Word Power

Sitting in the train, coming home from Ledbury last week, I was meditating on what I’d experienced over the previous couple of days, and on what we, as poets, had achieved and encountered in all our Ledbury Poetry Festival work with schools over the course of the year. (You can read about the early events we put on here.)

The latest workshops I’d put on for the Festival were with Year 7 and Year 8 pupils. I’d asked them to pull words from the letters that form the name of their school. Then we’d created a poem from the words they’d found.

On the train, I found myself doing the exactly same thing, but starting with the words ‘Ledbury Poetry Festival’. And then, just as in the workshop, I began fitting the words together, coming up with patterns and combinations, a thread, a structure, a story.

The video below is the end result. My ruminations on the six school ‘Poetry Festivals in a Day’ that over the course of this year I had taken part in for Ledbury Poetry Festival (along with fellow poets Sara Hirsch, Rob Gee, Mike Barfield and Matt Black). What I’d seen, what I’d heard, what I’d contributed, what I’d witnessed, what I’d experienced. What we’d unleashed. And its value. The value of giving children and young people a fresh creative space in which to explore and play with words. (Oh how I’d have loved to have had that opportunity when I was at school!)

You can get an idea of the value of these Festival events from the feedback we were getting from the Year 7/8 staff last Thursday:

‘Normally he won’t listen and won’t still still, but today he is so engaged.’


‘We’re seeing a completely different side to them here.’

All this ties in with the discussion I had at Ledbury Poetry Salon recently about the importance of poets working with school pupils. You can hear that discussion – with Festival Director Chloe Garner and fellow poet Sara Hirsch – as a podcast here. (The discussion comes after our initial performances.)

The Year 7 and Year 8 pupils we worked with last week are going to create an anthology from the poems they wrote with us at the Festival. I’m looking forward very much to reading it.

Meanwhile, as I was finishing this poem, I came across an article in the latest  NAWE ‘Writing in Education’ journal about ‘the importance of teachers being writers alongside children being writers’. In this spirit I offer this poem to the pupils I was working with at the Festival. To show them how I do just what I was asking them to do. And how, in this instance, it worked out for me.

I hope it might inspire you to find the poems hidden in the everyday words around you, too.

Anneliese Emmans Dean – theBigBuzz – Bringing poetry to life



Outdoor Learning in Leeds

‘Learning outdoors creates lasting memories, helps build a greater awareness of the environment, provides more opportunities to think independently, and gets children feeling challenged and excited by learning.’ Outdoor Classroom Day website

Outdoor Classroom Day came early to Rose Court (the Nursery and Pre-prep section of The Grammar School at Leeds). Turns out that Outdoor Classroom Day was scheduled for 18 May this year. But we were outdoors a week ahead, on 11 May instead. And what a fabulous day we chose! Unbroken sunshine through all four of my Year 2 minibeast sessions.

Outdoors with Year 2 at Rose Court

Rhyme-Time Rambling with Year 2 at Rose Court (Photo by Rachel Cockburn)

You can read all about our activities on the school’s website. And see more fabulous photos taken on the day at the school’s facebook page. For my take on the day, read on …

Rhyme-Time Rambling with Year 2

Rhyme-Time Rambling with Year 2 (Photo by Rachel Cockburn)

One of the wonderful things about learning outside the classroom is that, whilst you can plan a session until you’re blue in the face, you never know what you and the children are actually going to encounter. For example, I walked onto the Rose Court playing field, just before my first session with the children, and I immediately spied a Green Woodpecker. In the heart of Leeds! (Which, according to the taxi driver I had on the way back to the station, is the fastest growing city in Europe.) (I haven’t fact-checked that, so it may or may not be 100% accurate!)

But back to our Green Woodpecker. I was at Rose Court because Year 2 is studying minibeasts. And whilst I was hoping/expecting we’d get to see, for example, ladybirds (yes) and snails (yes) and bees (yes), I hadn’t anticipated that we’d all be able to watch a Green Woodpecker. And the relevance to minibeasts? Well, the Green Woodpecker was on the field, repeatedly jabbing its beak into the grass, because it was looking for ants to eat. It eats some 2,000 of these a day, prising them out with its pointy beak and long sticky tongue. (You can watch a Green Woodpecker doing this, and find out more about it, in my Green Woodpecker poetry video here, which is taken from my new book, Flying High! Discover the poetry in British birds.)

And what, you may be wondering, is Outdoor Classroom Day? Well, to quote directly from their website:

‘Outdoor Classroom Day is a day to celebrate and inspire outdoor learning and play. On Thursday 18 May 2017, thousands of schools around the world will take lessons outside and prioritise playtime.

Why? Outdoor learning improves children’s health, engages them with learning and leads to a greater connection with nature.’

I can vouch for this – which is why I do the work I do!

Rose Court Year 2 pupils being millipedes (Photo by Rachel Cockburn)

Rose Court Year 2 pupils being millipedes (Photo by Rachel Cockburn)

So, if you’d like me to take your pupils on a rhyme-time ramble, or to turn them into poem-creating millipedes or to put on any of my other poetry+nature outdoor learning workshops, then just get in touch.

