This site is full of creative poetry/art exercises that aim to bring pleasure back into using words and writing. We welcome the participation of you and your child, please have a look at the list of contents, or the blog archive and try out any of the exercises that you like the look of. We welcome your comments on the success (or otherwise) of the idea…

Thursday, 28 October 2010

stencil faces

Today we've been designing faces using stencils.

1. Gather together your materials: stencils of various sizes, paper and pens
2. Design a face using stencil letters to make the shapes of eyes, ears, nose, hair, mouth, freckles, spots, glasses... whatever you want on your picture

Joe's Vampire face

1. You could try just using the letters in your own name, to make a self portrait
2. Try something grisly, a scary vampire face or a skeleton for Halloween...
3. Try making an animal face
4. Experiment with different colours of paper, or pens.

There are lots more examples of stencil faces at our flickr portfolio site 

Lois's stencil face

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

grisly plaster writing

Many boys relish showing of their scars, cuts and bruises, so why not take advantage of their grim nature and encourage them to write about it...

trapped under door
bleed a lot in bath
went black and fell off

1. Picture a time you hurt yourself, fell over, tripped over your shoe laces, banged your toe, fell out of a tree, off a skyscraper... how did you feel? What did your skin look like? What did it look like a week later? Talk through your ideas with a grown up, and then...
2.  If there are any spellings that you are unsure about, practice them on a separate piece of paper
3.  Write down a few words or lines on a fabric plaster
4.  Attach your plaster to the area of your body that was hurt
5.  Wear with pride.

Friday, 22 October 2010


With all the homework and day-to-day distractions during term time, it's hard to find time for Joe to write his journal. We now aim for at least once at the weekend, and with holiday coming up, I hope to encourage a daily journal entry.

The secret seems to be to keep things as fun as possible, and trying things that there wouldn't be time for in school. The example below, is a type of concrete poem. After a walk, he drew and wrote down some of his experiences.
Joe's journal page

This idea could be taken further by:

1. Go for a walk in a local park, into the country, a garden, or anywhere affected by the seasons.
2. Close your eyes and listen hard to the sounds around you, try and remember them, or write them down.
3. Collect leaves, sticks, pebbles.
4. Bring them home to draw or for collage material, these can be stuck down, written on, crushed, drawn around.
5. Write a list of the things that you saw, smelt, or heard, following the shape of the picture. Or perhaps the words could follow the shape of your walk?
5. PS. Experiment with colours too, using the colours of the season.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

puzzle writing with collage

Collage is a way to play with the look and meaning of words on a page. Individual letters can take on great importance if they are emphasised. By changing their scale and colour, words can be made to jump around the page in all directions, like little acrobats. (In fact, an early Ian Hamilton Finlay poem Acrobats does just this.) There's something very satisfying about spending time in ordering your colours and alphabet, for boys who like fiddling and puzzles it will be a winner. For some children, the empty white page can be intimidating and using collage can help distract them, because the material comes readymade.

Odd one out. ©  Lois Blackburn 2010 
This is an exercise in creating visual puzzles:

1. Discuss what you would like to create. In this case, I've used a rainbow of colours... which is the odd one out?
2. If there are any words you are unsure how to spell, practice them on a separate piece of paper.
3. You can cut out words/letters from newspapers, magazines (make sure they've been finished with first!) food and toy packaging. Once you start looking for letters, you will see them everywhere.
4. Carefully cut the letters out.
5. Rearrange the letters on your page so they form the words you've picked
6. Puzzle your friends and family with your 'odd one out'. 

This was an exercise in creating a visual puzzle, but the idea could be adapted to help learn the spellings of colours,  creating each word in its appropriate colour to reinforce learning. Joe's example here is his favorite colour. Golden.
Golden, by Joe 2010

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

tips for parents..

You might find these tips useful...

Ask open-ended questions to get boys' imaginations involved. 'What if..? and 'How would you?' will help them picture things from different perspectives.

Build on their own interests and experiences.

Some of the exercises on the blog will suit one person and not another - don't get put of if an idea isn't an immediate hit.

Talk through the exercise before picking up pens/pencil/paint/scissors. Discuss ideas and options, so that there's a clear plan.

Promote and reward imagination and originality. We mean sweets!

Create 'a safe place to play'. This is a standard arthur+martha rule. Ensure that everyone feels safe to say unusual things, take risks and respond creatively. Criticism and bullying are out.

Encourage them to shape the way they are working. If you want to encourage boys to be adventurous and explore ideas freely, then you must allow them freedoms.

As well as the burning need for making a rumpus, there will also be a need for quiet times. Reflection and concentration are vital if you want to encourage deep involvement.

Make the most of unexpected events. When appropriate, put aside your plans and busk it. Treat accidents as 'incidents' to be included in making the work. Paint spills, computer errors, misheard instructions, unexpected visitors, firecrackers all have their place.

Be willing to stand back and let the child take the lead. However, always be on hand to provide support.

Join in with activities. Showing that you are a learner too helps to create an open, constructive environment.

Give boys the chance to work with friends and family of different age groups.

Encourage boys to reflect on what they've done, share ideas with others and talk about their progress.

(These tips are adapted from the National Curriculum, 'Creativity'.)

Saturday, 16 October 2010

rebus eye spy

Rebus is writing that substitutes images for words in a text, or in the example below images that substitute individual letters. If you've ever drawn a heart instead of the word LOVE then you've created your own rebus.  

