2. Use of music. Classical or instrumental music seems to work best unless you are looking to create an era or place. Useful music used in the past include
• The soundtrack of Hitchcock’s film ‘Vertigo’
• Mozart Piano Concertos
• Mood music such as Andean Spirit
• George Gershwin’s Symphony in Blue
• Music by the DJ singer-songwriter Moby
3. Dictate to the class starting with a line such as ‘I will never forget…’ or ‘I dreamt I went to….’ Then stop and allow them to continue. Do not allow classes to write nothing. If stuck they must write “blah, blah, blah” until they come up with something. The point is to keep the hand writing and to let go of inhibitions.
4. Ask the students to change their pens to the opposite hand to the one that they usually write with and instruct them to think of a memory and write it down.
5. Ask classes to list ten things. For example ten things that they have lost or ten things that they will never see again. Ask each person to read out a line and perform a giant poem.
6. Automatic writing. Put a topic on the board and ask students to write for two minutes on whatever comes into their heads.
7. Give the class a framework of discourse markers. A good poem is ‘Postscript: for Gweno’ by Alun Lewis.
8. Ask students to talk for two minutes on something they regret, their earliest memories or the last time they got away with something. The possibilities are endless. Then ask a few people to re-tell what someone else said.
9. Use pictures which are hard to decipher so that students have to guess or interpret in writing to them.
10. Give students phrases to dissect from famous poems e.g. “sunburnt mirth”.
11. Give students several unusual questions to think about or discuss. E.g. If you could have a super sense, what would you choose?
12. Give the students phrases such as ‘combing the beach’, ‘toasting the bride’, ‘time flies’ or ‘taking the plunge’ and ask them to draw a cartoon taking the phrase literally.
13. Ask the class to doodle while they daydream in silence or as pictures are presented to them.
14. A well-chosen film clip can be helpful to start off a mood or a theme and a list of effective extracts are given at the end.
15. Making a lexical chain of words can be a quick lead which allows students to brainstorm links.
16. Ask the students to describe the similarities and differences between 2 objects. E.g. a snake and a rope, a nut and a shell, a flower and a fountain.
17. Ask the students to make a sculpture from things about their person which symbolises something about them. You could ask them to make a sculpture that symbolises their mood, their attitude or their teenage life.
18. Ask everyone to write a line on rain. Collect the lines in a hat. Then get everyone to write a line on the sea. Repeat on the moon, the river and the tree. Collect the lines in separate lots until you have five or six piles. Do this at speed. Lines can be used to assemble a poem.
19. Give the students a line such as –
“The bird in the hat flew to the water.”
Ask students to substitute as many versions as they can.
e.g. “The green parakeet in the panama soared to the ponderous lake.”
20. Give students dictionaries or use them online. Take a poem they have already written. Underline five nouns [or verbs]. The student should look them up in the dictionary. Next, they continue skimming until they come to the next noun beginning with that letter. Ask them to substitute this random word for the original in their poem and see what effect is made.
21. The next exercise is called the dropped tray. Tell the class you tripped on your way from the photocopier (there’s room for humour here!) and now all the cut-up words in the tray are jumbled. Their task is to save your embarrassment and re-assemble a poem as quickly as possible. A more complex poem could be used in the later phases of the programme.
22. On a windy day or after a break when the class lacks attention, explain that you will ask them to stand at a specific hand signal and walk around the room in a snake until they return to their desks. They must not touch a desk or any other person. They must avoid eye contact and imagine themselves elsewhere – in a prison, a gladiator school, or on a Native American trail.
23. Play a complex song such as Bob Dylan’s ‘Tangled up in Blue’ or a section from a novel such as Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Road’ on CD. Be careful to be age appropriate. As the students listen ask them to make a word doodle, by using phrases and words which stick in the mind. They can use the words to write something of their own.
24. Place a box on the table. There are several variations of this exercise, but a simple starter is to ask the students to list what they would like to find in the box. This can be easily reversed too so that they list what they would not want to find in the box. Both versions produce interesting ideas.
25. Place a memory box on the table i.e. a box full of found objects such as crayons, a ball of wool, a pressed flower, a watch, a shell, a pack of cards. Ask students to talk to their neighbour about feelings and thoughts evoked.
26. Give the class “quick-fire” words and ask them to write down connotations.
e.g. red- fire, danger, passion; tea-pot – home, cosy, comfort.
27. Rhyming tennis – can be played in doubles. First team serves a word, the second team has to reply with a word that rhymes etc.
27. Read a poem which has an interesting thought or form. Robert Fisher’s book Poems for Thinking has many if you cannot think of your own.
29. Tell an anecdote which links with a theme. Ask students to re-tell their own.
30. Ask the class to write down three unanswerable questions. Ask them to swap books with their neighbour who has to answer them.