Meanwhile, a big Thank You to the many staff involved in my visit to Rose Court – including librarian Sandra Harris, who looked after me so well on the day, and Rachel Cockburn, for her write-up and photos. Not forgetting, of course, the Year 2 children, who were such a joy to be with.

Anneliese Emmans Dean – theBigBuzz – Bringing poetry to life



Year 6 photography in Bridlington

First day back at school, SATS looming, Tour de Yorkshire arriving on Friday – there was a lot on the minds of Year 6 pupils at Bay Primary in Bridlington when I arrived to put on a photography workshop for them this week. But they rose to the occasion!

They learnt my photography technique, learnt how to use the cameras I’d taken along for them, and went out into their grounds to take nature photos. And what fabulous photos they took! Here are some of my favourites:

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I was at Bay Primary as part of the outreach work surrounding this year’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition, which had been on tour from the Natural History Museum in London at the Treasure House in Beverley.

Just like the children of St Nicholas Primary in Beverley (which I visited a couple of weeks ago), these children had visited the exhibition before my visit. I was there to teach them how to take nature photos, so they might enter the competition in years to come. I hope they do! In fact, more than one pupil came up to me afterwards to say they now wanted to be a professional photographer when they grew up!

However, you don’t have to wait until they’re grown up to see their photos for real yourselves. The Treasure House in Beverley is hoping to put on an exhibition of some of the photos these children took. I’ll let you know when that happens.

Meanwhile, thank you to Bay Primary teachers Mrs Green, Mrs Pemberton and Miss Johnson, and all their TAs – both for their help on the day and for warding off the sleet, snow, hail and rain that dogged my journey there and back for long enough for us to be able to go outside and take photos!

Thank you too to Sarah Hammond, Education Officer at The Treasure House in Beverley, for inviting me to put on these workshops in the first place.

If you’d like a photography workshop at your school, you can find out more here, and get in touch with me here.

Anneliese Emmans Dean – theBigBuzz


Prize-winning photographers of the future …

In all honesty, I didn’t think that the last day of term was the wisest choice for a photography workshop. I thought I would arrive at the school to find the children demob happy and unable/unwilling to concentrate. How wrong I was!

The school in question was St Nicholas Primary School in Beverley, and the children were two Year 5 classes, 5F and 5C. I was there as part of the outreach work surrounding this year’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition, which is currently on tour from the Natural History Museum in London at the Treasure House in Beverley.

The children had visited the exhibition before my visit. I was there to teach them how to take nature photos, so they might enter the competition in years to come!

Each class had just over two hours to go from zero to fully fledged nature photographers, proficient at using the Canon cameras I took along for the workshop. And they well and truly rose to the challenge – and took some fabulous photos! Here is a small selection, all taken in a modest-sized flower bed at the front of the school.

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Thank you to all the staff and parent-helpers for their assistance during these workshops – especially to Mrs Fox, for all her behind-the-scenes work in advance of my visit. Thank you, too, to Sarah Hammond at the Treasure House in Beverley, whose idea it was to invite me to put on some photography workshops linked to the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition.

Next up, I’m putting on two family photography workshops at the Treasure House itself, on 22 April – but they’re already fully booked, so it’s too late to join in with them, I’m afraid. Then there’s another school workshop too.

If you’d like a photography workshop where you are, just get in contact. You can find out more about my school photography workshops here, and my photography workshops in general here.

Meanwhile, you’ve got until 22 April to see the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at the Treasure House in Beverley. Enjoy! I’m looking forward to seeing photos by local Beverley children in future years’ competitions!

Anneliese Emmans Dean


Schools with literary connections

I’ve kickstarted the Book Weeks of two Yorkshire schools recently that each have strong literary connections of their own – neither of which I had originally been aware of.

First up was a visit arranged by Book Events for Schools to Carlton Miniott Primary School. Have you ever heard of Carlton Miniott? No, neither had I. Turns out it’s a village of around 1,000 souls near Thirsk, in the old North Riding of Yorkshire.

However, when my husband happened to ask where I was going next, he immediately said ‘Carlton Miniott? That’s where J.L. Carr went to school.’ (Trust my husband to know that sort of thing!) And he went over to the bookshelves and got down a copy of A Month in the Country.

Book cover of J.L.Carr's A Month in the Country

I hadn’t read it before, I’d only seen the film version, of which I had fond memories. Made in 1987, the film starred Kenneth Branagh and Colin Firth. (Who doesn’t have fond memories of Colin Firth?!)

So as part of my preparation for my visit to Carlton Miniott Primary School, I read A Month in the Country. It’s in the Penguin Classics list, and rightly so. It’s beautifully written. Poignant and touching, it gently transports you to a very different time and place.

How inspiring for the pupils of Carlton Miniott Primary School to know that one of their forebears became a famous writer. If J.L. Carr can do it, why not them too?

Cover of J.L. Carr's A Month in the Country

Next up was Norton Community Primary School, which invited me to come and kickstart their combined ‘Book and Bug Week’.

