Teachers: What to do with your students’ poems

As we write this, most of the UK has been mostly indoors for four weeks.

We have been so impressed by the stories of teachers, parents and students adapting rapidly to teaching and learning at home, and hope that you’ve found our poetry resources useful for you at this time. We’re already seeing young people’s poems in response to the pandemic as entries to our competitions and challenges, and they’re astonishing – completely moving and heartening. Many teachers are running class- and school- poetry writing activities at the moment, and we have had lots of requests for us to partner up on your various local and national projects. As we’re a small staff currently working from home, we’re sorry that we just don’t have the capacity to get involved fully with your projects. We would love to see your students’ work though. If you’d like to send their poems our way, you can channel them through our existing competitions and challenges – but we’ve also thought of a few ways you can celebrate their work in school or your existing groups , once we’re all back to some form of normality.

We realise that these times are unprecedentedly peculiar and stressful, and that there are some students and teachers who will cope best by addressing the situation publicly and communally, and others who might like to reflect more individually in their own time. Hopefully, there are options here for both approaches: ones that you can use and adapt for the age and stage of your students in the context of your knowledge about how to prioritise their wellbeing.

Stage a poetry reading or performance event for an audience. You could run it Slam-style with lots of energy and competition – some ideas here . Or you could have an open mic, where everyone volunteers to read one poem. Some good ideas for younger students here. Or you could make it a more formal, concert-style event. Keep what an audience is looking at or listening to various: maybe you’d like some individual readers, some choral readers, some readings with music, some done Love Actually style! Vary the tone – some students will have written poems about being afraid, some about being hopeful – consider the emotions of both performers and audience.

Mount an exhibition of poems – in school, or see if you can borrow a wall in a local library or community centre. Mix up poems with artwork, illustrations and photographs. Hold a private view of the exhibition – who will you get to cut the ribbon and declare the exhibition open?

Make an anthology of poems – one large scrapbook that is something the whole class or school to share, or something with multiple copies so all students can own one. Depending on budgets, this could be ‘zine style – some ideas here, or something more professionally typeset and printed using a service such as this.

Make history – how will you capture the experience of the pandemic and the effect it had on your school and community? What interviews can you record with each other? What will you want to pass on to your school’s future students?

• If 11-17 year olds (either individually or in class sets) would like to enter their work to the 2020 Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award, the competition is free and open till 31 July 2020. Poets up to the age of 25 might respond to any of our writing challenges on the Young Poets Network. Some are competitive, and some are just for fun.

• If you would like to share your own ideas, drop us a line at [email protected] and we’ll add them (crediting you, of course) to this list.

Please pass on The Poetry Society’s warmest wishes to your students, and let them know that poets around the world are reading, writing and sharing poems to help them make sense of this frightening time, and to help them connect to their friends and families.