Rebus can be a useful devise to give children confidence in writing; they can substitute words that they have problems spelling, or simply have fun mixing words and pictures. Rebuses can use letters, numbers, musical notes or pictures, they can convey direct meanings, or puzzle and amuse.

In this exercise we mixed rebus, with collage and concrete techniques. 

eye spy © Lois Blackburn 2010

1. Cut a good supply of letters, pictures and numbers, out of magazines, newspapers, packaging. Try to get a range of sizes and colours. These bits and pieces will start to give you some ideas.
2. Discuss what you would like to write. It could be a sentence, a poem, or a single word.
3. If there are any spellings that you are unsure about, practice them first
4. Select your letters, pictures and numbers. Try placing them in different ways on the page, upside down, diagonally, straight up or down.
5. Once you have got your beautiful arrangement, try not to sneeze. Glue the letters down.
6. Use them to puzzle your delighted friends and family.

I eat a whole pizza © Joe Inman 2010  

Why not have a look at the earliest form of rebus, Egyptian hieroglyphs, which were in use as early as 3400 BC. One site I found, has an alphabet translator, so you can write your name like an Egyptian.  Or see if you can track down more of Lewis Carroll's nonsense letters, such as the example below:

Monday, 11 October 2010

concrete hand

How to create your own concrete hand poem:

1. Draw around your hand, or ask a friend or grown up to draw round it for you.
2. Think of all of the things you have touched today, and how those things felt on your hand.
3. Practice spelling any words you might have difficulty with on a piece of paper (the example below has practice spellings on the same page, you could use a different page if you like).
4. Fill in your hand drawing with all of the words, turning the paper in lots of different directions, and following the lines of the outline. You could even take a close look at your palm and recreate the lines of your hand on your drawing.

Joe's concrete hand

Why not have a look at images of Palmistry, the art of telling the future through the study of the palm? There are some beautiful illustrations to inspire you that can to be found on the internet. Or perhaps you could find some undiscovered ones in that old, old book on your great grandpa's bookshelf...

Thursday, 7 October 2010

the skull of fluff

Something quite remarkable happened after school today, Joe sat down for two hours and worked on the Skull of Fluff  it's a day to celebrate!

This was inspired by receiving a postcard from one of his new Pen Pals. Using the idea of maps again was a big hit, this time Joe was inspired by a book on pirates. He needed encouragement to do the writing, but there were no complaints when he started doing the fancy writing, it seems that if there is a chance to play with the way words look, it comes alive. If you would like to have a go, here are some ideas to try:

1. Discuss a good shape for an island. If you have any map books handy, you could have a look at those, or do a search on-line. Joe was inspired by a pirate island, and created his island in the shape of a skull, but the outline could be based on anything - a real island, the shape of an animal, a robot, a name.
2. Look at antique maps for inspiration, the National Geographic, have wonderful examples, full of maritime monsters and disasters. 
3. Draw the island, using any materials you like, pens, pencils, crayons, collage. Or a mixture of them all.
4. Think of place names. Perhaps these could be based on real places or people, or they could come out of your own remarkable mind. Write them down. You can practice the spelling on a separate piece of paper if you like. Don't worry if the odd spelling mistake slips by - like Scull on Joe's piece - it's more important to have fun with it. Anyway, pirates were never famous for their spelling. 
5. Have a go at distressing or ageing your map, using cold tea/coffee, or bury it in the garden, or get a grown up to burn the edges (keep a basin of water handy, it would be sad if your dad went up in flames.)

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

a walk

Yesterday I introduced Joe to the art of Richard Long with our own homage to his textworks. We shocked ourselves by actually getting out of the house early, and took the opportunity to do something creative on the walk to school. Long makes artworks out of words, that suggest the landscape he walks through rather than showing it.

1. Make up the rules together. You need to create a plan for regular stops on your walk to write what you notice. These could be on a count (maybe 50?) or throwing a stick and seeing where it lands, or whenever you hear a birdcall, or, or , or...

2. When you stop, look around and write the first thing that catches your eye, or ear. Or even nose. On this occasion I wrote the words down for Joe, this sped us up, got us to school on time, and allowed me to check my spelling when I got home! But it would be great to do the writing on the spot if you have time.  
3. At home, copy the list and make changes if you like.

It was an intriguing exercise, encouraging him to really look and describe the world around him. It also helped motivate the walk itself. I will definitely try it again, but next time not on the way to school, so he has time to write the words down himself directly. It could be adapted to any walk; inside a supermarket, to the local shop/postbox, in the town or countryside. 

Sunday, 3 October 2010

pen pals

Yesterday, Joe sent a number of handmade postcards, inviting friends and family to be his pen pals.

He gave careful thought about what to draw for each person, then wrote variations of the invite. There were no complaints from him or encouragement needed, he happily created his postcards. Perhaps it was the shortness of the text, perhaps the hope that someone might write back, or a bit of both?

The postcard, to Phil, is a great example of how children love to design decorative lettering. Here he's inspired by  cobwebs, bones and nautical ropes.

We've used old blank postcards, which can be personalized with drawings. Alternative ideas include: local postcards, photographs, decorated envelopes, the recycled back of printouts, digitised virtual postcards, toilet paper (Ezra Pound used this for the Cantos, when imprisoned) tissue etc and so on, ad infinitum.