen to former Poetry By Heart finalists talking about their experience of memorising a poem, getting to know a poem and performing a poem. You have to spend a fair bit of time with a poem to memorise it and prepare a performance – that makes it really important that pupils choose a poem they love, or sparks their imagination, or intrigues them enough to want to get to know it. And they might also choose how to perform their poem – solo, in a pair or small group, or as part of a voice choir conveying the poem in a creative way, or by making a video treatment of the spoken poem.

The final step of the Poetry By Heart-National Poetry Day journey is for pupils to perform their poems! They might choose to practise with classmates in school, with family at home, with friends in the park, or by speaking it to the dog or a mirror. When they’re ready, pupils could choose how to come together to share their poems aloud – a simple moment in class or form time on National Poetry Day? a National Poetry Day assembly? a performance beyond the school gates? could they perform on local radio? Where might they choose to take their poems?

We’d love to share a selection of your favourite student performances in our National Poetry Day performance gallery. Simply capture the performance on video and upload to our secure platform via our Showcase Uploader – login from the homepage and select Showcase Upload. We’ll tweet the performance gallery to the world!

To get started, here’s a link to our Home Learning Challenge instructions that you can share with your class – a perfect Summer reading project, a great way to join in with National Poetry Day, and a starting point for getting students started with Poetry By Heart. The next national champion could be sitting right there in your classroom!

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