It’s a big school, with some 600 children. My visit there was organised by Year 1 teacher Mrs Everitt. As she was leading me through the school to the place I was going to do my book signing session, she kept pointing out parts of the building that had been used when filming J.B. Priestley’s An Inspector Calls. I assumed she meant a film that had been made decades ago, but no, it was a new BBC production filmed just a couple of years ago, starring David Thewlis, Miranda Richardson, Ken Stott!

So, to wind down from my visit to Norton Community Primary School, I watched An Inspector Calls. I’d seen it at the theatre many years ago, so the dénouement wasn’t a surprise, but I very much enjoyed the production, and spotting the locations used. (The primary-aged children may need to wait a few years before watching it, though!)

However, what I was doing at the school was age-appropriate – lots of Buzzing! minibeast activities, including two Buzzing! shows, Buzzing! poetry writing and performing workshops and Buzzing! book signings.

Here’s what Mrs Everitt told me afterwards:

‘The children have loved it – lots of staff have stopped me in the corridor to make positive comments about today – so mission accomplished, thank you.’

And here’s some feedback from a Year 5 teacher:

‘Excellent content which really enthused the children about the topic. There was good interaction with the children and they participated fully. In the classroom afterwards there was a lot of discussion about the content.’

Thank you to all the staff and pupils of both Carlton Miniott and Norton primary schools, for inviting me into their – literature-rich – schools. And to Clare Burkhill-Howarth of Book Events for Schools for organising my Carlton Miniott visit.

If you’d like me to kickstart your Book Week, get in touch with me or with Clare. (And you can find out more about my school visits here.)

Anneliese Emmans Dean – theBigBuzz – Bringing poetry to life



OK, so this looks like a spindly, bare, whippersnapper of a tree …

Naburn Primary School children with one of their new apple trees

Naburn Primary School children with one of their new apple trees

… but pupils at two York schools have been imagining what it will grow into, and how they will enjoy the fruit it will bear in the future. And they have been doing so through poetry.

The ‘Poetree’ project was dreamt up and delivered by Vikki Pendry of York Edible Schools (Y.E.S. – part of Edible York) and me. Two local schools were offered two apple trees each (courtesy of Y.E.S.), and an accompanying poetry workshop from me.

The first school to take up the offer was, appropriately, Applefields School, followed swiftly by Naburn Primary School.

Planting apple trees in February is a splendidly muddy business, but fortunately the children had been primed to bring wellies that day, so much stomping could be enjoyed by all.

Apple tree planting at Applefields School

Apple tree planting at Applefields School

Less muddy were our poetry workshops, in which the children learned and performed a poem I had written specially for them all about the wildlife the apple trees would support as they matured.

Then the children created their own class poem about what the trees and their fruit would mean to them.

It was great to see such purposeful and imaginative learning going on at these two schools. Claire Hopkinson, Form 3 teacher at Applefields, told us afterwards:

‘We loved having you to visit us and the pupils really did have a great deal of fun and enjoyment. They performed the poems in assembly so everyone in school has benefitted from your workshop.’

Planting mission accomplished at Applefields School

Planting mission accomplished at Applefields School

The Applefields pupils subsequently sent us an absolutely beautiful ‘Thank You’ pack. Just take a look at this:

The cover of Applefields School 'Thank You' pack

The cover of Applefields School ‘Thank You’ pack

Thank you letters from the pupils of Applefields School

Thank you letters from the pupils of Applefields School

Thank you letters from the pupils of Applefields School

Thank you letters from the pupils of Applefields School

Aren’t they fabulous? Brought a tear to my eye …

Vikki and I hope the apple trees will leave a tasty legacy for all these children for years to come.

This was one of a range of food-related poetry events that I have put on. If you fancy some poetree or other food-related poetry at your school, then just get in touch. (Though I have to tell you, the current funding for the apple trees has been used up now!)

Meanwhile, do check out the excellent work of York Edible Schools and Edible York. You’ll find loads of resources there to help you get growing, and teach others to grow too.

Anneliese Emmans Dean – theBigBuzz – Bringing poetry to life




Terrific Technologies at St Anthony’s Primary School

It was Terrific Technologies week at St Anthony’s Catholic Primary School in Leeds last week, and I went along one afternoon to teach Year 4 how to take photos using my BigBuzz Photography Technique and my digital cameras. The children caught on fast. Very fast! Take a look at some of the terrific photos they took in their school grounds:

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It’s amazing what you can find on a cold, grey afternoon in February when you’re being observant, isn’t it?

What did the children think of the workshop? Well, more than one came up to me and said they now wanted to be a photographer when they grew up!

And what did form teacher Miss McGuire think about it all?

‘Thanks so much for the fabulous workshop. The children really loved it and I was so impressed by the quality of the photos they took!’

I was really impressed too! Congratulations to Year 4 for learning to use the terrific technology that is the digital camera so fast and so well. It’s a skill for life. Who knows where it will lead them?

If you’d like a BigBuzz photography workshop in your school, and you’re within an hour of York, then just get in touch.

And you can find out more about my photography workshops here and here .

Anneliese Emmans Dean – theBigBuzz