Crossing the River
Roger Stevens

This is a great warm-up exercise. Or you can develop it into something more. I’ve used it a lot with Able Writers. But it works well with juniors and years 7 and 8.

Tell the class that they are standing on the bank of a river. The river is as wide as the classroom. Ask them to suggest ways to get to the other side. As they make suggestions – write them on the board. At first you’ll probably have obvious things – but persist, as before long much odder suggestions start to appear.

This is a brainstorming session and you are encouraging the children to be as wild and imaginative as possible. If their idea will get them across the divide – that’s fine.

You should end up with thirty or forty suggestions! These might range from – cross over by bridge, swim, go by boat – to these suggestions from a group of Year Seven writers in Battle, East Sussex.

Join a circus and borrow the clown’s stilts.
Blow up a puffer fish with helium and float across.
Cross using a pair of ancient Greek winged sandals.
Cross the river by standing on the tongue of a whale.
Wait for a very cold day, then when the river freezes – skate across.
Catch a lift with the Flying Monkeys.

Discuss with your group or class the order of lines in a poem like this. They might like to put the obvious things first and the most crazy suggestion last.

To write the poem you might like to divide the children into groups. Or they could work independently. I would ask each group/child to think of more suggestions than they will need. For example – think of fifteen ways to cross the river. Then choose the best ten.

When they have finished, ask them to read the poem out loud, and think about its rhythm.

Or you might like to brainstorm other ideas for a poem like this, such as:

Ten ways to get out of doing homework (a popular suggestion)

Seventeen ways to climb over a wall

Eleven ways to help mum

Things to do when you’re really bored

There are many poems written like this. You’ll find some in The Works series such as Ian Macmillan’s Ten Things Found in a Wizard’s Pocket and Allan Ahlberg’s Things I Have Been Doing Lately.