Michael Rosen Workshop - HMD & History Beneath Our Feet at Abbey Meadows School

Abbey Meadows School was full of laughter and song when the pupils had a fantastic workshop of poetry, history, rhythm, movement and rhyme. It was organized by Helen Weinstein, Director of Historyworks supported by the team at HistoryWorks.  The stars of the show were the participating children joined by the well-loved writer and performer Michael Rosen,  the former Children's Laureate and author of hundreds of books, including the international best-seller, We're Going On a Bear Hunt and Chocolate Cake! 

The focus of the creative writing and singing workshops in the morning and in the afternoon were to expose the children and their teachers to a variety of ways in which they could write their own poems and songs. 

Helen Weinstein, the Director of Historyworks shaped the programme of work for the school,  and has commissioned poems from Michael Rosen and songs from the CBBC's Horrible Histories' songwriter, Dave Cohen.  At this workshop, not only was there the opportunity to sing the songs together, but to learn directly from Michael Rosen how he finds inspiration and develops his own ideas to write poems.  

The workshop began with a reading of a poem by the school's Headteacher followed by the movemnet and singing session led by the Historyworks teachers of Mario Satchwell and Rebecca Powell where the children learned songs commisiond by Historworks about the area surrounding the school including songs about nearby Coldham's Common. The songs includered have been adapted from a poem written about the history of the area by Michael Rosen arranged into melodies for songs and rounds by local composer, Bethany Kirby.

Mario engaged the children with stretching exercises to get moving to music and body percussion to make some noise and feel their collective strength in their voices. Mario and Rebecca did their warm-ups for the children’s voices with their bespoke songs, such as the Horrible-Histories-style song devised by Helen Weinstein about the Cambridge Coat of Arms, called SeaHorses . Warm-ups also included the tongue twister written and performed by Michael called The Button Bop.  The warm-ups ended with the singing of the new song about the jurassic period on Coldham's Common when Pterosaurs were fishing and leaving deposits called Flying Lizards in the Sky.

Pictures and words helped the children all join in and the singing certainly kicked-off the workshop in a way that the chldren responded to, all engaged and enthusiastic to perform poetry and write a poem about Cambridge collaboratively with the help of Helen Weinstein and Michael Rosen when we returned for the afternoon workshop! 

During the morning workshop the teachers had the opportunity to participate in a CPD session with Michael Rosen and Helen Weinstein, looking at the Historyworks trail project taking the children from the front door of the school into the city stopping off at places of historical interest, learning how to use the five senses for children to imagine what they may see and hear and smell and feel and taste if they were there, and how to use these ideas for writing a poem.  Michael also underlined how unique this project is in the UK to be using 'history beneath our feet' to inspire poetry and a sense of belonging, which will contribute to the wellbeing of the children and give them a sense of ownership of the world immediately around them.  He recommended poetry 'concerts' for children to read out their own poems to the class, and to also chose poems from books and online, to perform aloud to one another! 

In the school hall, Helen reminded the children of their special history trail and Michael shared the story of creating his poem Hand on the Bridge which was inspired when he was standing in a tunnel under a railway and feeling the rhythm. We have been working with the school choir and the whole school in singing assemblies to join our project at Historyworks of the 'Railway Singers' with musuc about the railway coming to Cambridge in 1845, and inviting the school via flyers and newsletters to join in our family workshops and to sing with the community project at the Winter Fair on Mill Road on 2nd December.  To this end,  Mario taught the whole school the song adaptation with actions of Hand on the Bridge, specially arranged for the project by Bethany Kirby.

To help children find their own rhythm for when they compose their own poems for the project, Mario taught the children and their teachers gathered together in the school hall how to develop their rhyming by using body percussion, which was performed to our Historyworks adaptions of Michael's poem for Who Made the Lions Roar by Mario Satchwell, and the Fitz Lions Trip Trap rounds about the stone lions seated outside the Fitzwilliam Museum with lyrics by Michael Rosen and melody composed by Kirsty Martin.  It was fantastic to see 500 children joining in with great gusto, especially with the roars, which delighted Michael and all the teachers and carers to witness the young people having such fun with poetry, learning about rhythm and rhyme!

Historyworks had carefully selected the running order for the students so that they could be inspired and exposed to a variety of ways in which a poem or song can be constructed in rhythm and rhyme, and so Michael Rosen next was asked by Helen Weinstein to  share a number of his poems using rhythm in a pronounced way, including  Down By the Bins and  NO Breathing in Class which the children absolutely loved listening to and joining in with!  

The last element organized by Historyworks for the workshop was to have 500 children collaborate to write a poem together! Michael challenged the children to co-create a poem around the theme of ‘My Cambridge: The Leper Chapel’.  Helen shared a bit of history about the Leper Chapel and showed the children images of what the Leper Chapel looked like inside and outside, then and now, presented into a slide show by Mario to inspire the children for their poetry-writing together. The children shared their ideas with the children next to them and Michael gave the children some top tips of how to start writing a poem, especially thinking about using repetition and rhythm.  

Michael and Helen then brought the children back together again to mindmap their ideas and then Michael shared how he could take these ideas to transform them into a poem and developed this with the help of the children.

The key element was a repeated riff or chorus for the poem, which went "I'm a gargoyle up un the wall" and like the Fitz Lion poem we sung earlier, the children then suggested things that the gargoyle may have seen, heard, felt, smelt touched based on the 5 senses principle. The children thought the gargoyle during the times of when there was a Leper Hospital and Farm adjancent to the Chapel to care for Lepers, may have "Heard bells Ringing, Seen People Crying" which lines we incorporated into the poem amongst others, and then the whole school performed their poem together which gave all involved a huge sense of satisfaction and an insight into poetry writing! 

Michael also presented a prize to a year 6 pupil for a particularly good piece of work based on the Leper Chapel following a visit to the site with the Historian Helen earlier in the year. You can hear the poem below


If you would like your school to be involved, please be in touch with Helen Weinstein via historyworks@gmail.com 

There is an album of photos taken by the team at Historyworks available on flickr here:

Created with flickr slideshow.
Michael Rosen  Workshop - HMD & History Beneath Our Feet at Abbey Meadows School


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