Lesson on 'The News' by Michael Rosen
Since his very early work one of Michael Rosen's strengths as a poet has been his ability to engage readers of all ages with his topsy-turvy nonsense rhymes and jingles; 'Down behind the dustbin/ I met a dog called Ted/ Leave me alone he said/ I'm just going to bed'. These are often based in real-life situations and contain real-life elements (dogs, dustbins) but are somehow more strange and always more funny than we know. His two recent books of Nonsense Poems display this ability again and again.
Children need very little encouragement to engage with writing which sets the natural order of things upside down. As an opener to a lesson on Rosen's nonsense poems I would read them, or play from the website, a handful of poems which do this. A classic of its kind is 'Yesterday'. One way of getting the children to enter into this world where 'anything goes' is to stop short half way through the final line of the poem, leaving a space for them to fill in the rhyme. By the end (the final word of the poem) they should nicely warmed up to accept and engage with the idea that anything can happen.
Another warm-up poem of Rosen's could be his poem about a lost dog, 'Today was not', from the book Wouldn't you like to know? (Puffin). It begins in a very matter of fact way, stating how very un-special a particular day was. It is a clever and witty way of remarking on ordinariness: 'Today was not very special', by deliberately setting out to describe events which are normally overlooked.
By the end of the lesson the pupils will have:
- discussed the nature of nonsense poetry and how it turns what we think of as everyday life and language upside down to create new and strange meanings;
- written a simple nonsense poem through the technique of repetition and juxtaposition of unlikely phrases.
- Poetry Archive recording of Michael Rosen reading 'The News'
- interactive whiteboard or screen linked to computer
- multiple printed copies of the poem
- marker pens/felt tips
- pre-prepared list of statements about the poem
Teaching sequence of activities
Whole class activities
- Listening. Play recording of the poem to the class once. Take responses. What did you notice about the poem? What is going on here? Did it remind you of anything? Are the words it uses similar to anything else we hear in daily life? Play the poem a second time. What else do you notice about the poem, especially the way it sounds? Take responses. Why is it a funny idea to think of a pair of shoes being important enough to go on the news?
- Shared Writing. Take suggestions about extremely ordinary things which might feature on an imaginary TV channel. These could be pets (guinea pig), family members (my dad), other items of clothing (my vest), or objects from around the house (my TV, the phone).
Instead of mimicking the poem directly it might be a good idea to allow the energy of the daftness of the chosen object direct where the poem goes. Usually I would advise against trying to make the poem rhyme, but in this instance, the fact that we are trying to create nonsense seems to necessitate its use. Write a shared poem as a class, taking suggestions from the children as you go, eg
Here is the news
Here is the news
My phone is starting to ring
My phone is starting to ring
Is it Auntie Mabel
Under the table?
Is it Cousin Mary
sounding like a canary?
Is it Brother Dave
Getting ready to rave?
Or is it Janey-Jean
The dancing queen?
Whole class activity (Differentiation by outcome)
Put the children into mixed ability pairs.
The task is to write a nonsense poem, the idea of which is to make an ordinary object or thing appear extraordinary because of the context of being on the news.
This is one kind of activity where children of different abilities can really help each other out. For children who struggle with the transcriptional aspect of writing they have the safety net of working with a more confident partner; and more able children are stretched by organising the rhymes and ideas into some sort of (but not too much) sense.
Whole class activity
Feedback from group activities.
What has each group learned:
- about writing nonsense poetry? Is it easier or harder than they thought?
- about using rhyme? When is it not a good idea to use rhyme in the same way as this? Why does the rhyme enhance our enjoyment of the poems?
Children from each group to share work and comment on each other's work.
Year 2 Term 3 Reading comprehension
6: to read, respond imaginatively recommend and collect examples of humorous stories, extracts, poems
8: to discuss meanings of words and phrases that create humour, and sound effects in poetry, e.g. nonsense poems, tongue-twisters, riddles, and to classify poems into simple types.
Year 2 Term 3 Writing Composition
11: to use humorous verse as a structure for children to write their own by adaptation, mimicry or substitution; to invent own riddles, language puzzles, jokes, nonsense sentences etc., derived from reading; write tongue-twisters or alliterative sentences; select words with care, re-reading and listening to their effect.
Discuss the effect of repetition and rhyme in the poems 'My Friend Elsie', 'The Great Big Hole' and 'Bleep'.
Write other poems which employ repetition of simple phrases as in the poem 'Riding down to Boxland'.
Other poems by Michael Rosen.
Get hold of Rosen's book Tea in The Sugar Bowl, Potato in My Shoe (Walker) - many of the poems start with simple phrases and build on them, either for comic effect ('Down at the Doctor's', 'What If?'), or for more poignant meditations on illness ('Lying in the Middle of the Bed'), or lying in bed awake ('After dark, after dark').