Poetry and story writing at Hunnyhill Primary School

“The children thoroughly enjoyed the story and the fact it was read aloud by the author was really engaging. They had a lovely time and afterwards wrote their own nature-inspired poems.”

Kim Arnell, Year 1 teacher, Hunnyhill Primary School

In May I visited Hunnyhill Primary School in Newport, Isle of Wight, to read from our woodland adventure Jack and Boo’s Wild Wood to a year 1 class and then we did some very early poetry. I tried to keep it really simple. I provided a nice sheet with some lines and surrounded the page with illustrations drawn by my wife, Eleanor Bell, (who illustrates our Jack and Boo books) and I asked the children to choose an image that excited them and to then write a sentence about it – whatever came into their heads. We talked about describing things in a new way, as if they had seen it for the first time.

They were obviously very young and some were struggling over spelling (I still am) but I said that didn’t matter for now. Some chose to write whole stories about woodland trolls others wrote single sentences about blackberries and some just wrote out all the names of the things on the sheet. All were unified in wanting to colour in the drawings on the sheets I’d given them! Children love colouring and it helps with their handwriting. After the session I went around and read some of their work or listened to them read to me. A great start on the poetry road.

I then went into a year 2 class and read from the book and we talked about local woods and signs of spring. The teachers commented that it’s great for the children to see a writer (especially a male) reading to them as many need male role models working in this area.

I then asked the children to fold and cut little paper books and write a Jack and Boo style diary-esq story based on any times they had been out into nature. I’ve noticed when I do these sesssions some children want to be more fantastical or write about familiar favourite characters from films, books or favourite TV characters. That’s fine – whatever inspires them I say.

Some children find it difficult to think of anything to write ( I have that problem – it never goes away!). I find it a bit sad when children cannot think of fun simple things they’ve done with their parents or carers to inspire them. I wonder how many are taken out to beaches and woods? When this happens I suggest something simple about a pet they like or a party or event they have enjoyed. I try to keep it simple and work my way around the class ensuring all the children feel engaged.

I’ve observed from previous school sessions, some children prefer to make their book like a comic, with speech bubbles, or just fully illustrate it like an early picture book – again there are no rules or ways to do it because every child is different. I also have the advantage of not having to stick rigidly to the National Curriculum or feel I have to deliver a “lesson” as the teacher can obviously cover that. I think it’s important for children to see there are many ways to skin a cat.

The story session seemed to make an impact as the children all surrounded me at the end waving their illustrated story books, all eager to read them out.

Another great session. Thanks to Hunnyhill for having Beachy Books in Residence.