Appleton Academy pioneers innovative approach to teaching poetry

27 Nov 2015

A teacher at Appleton Academy in Bradford has collaborated with the National Literacy Trust Hub in Bradford to develop an innovative new resource which is now available as a national model of excellence for teaching poetry to Key Stage 3 pupils.

The creation of Great Poetry through Time: Chaucer to 21st Century Poets began when English teacher, Mehwash Kauser was inspired by workshops delivered in schools by National Literacy Trust Hub Manager in Bradford, Imran Hafeez. Through rap and lyrical performances of his own work, Imran encourages reluctant readers and writers to engage with poetry by demonstrating how it can be used as a vehicle for exploring contemporary issues and pupils’ self-identity. By blending classics such as Chaucer’s ‘The Wife of Bath’ with more contemporary poetry, Imran’s approach resulted in enthused students who were keen to write their own pieces using his style as a stimulus.

Mehwash Kauser adopted Imran’s approach of making poetry more relevant to pupils’ interests by comparing Shakespeare and Chaucer to rap lyrics, including those from artist Tupac Amaru Shakur. Through creating opportunities to read a rich range of poetry from the past and present and encouraging recitals, Mehwash found she was able to increase her pupils’ comprehension of poetry by showing that the ideals behind the works of traditional poets continue to live on in the lyrics of some of the music they listen to.

After seeing her students’ confidence grow, Mehwash went on to develop the work under the guidance of the National Literacy Trust and Teaching and Learning Consultant, Sophie Holdforth which is now available to members of the National Literacy Trust Network. The resource encourages students to ask questions about a poem; make inferences and summarise and synthesise their points. Pupils are then invited to write their own poems on a theme or issue of their choice.  The project culminates in a celebratory ‘poetry by heart’ performance where students recite their favourite sonnet in front of their class.

Mehwash Kauser said:
“This whole experience so far has been a little surreal for an English teacher in a small Academy on the outskirts of Bradford and I’ve really enjoyed working with the National Literacy Trust and Sophie Holdforth to create a toolkit which schools can celebrate poetry with. I hope it will be valuable to other teachers nationwide in bridging the gap between the popular musicians their pupils are familiar with and the works of Shakespeare and Chaucer who were also once voices of their generation.

I’ve learnt that by exploring the techniques traditional poets used to comment on their world alongside the work of the artists they love, pupils can then relate to these once-intimidating literary giants and feel encouraged to step out of their comfort zone, seek out more poetry, both old and new, which speaks to them and have the confidence to create and perform their own inspiring work.”

Manager of the National Literacy Trust Hub in Bradford, Imran Hafeez said:

“Poetry is a powerful vehicle for communicating ideas, so it’s great that this brilliant school in Bradford has taken a fresh approach to teaching poetry which we can share nationally - an achievement which underpins the objectives of our Hub’s work with schools in sharing best practice and also in cultivating a culture of reading and creative writing in the district.

“This National Literacy Trust Network resource really brings the sometimes daunting world of poetry to life for pupils, giving them the opportunity to perform so they can feel the art form’s rhyme and rhythm, visualise the images and experience the exhilarating buzz you get from getting up in front of and moving an audience.”

An overview of the resource with lessons 1-3 is available for free on the Times Educational Supplement’s website here.

National Literacy Trust Network members can access the full resource here. Our National Literacy Trust Network supports professionals who work in or with schools to raise literacy attainment through: 

  • Practical resources for the classroom and library
  • Exciting CPD opportunities
  • A forum to learn from others