Reading Aloud: The Poet-Tree Project

This project was inspired by the Teachers as Readers (TaRs) research and through my role as the leader of an Open University/UKLA TaRs Book Group (you can find out more about that here). Our book group is based in Blackheath and meets approximately once per half term. We share and discuss children’s literature and explore evidence-based Reading for Pleasure (RfP) research, which in turn, informs our own classroom practice.

The OU’s Research Rich Pedagogies website has provided both the foundation and inspiration for our projects. If you have not seen or heard of this website, I implore you to click on the link as it really is a treasure trove of useful ideas, practical classroom strategies and practice from a range of schools across the country, all steeped in evidence and research. As part of this ongoing CPD, each member of the book group has been working on their own RfP project, aimed at developing Reading for Pleasure in their school setting. At the end of the project, we then write up a short ‘Evidence of Practice’ and upload it to the site, as well as sharing it with the group and celebrating the impact on our children!

You can find a few of my previous uploads to the OU website below. All of these examples of classroom practice have the ultimate aim of promoting Reading for Pleasure in the classroom and there are many, MANY more examples from other teachers around the globe on the site!

As the end of the school year is drawing near, the final session of the book group is here. So, finally, I have written up my evidence of practice for my ‘Poet-Tree’ project to share with the group – and with you…

Reading Aloud: The Poet-Tree Project

Aims

  1. To expand our class knowledge of poets and poetry by sharing a poem a day.
  2. To make space and time for Reading for Pleasure and the building of reciprocal reading communities in my classroom, balanced alongside reading instruction
  3. To extend reading relationships to the wider community by eventually sharing these poems with parents and the wider school community.

Outline

A Poem a Day:

Initially, I wanted to build up the class repertoire of ‘poems in 8common’ and build their enjoyment of poetry in school. I thought that perhaps the reading aloud of short, snappy poems might make an enjoyable alternative to the class novel, hoping that the energy and enthusiasm of celebrating poetry might be entertaining for the audience, as well as the reader. Reading poetry aloud also meant that it would only take a few minutes per day, so I knew it wouldn’t eat into our timetable too much (often a worry for teachers facing challenging time and curriculum pressures).

I set about creating a poetry display on the class bookshelf and also began reading aloud one poem every day from the book ‘A Poem for Every Day of the Year’. I did this for a few minutes each day (straight after lunch) so as not to disturb or replace our end-of-the-day story time. The children really engaged with it and were happy to participate in a brief class discussion about each poem after listening to it read aloud. It raised them to the level of the poetry and also gave an invaluable opportunity for them to see poetry performed – considering tone, pace, expression, eye contact etc. It was an opportunity for me to model to them how to do it well.

I noticed that one or two of the children started coming into school the next week with a copy of the poetry book I’d been reading, although some had purchased ‘A Poem for Every Night of the Year’. I also noticed that the poetry books in the book corner were also being chosen for cosy reading or reading for pleasure time and I could see children sharing the poetry books and giggling away (Michael Rosen’s poetry was a particular favourite!).

I wanted to take this new routine one step further and give more choice to the children because I had read through the TARs research that this could improve enjoyment and engagement of Reading Aloud further still. I began by asking children to choose a favourite poem to read aloud to the class, or asked for volunteers to read the poem of the day from the existing book that we were using. It wasn’t mandatory to do this, but optional. This was an important factor. However, lots of the children were keen and it wasn’t long before I was inundated with requests!

Daily ‘Poet-Tree’ readings:

The next step was to create something physical in the room where we could store and celebrate our poetry. I dug out our white twig tree from the loft (Christmas!) and introduced it to the children as our special ‘Poet-Tree’. I explained that any poems, once they had been read aloud, could be added to the tree for others to enjoy. There were only three simple rules:

1) You had to practice reading aloud your poem before you performed it.
2) You had to share why you chose the poem and what it meant to you.
3) You had to write it out onto a leaf (in your neatest handwriting!) for others to enjoy.

