Lesson on 'Bluebottle' by Judith Nicholls

Anthony Wilson


'Bluebottle' is a good example of a poem which does a lot with very few words. It is also a good example of the way a writer can take an everyday sight - a fly buzzing - and turn it into something strange and alien, making the reader see it as if for the first time. The techniques the poet uses to do this, simile and metaphor, are what gives the poem its excitement.


By the end of the lesson the pupils will have:

  • discussed and reflected on the use of verbs in the poem to create a strong sense of energy;
  • discussed the way simile is used in the poem to creates comparisons between things which share different characteristics;
  • discussed the way metaphor is used in the poem to create comparisons between things which share different characteristics;
  • to compare the use of simile and metaphor and make judgements about which is used more effectively and why.
Resources needed
  • Poetry Archive recording of Judith Nicholls reading 'Bluebottle'
  • interactive whiteboard linked to Poetry Archive website for viewing the text of the poem
  • 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, minus the last two lines.

Take responses. What did you notice about the poem? What did it remind you of? What is it about? What kind of a poem gives clues to the reader about its subject, but also keeps its subject secret? (A riddle.) Play the whole poem a second time. Ask children to focus on the language of the poem. Take responses. What is the poet describing? How do we know? Do we know what the subject is without the last two lines? How do we work it out? Aspects to consider: is the poem realistic? Which phrases stand out? Why are they unusual? Teaching input on simile and metaphor.

Shared writing. Using the interactive whiteboard, teacher to model the impact of one powerful verb, one metaphor and one simile in the poem.

Reading/Modelling by teacher. Using the interactive whiteboard, the teacher models in front of the children the technique of text marking which the children are to use in the next activity.


Differentiated group activities

  • Using text marking the children find and annotate the similes in the poem. Can the children think of alternatives to 'elusive as a pickpocket' and 'moves like a rocket'? Can they substitute new phrases in their place?
  • Again using the technique of text marking, the children annotate the poem to highlight the different verbs in the poem. Comparisons can be made between them and a list of suitable alternatives drawn up. If the poem is written with different verbs instead, how is the meaning changed?
  • The children find and annotate examples of metaphor in the poems. Why has the poet used these more than simile? Which of these two techniques is used to the best effect?


Whole class activity

Feedback from group activities.
What has each group learned:

  • about powerful verbs to create a sense of energy?
  • about simile? Were the substituted similes as successful as the originals?
  • about the use of metaphor in the poem? Why has the poet used them more than simile, and are they used effectively?

Children from each group to share work and comment on each other’s work.

Learning outcomes

Year 5 Term 1: humorous poetry that plays with language

Word level:

9: to collect and classify a range of idiomatic phrases, clichés and expressions and consider their effect in writing.

Sentence level:

6: to understand the need for punctuation as an aid to the reader, e.g. commas to mark grammatical boundaries; a colon to signal, e.g. a list.

Text level:

Reading comprehension

8: investigate and collect examples of word play, relating form to meaning.

Writing composition

16: to convey feelings, reflections or moods in a poem through the careful choice of words and phrases;

17: to write metaphors from original ideas or from similes.

Extension Activities

Writing activities


Use George Szirtes's Red All Over Riddle Book, and The New Exeter Book of Riddles edited by Kevin Crossley-Holland and Lawrence Sail, to provide the children with models to work from. Notice how the riddle as a form is often spoken from the first person perspective, drawing the reader in as it conceals its identity. Look at how riddles conceal the speaker's identity through the use of metaphor and, sometimes, simile. Give the children plenty of chances to make riddles with you orally first, using speech as a first draft, as it were. From there, get them composing in pairs, and from there to working individually.


A kenning is two words fused together with a hyphen to make a new noun: e.g. swan-road = river; spear-din (Anglo Saxon) = battle; skull–splitter = sword/axe, and so on. The two words can be noun/noun; noun/verb; verb/noun; adjective, colour/noun/verb, and can be used to make a list describing an object, emotion, quality or animal, in any combination.

Simile Poems

Look at the poem 'You!' from the Igbo dialect in The Oxford Book of Animal Poems. This uses a simple pattern of repeating similes to describe an animal without naming it directly: 'You!/ Your face is like a bottle top./ You!/ Your eyes are like the sea. You!/ Your smile is like a bun with a cut in it' (a dolphin). Scaffold the children's thinking by going through the technique of simile in the poem first, then create a shared poem together. Can be extended by children creating their own poem by looking at familiar objects or animals and making them appear unfamiliar.

Word investigations.
Look again at specific words in the poem. How does the poem read if we change them? Words such as: 'elusive', 'sliver', 'full-throttle'. Draw up a list of replacement word, using dictionaries/thesauruses. Elicit responses to these new words. Model for the children, and attempt a class poem, using shared writing. This could lead on to children writing poems based on the model in pairs, or individually, depending on age, ability and experience.

Further Reading

Other poems by Judith Nicholls, especially 'Learning to Swim'

'You!' (from the Igbo dialect, Nigeria), The Oxford Book of Animal Poems, eds. Harrison and Stuart-Clark

The New Exeter Book of Riddles, eds. Kevin Crossley-Holland and Lawrence Sail (Enitharmon)

The Red All Over Riddle Book, George Szirtes (Faber)

The Exeter Book of Riddles, trans. Kevin Crossley-Holland (Penguin Classics)

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