There are lots of reasons for children to learn poetry by heart, but this is specially true at Christmas. For one thing, there are so many wonderful – and varied – festive poems for young people, from much loved classics (A Visit from St Nicholas by Clement C. Moore) to contemporary favourites (Benjamin Zephaniah’s Talking Turkeys) to poems filled with the real magic of the season (Street Lights by Coral Rumble).
Each year, the team at Poetry By Heart puts together a Festive Showcase of Christmas poems - 24 different poems all perfect to perform aloud – and we encourage everyone to learn them by heart, after all, what better way to celebrate the season than by a poetry performance for family and friends?
Learning a poem by heart is a really enjoyable thing to do and so much easier than people think, especially if you use the Poetry By Heart tried and trusted methods.
Try these and see how you get on:
Step 1: explore the poems in the Poetry By Heart Festive Showcase and choose the one you like the best. We always say that learning a poem by heart is like getting to know a friend. Find the poem that really speaks to you.
Step 2: see the poem Try writing out the poem by hand and illustrating it with patterns and pictures. Put your illustrated poem somewhere you can see it and say it often. Draw the images that key words create in your mind.
Step 3: move to the poem Try walking in time to the poem as you speak it. Try clapping or drumming to find the poem's beat. Try making up movements and gestures that match the words in the poem. Can you still remember the poem when you're in another place?
Step 4: Listen to it aloud Listen to recordings of the poem, eg on the Poetry By Heart poem page, Poetry Archive or CLPE websites, or other recordings you can find. Watch videos of performances on the Poetry By Heart website. Try recording yourself and playing it back.
Step 5: Speak it Try repeating it lots and lots of times - to yourself, to the mirror and in the shower. Try saying each line several times using different tones of voice until it feels right. Try speaking it to an audience - your dog, your family and friends.
And now you should have it!
A poem in your head and in your heart, to be shared with others in your own Christmas celebration, and remembered for ever.
Poetry by Heart is a national poetry speaking competition for schools and colleges in England. It’s also a website for teaching and learning about poetry – by heart and out loud, and with plenty of choice for young people to explore poems and find the ones they love.
Taking part in Poetry By Heart is all about developing confidence with poetry in an enjoyable, accessible and engaging way. Registration, participation and competition entry are free for schools and colleges in England.
Poetry By Heart is funded with the support of the Department for Education
Poetry By Heart continues to grow in popularity and the 2023 competition received the highest number of entries to date: 2,000 video entries of poetry performances; 90,000 young people involved; a staggering 39,000 poems learned by heart.
Dr Julie Blake, FEA, FRSL(Hon), co-directs Poetry By Heart, the national poetry speaking competition for schools. She researches and writes about the history of poetry for children, creates digital and print anthologies of poems for children and young people, teaches poetry pedagogy and has an encyclopaedic knowledge of poetry in the school English curriculum.