Spotlight On: The Heart of Poetry

15 March 2024


This article first appeared in the Queenwood Connect Portal on Friday 15 March 2024.

A quick peek inside your daughter’s school bag should unearth her current Just Read book, and I hope that you may now also find an anthology of verse, or even a poem on a piece of paper.  

There is a paucity of poetry in many children’s lives. At Queenwood, we’re bucking the trend. The Junior School girls are currently preparing for the 2024 Poetry Recitation Competition. Our intention with this experience is to ignite a lifelong passion and appreciation for the richness and variety in poetry; and to acknowledge that rhythmical composition is a vital part in the girls’ reading diet, where fiction and facts are not enough.  

This is an ideal focus at Queenwood, where we’re committed to providing our girls with a distinctive liberal education which instils rigorous thinking, a love of learning for learning’s sake and develops the practice of meeting new ideas with fascination and wonder. We’re exploring the heart of poetry.  

Why should we teach poetry?  The list of reasons is long, but here are a few: 

  1. Poetry helps with language development – we use language to teach language – by sharing poetry with the girls, we model the spoken word. This includes how we choose vocabulary and form words with our mouth, sentence structure, and literary devices 

  1. Reading skills – through poetry, which is often concise and can contain simple repetition of sounds, we listen to the sounds we hear in words (phonemes) and develop proficiency in spelling choices (graphemes) for those sounds. Poems also teach how to read – volume, pitch, inflection, patterns, pronunciation. Studies show the benefits of poetry reading in motivating children to read for pleasure.  

  1. Choosing words for effect – poetry promotes the careful crafting of distilled language in its purest form with precise choice of words conveying meaning and effect. Poetry is an ideal place for learning technical terms such as simile, metaphor, onomatopoeia, alliteration, personification and figurative language. These all contribute to imagery and can have a strong effect on an audience using carefully selected words, language and grammar. Poetry paints pictures with words. Exploring poetry therefore also supports the development of writing skills. 

  1. Broadening knowledge and understanding – poetry promotes background (sticky) knowledge. A key rationale of the new English syllabus is that students should be given the opportunity to engage with a broad range of quality literature including the rich voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, and voices from across the world. These texts communicate in distinctive ways and are shaped by lived experiences, knowledge, cultures and connections. By exploring historic, classic and contemporary texts, students broaden their experiences and become empowered to express their identities, personal values and ethics. Through exposure to a broad range of quality texts, (including poetry) we’re intentionally building our girls’ background knowledge

  1. The art of speaking aloud – we unite the written and spoken language when reciting poetry. Students are given the opportunity to speak clearly, audibly, and fluently, engage an audience, and bring the language of poets alive. 

  1. Enhancing memory – students are seldom asked to memorise anymore. This is an important skill. Remembering ‘by heart’ increases the function of memory-related brain structures, promoting brain development and change.  

  1. Poetry is fun! In preparing for the poetry recitation competition, the girls and teachers are enthusiastically investigating poetry. Conversations have centered on teachers’ favourite childhood poems and poets. We’ve introduced the girls to silly, creative, imaginative and classic poems. Poetry is soothing and a tonic for wellbeing as well as fostering empathy – read a few poems by Spike Milligan, Roald Dahl, AA Milne, Hilaire Belloc, or RL Stevenson, and you’ll feel happier, engaged, connected and amused. We’ve advised the girls to find and memorise poems which appeal and resonate with their interests.  

Poetry is captivating our hearts at the Junior School as encapsulated by Year Five girls: Poetry is carefully chosen words and it flows when you read it. It can be deep and stir the emotions or it can be happy and humorous – a piece of the writer’s thoughts (Gisele); Poetry is an artistic way to explain something through carefully placed words in a meaningful text (Elizabeth); Poetry is the window to expressing yourself (Elsie).  

I invite you to encourage and join your daughter as she develops a deep appreciation - and hopefully a lifelong interest - in poetry.