Using the CLiPPA-shortlisted poetry books in the classroom

Published on: 01 July 2024

Poet and CLiPPA judge Laura Mucha suggests ways to inspire children to read and write poetry. 


Judging the CLiPPA was a highly emotional experience.  

It’s INCREDIBLY difficult to choose between poets, translators and anthologists who pour their hard work, skill, time,emotion and energy into glorious poetry books for children 

I and the other judges spent months reading followed by almost five hours debating before we finally agreed on a shortlist. And it’s a corker!  

Reception / Key Stage 1 (KS1)

Kate Wakeling’s collection A Dinosaur At The Bus Stop is packed with poems to inspire younger children. One of my favourites is The Names I Give My Toes.  

Illustration by Eilidh MudoonIllustration by Eilidh Mudoon

Read it to students before giving them a piece of paper with an outline of two feet on. Ask them to draw faces on each toe and create ten little characters. Then give them each a name. If they can, ask them to write a name next to each toeEt voila, they’ve written their very own terrific topoemWill they ever look at their toes in the same way again?! Will you?! 

For older / more able children, ask them to write a list of toe names on different strips of paper, then move those strips around so that they can decide which order they feel best in. Try putting the longest / funniest toe name last to end with a BANG!  

My Heart is a Poem is packed with luxurious full colour illustrations (which I’d love to see more of in children’s poetry) 

Thanks to its large, visual format, this anthology is a joy to read aloud to younger students. Try ending story time by reading a poem a day from it.  

It’s also great for opening up conversations about feelings. Argument by Joseph Coelho describes an argument by (mostly) focusing on sounds. Year 2/3 students could use this as inspiration to write their own poems by focusing onwhat arguments sound like. Children experience stratospheric spikes of the stress hormone, cortisol, during family arguments, so this is an important topic to explore in the classroom.  

But keep your students’ personal experiences in mind. For some children, poetry will be a safe space to explore difficult things like thisBut others may need to explore an argument from a known story, TV programme or film, as this may help them to make sense of their own experiences in a more indirect way. 

Students could also be encouraged to choose their favourite poem from the anthology to learn off by heart. My son asked me to read Homework! Oh, Homework! by Jack Prelutsky SO many times that he learnt it off by heart without trying!  

Lower KS2  

Balam and Lluvia’s House, by Julio Serrano Echeverria, translated by Lawrence Schimelis a great example of how poetry in translation can bring culture to life in the classroom. 

Illustration: Yolanda MosqueraIllustration: Yolanda Mosquera

As with My Heart is a Poem, the large, colourful format is perfect for reading aloud. So start with that, before moving to a writing exercise. 

Ask students to remember the last time they or a friend lost a tooth. Do they think those teeth could have been taken by the mouse, Ratón Pérez?  

Then ask them to draw Ratón Pérez and his smile machinewhile you reread the poem Under the PillowAsk them to listen for clueswhere does Ratón Pérez live? Is he rich? Does he wear socks or slippers?! What images come to mind as they listen? 

If any words come to mind as they draw, encourage them to write them down. Without realising, theyll start creating their own illustrated poem.  

And I climbed and I climbed, by Stephen Lightbownexplores an eight-year-old’s experience of living with disability after falling from a treeIt’s a powerful and important collection, and great way to get children to read and return to the poems is ‘poetry papering. 

Full disclosure, this is not my idea. I was recently invited to be the guest speaker on a year-long poetry course run by the brilliant Michael Rosen and the CLPE. When everyone arrived on the first daythere were photocopied poems displayed around the room, and people were given time to wander round and read them. Teachers chose their favourite and read it to the groupAnd when they did this in their own classrooms, they were delighted to find students performing poems together in class at breaktime 

Don’t say anything about it. Just put some of the poems up and see what students do. You might find them quietly reading on their own, or reading together. You might find them writing.  

Give them time to walk around and read, then ask them to choose a poem and read it to the class. How did the poem make them feel? Did they learn anything? Was there anything that surprised them? Has it changed the way they think about disability?  

Upper KS2  

The Final Year is a verse novel by Matt Goodfellow that combines exceptional poetry with exceptional character and plotIt tells the story of ten-year-old Nate, who grows up with his mum and two younger brothers, each from different fathers.  

If you have time, read it yourself and leave copies out in the classroom for students to help themselves to 

Illustration: Joe Todd-StantonIllustration: Joe Todd-Stanton

An important theme throughout is what Nate describes as The Beast WithinJust swear I’m scared I’ll lose control / of The Beast that sleeps within my soul. 

Print and handout copies of the poem ("Oh, so ya wanna know about The Beast, right?") and ask students to read aloud. Have they have ever felt a Beast within? What does it feel likeWhat do they do when they feel The Beast risingWould they describe their experience as a Beast, or something else?  

Then give them time to write a poem about their own Beast (or however they’d describe it). Invite them to illustrate their poems, taking inspiration from Joe Todd Stanton’s fabulous artwork. Then, if students are happy to share their work, create a display so they can read each other’s.  

I hope that sparks some ideas of how you could use the shortlist in the classroom. They are phenomenal books that showcase the very best of poetry for children and young people. I hope you and your students enjoy!  

I, meanwhile, am off to lie down for a few months to recover from the judging process