I’m not going to lie, I’m pretty sure some of the children were put off my rule #3. However, I enticed the class by allowing the children the great privilege of assisting with the laminating of their poet-tree leaves (this is a big deal in Year 5!). The final cherry-on-top was that children could choose from an array of coloured ribbons (donated by my aunt) to enable them to tie it to the tree. This seemed to win them over and they were excited to participate.

Making it part of the daily routine:

This was a new, child-led initiative, but the routine after lunch was already in place. We kick-started the project by papering poetry around the room one afternoon so that the children had the opportunity to walk around, read the poems and choose one that they would like to perform and publish for the tree. This enabled all children to get involved with the project straight away.

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If we felt that the momentum was flagging throughout the term, we injected fresh enthusiasm with a new array of poetry papered on the walls – or by refreshing the poetry display in the book corner. This seemed to work well for my class.

We also put up a sign up sheet in the book corner and, due to popular demand, increased the readings to two poems per day. We also printed lined-leaf templates for the children to write on (which we kept in a plastic wallet on the reading wall for easy access) and we also kept the dedicated poetry display in the book corner so children could easily access more poetry.

We later shared the Poet-Tree with the wider school community by placing it in communal areas for all to enjoy!

Impact

  • It only took 3 days of the teacher reading from ‘A Poem for Every Day of the Year’ before the children began to volunteer to read aloud themselves.
  • Children signed up to read aloud poetry and the weekly list, which was mostly full.
  • When new leaves were added to the tree, children would gather around it to read.
  • Children began to choose poetry books from the new display to read during Cosy Reading time (free choice reading).
  • The children were visibly excited when the tree appeared in the classroom and couldn’t wait to contribute to it! They enjoyed choosing their own poems to perform.
  • Performances improved over time as children were able to see the teacher and their peers model reading aloud with expression, pace and tone.
  • Children began to opt for poetry books from the library (in particular boys). When asked, they indicated they had never chosen poetry books from the library before.
  • Three children asked their parents to buy them poetry books to read at home.
  • Children’s discussions and reflections about poetry became more in-depth, moving away from ‘I liked it because it rhymed’ to ‘I like the way the author described the bird, it reminded me of Autumn in the park.’ Poetry talk became more sophisticated.
  • Parents enjoyed reading the poetry during pick-ups with many staying later to read.
  • When the poet-tree was placed inside the school atrium on display, many children could be spotted stopping to read a poem or sharing a poetry leaf with a friend.
  • Children began to make more connections between poetry during literacy lessons.
  • Children often write poetry in their Writing for Pleasure books (free choice)
  • Reading a poem or two each day after lunch became a great way to settle the children down and engage them straight after lunch. It really set the tone for the afternoon’s learning.

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Reflections on impact the TaRs research has had on practice
The TaRs research really made me consider who had ownership over what was read aloud and who did the actual reading. Handing over that choice to the children had an immediate impact, as they felt empowered. They felt that the Poet-Tree was their thing, not mine.

Having a collection of shared poems ‘in common’ meant that we could all chat about poetry more frequently and more confidently. I would often observe children discussing their likes, dislikes and observations or queries. With a little prompting, they’d delve deeper into language features or vocabulary that they particularly liked. This really helped when we started our poetry unit in literacy as the children were already familiar with discussing poems and finding ‘secret strings’ (watch Michael Rosen’s YouTube Video on this).

Finally, having the physical poet-tree in the classroom and the sign up sheet (managed by the children) was a constant reminder to dedicate a few minutes each day to reading aloud poetry. It also meant we always had the poems on the leaves to refer back to – or read over and over again!

Like what you’ve seen?
Download the Poet-Tree templates to re-create this project in your own classroom:

  • The Poet-Tree leaf template
  • The Poet-Tree sign up sheet

If you do decide to implement this in your own school, I’d love to hear from you! Please feel free to ask questions or leave a comment below…

Happy Reading!

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