Primary (5-11): Pyroclastic Poetry! Three Explosive Poetry Activities by Justin Coe (Part One)

One of the wonderful teachers we work with asked us if we had any resources on geography and poetry. So we asked Justin Coe to do some digging… And now we’d love to share his volcanic poetry activities for KS1-2 – enjoy! (And watch out for that pyroclastic flow…)

Have you heard of Mount Vesuvius in Italy (see above)?

Picture the scene nearly 2,000 years ago: it’s AD 79, and it has been 700 years since Vesuvius had erupted – so long that people living in the nearby city Pompeii think Mount Vesuvius is just a mountain. So in AD 79, when the ground starts shaking and smoke begins pouring out of the top of Vesuvius, everyone is totally shocked. The huge eruption of Vesuvius buries the entire city.

We know this because people living at the time wrote about it. But for 1,500 years, Pompeii was assumed to be destroyed, and gone forever – until an architect discovered part of the city while digging. It took 150 more years for people to realise what they’d found. Under the earth, excavators discovered whole buildings, paintings, and even people frozen in time when the pyroclastic flow hit and preserved them. This excavation marked the beginning of the modern science of archaeology, and today people can visit Pompeii and see what life in AD 79 was like.

Justin Coe has written a poem about Mount Vesuvius below. We hope his poem and his activities below inspire you to write your own volcanic poems!


by Justin Coe

Three Poetry Writing Exercises

Volcano Shape Poems

Warm Up: Draw the outline of a volcano on a sheet of paper or print one out. Inside the shape, list all the words you think of to do with volcanoes as quickly as possible. Once you have filled the space you have completed your poem!

Development: Read over your poem. Are there any words you want to add, leave out, or repeat? Is there anything you want to write outside the volcano shape, in the clouds or in the lava? Can you develop it into a piece of art? Look at this colourful work by artist Andy Warhol for inspiration.

Extension: Can you turn your volcanic ideas into full lines for a poem? You could take on the persona of the Volcano itself and start with “I am a Volcano” (this is an example of personification). Or you could tell a story of an imagined or a real eruption, like I did in my poem Vesuvius. Remember: poems don’t have to rhyme. Bonus points if you can fit this finished poem into a volcano shape too!

Pyroclastic Poetry!

Warm-up: Set a timer for 4 minutes. Just like a pyroclastic flow, you’re going to do a rapid ‘free-write’ on the theme of volcanoes. Put your pen on the paper and keep writing, without pause (no pondering or daydreaming!) until your time is up. Don’t worry about spelling, grammar or sense – let your creativity erupt! Before you begin, give yourself a volcanic line you can repeat any time you can’t think of what to write. This might be something as simple as ‘I am a Volcano’, or a line from a poem such as ‘I have never seen Volcanoes’ (Emily Dickinson). This will become a refrain (like a chorus). If you find speedy writing or typing impossible, you could scribble your thoughts down in small drawings – just don’t pause to think.

Development: Read back through your writing and underline anything you find interesting. (If you only have pictures, can you now describe these in a few words?) Lots of it won’t make sense, and that’s great! Poetry is often about describing usual things in unusual ways, so underline any phrases that surprise you. Once you’ve got your lines, it’s time to edit them into a poem! You could write a bit more, inspired by one of your phrases. You could add in your refrain. How long will your lines be? Will you put your poem into verses, or have it as one big chunk? Get creative!

Extension: Link up with some friends or classmates to create a group poem. Everyone should choose their favourite line about volcanoes and write them up. Arrange these lines into a group poem, perhaps adding one refrain or chorus line to help bring the lines together. You can ask an adult or teacher to help give a fresh perspective when putting the lines in order.

Volcano kennings

Kennings are an ancient form of Viking and Anglo-Saxon poetry. Each line of the poem describes the poem’s subject in an unusual way, usually using two words and avoiding calling the subject by its regular name. The poem tends to be a list of these unusual two-word descriptions. Often – but not always – one of the two words is a noun and the other is a verb. Here’s an example…


by John Foster (from The Poetry Chest, Oxford University Press, 2007)


Fiery fountain
Molten mountain


Warm-up: Remind yourself what a noun and a verb is. Write one list of nouns and another list of verbs that relate to volcanoes.

Development: Look at your lists. What verbs can you add to your nouns and what nouns can you add to your verbs to make an unusual kenning lines? For instance, if you have fire as a noun, you might want to add breather so you have ‘fire-breather’, or if you had scorch as a verb you might add grass as a noun so you have ‘grass-scorcher’. The more unusual the better!

Extension: Poems don’t have to rhyme but it’s sometimes pleasing if they do. Perhaps you have accidentally created two lines that do rhyme if you put them together. They could help you think of a rhyming scheme. John Foster’s poem rhymes ABCB – which means two lines in every four rhyme. The lines you have already written might help inspire more rhymes. For instance, to go with my fire-breather, I might think of the word “weaver”, perhaps a “lava-weaver!” If I add one more non-rhyming kenning-line, say “top-blower”, I now have:


Have fun making up your rhyming poem but remember your rhyming lines must also work as descriptions of volcanoes. If they are only there because they rhyme, don’t include them – keep thinking!  

Good luck!

Justin Coe

Looking for even more volcanic writing activities? Find extension activities here…