Using a high quality picture book to inspire poets at Upper KS2

As we approach the final half term where we will be making decisions on whether pupils are meeting age-related expectations in writing, many of us will be planning assessment pieces. Depending on what year group we teach, we will be looking for a genre of writing that allows pupils to demonstrate that they can: 

  • use a range of sentences (including the exclamations beginning with ‘how’ or ‘what’ and including a verb)
  • use fronted adverbials, prepositional phrases, expanded noun phrases and clauses
  • organise their ideas into clear sections and manage to weave accurate punctuation such as inverted commas, commas for lists and/or clarity, parentheses and of course full stops. 

Of course we need to assess how well a pupil can write. But we must also ensure that they are writers. By this I mean that they are developing their craft, making decisions about vocabulary and sentence length, choosing how to appeal to their given audience and above all, understanding that when they write, they in turn generate a feeling in their reader.

So, the main content of this blog is to use a high quality picture book to inspire young poets in Upper KS2. For some teachers, poetry was a unit of work that was dreaded or feared, whereas others craved to do more than the four sessions prescribed in the strategy. The new English curriculum has a huge emphasis on pupils acquiring vocabulary, using vocabulary accurately and explaining the meaning of vocabulary in context. Reading poetry is the perfect vehicle to use in the classroom to promote pupils acquiring challenging vocabulary. The secret is that although pupils think they are reading less, they are actually reading more!  Writing poetry is the perfect opportunity to let pupils really show what they can do. Teachers will need to provide a meaningful stimulus that makes pupils want to write. In turn, pupils will need to make some important decisions about the structure of their poem: 

  • Does it need to rhyme?
  • How many stanzas will there be?
  • Will it have a title?
  • Will they include a refrain?
  • Will each stanza include a similar line?
  • Will there be a regular rhythm?

Pupils will also need to decide what they might ‘borrow’ from high quality poets and include in their own creations:

  • Similes?
  • Metaphors?
  • Personification?
  • Rhetorical questions?
  • Colloquialisms?
  • Alliteration?
  • Onomatopoeia?
  • Figurative language?

There are many forms to inspire pupils to write poetry, for example, photographs, adverts, film clips, audio clips, music, poetry, novels, real life events, interviews etc… 

I would like to recommend this high quality picture book.

The Colour Thief by Andrew Fusek Peters & Polly Peters
In a nutshell:The Colour Thief is a tender tale of a father’s struggle with depression and the distance it drives between him and his family. But this is a story of hope and love and the journey towards getting a life back on track.’ (taken from the blurb)
Both the language and the illustrations in this picture book will inspire pupils to delve deep into their imaginations and craft ideas that will evolve into poems.


Introduce the text to pupils (the front cover does have the tag line – ‘A family’s story of depression’ that teachers may choose to cover)

Since the topic of this book may be a sensitive one for some pupils (and teachers), teachers may choose to read the book without any introduction at all and simply pose the questions, ‘What is your gut feeling?’ or ‘What is the gist of this story?’ after reading. The text does not actually mention the word ‘depression’ and pupils may naturally form their opinion that Dad is sad, stressed or unwell in some way.

Analyse the language in the text

This book is bursting with rich language that would be perfect for writing poetry. Here are some examples teachers could share with pupils to analyse what the author means:

  • clouds smiled at him and trees waved hello
  • he said his sky had turned grey
  • the sun sulking, clouds frowning, rain crying
  • the trees stood silently, shaking their heads
  • the lamp posts would laugh at him or the streets would call him names
  • sad and stuck like a marble in a bottle
  • he put those hugs away in a box
  • weeks rumbled past our front door
  • months were stretchy like chewing gum
  • the sun crept into our house
  • the sky winked a blue eye


After analysing the above language, pupils will be ready to plan their own poem. Will you need to provide a structure? Perhaps The Sound Collector by Roger McGough could be one to share. Pupils could write a similar style poem about The Colour Thief and personify him choosing which every day colours he might steal, for example:

  • a ray of vivid violet from a rainbow
  • a spot of red from the ladybird
  • a speck of brilliant yellow from the midday sun
  • a strip of white from the zebra crossing
  • a dash of royalty from the Union Jack

Other pupils may choose to compare two days – one before The Colour Thief arrives and one after. They can use different stanzas to illustrate the comparison.
Pupils may plan their poetry in many ways – lists of lines to use, annotated drawings, synonym circles or their own customised style.

Draft –Write –Edit & Proofread

Once pupils are satisfied that they have enough ideas, they can begin to draft their poems. Of course we can share success criteria with them, make suggestions about features they could include (see above in the decision sections) and share a range of structures with them (model stanzas with repetition, with a refrain after each stanza, use of questions/commands/exclamations).
For many pupils, being given the freedom to write without a structure can inspire their best writing. However, others fear a blank page and need structure. For these pupils, The Sound Collector could be the perfect scaffold.
Editing poetry can be an exciting stage in the process as pupils are happy to play with words, move lines around and really dissect their writing (because there will not be lengthy paragraphs to trawl through).
Pupils could type their final draft or present their poems on individual lines illustrating an image to add emphasis to the meaning.

Good luck publishing poetry!
Maddy Barnes | @moon-maddy

If you're looking for a brand new resource to help transform poetry in your classroom, take a look at Poetry by Heart
This fantastic resource contains 'read aloud' recordings for over 50 poems, and develops pupils' performance techniques, tone and volume, and covers Foundation through to Upper Key Stage 2. 


english, poetry

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