Literacy Module 2 Section 4

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Primary Subject Resources

straight connector 3Literacy
Module 2 Section 4 Using story and poetry
1 Using poems to stimulate writing activities

2 Working in groups to write life stories

3 Focus on the writing process

TESSA (Teacher Education in Sub-Saharan Africa) aims to improve the classroom practices of primary teachers and secondary science teachers in Africa through the provision of Open Educational Resources (OERs) to support teachers in developing student-centred, participatory approaches. The TESSA OERs provide teachers with a companion to the school textbook. They offer activities for teachers to try out in their classrooms with their students, together with case studies showing how other teachers have taught the topic, and linked resources to support teachers in developing their lesson plans and subject knowledge.

TESSA OERs have been collaboratively written by African and international authors to address the curriculum and contexts. They are available for online and print use ( The Primary OERs are available in several versions and languages (English, French, Arabic and Swahili). Initially, the OER were produced in English and made relevant across Africa. These OER have been versioned by TESSA partners for Ghana, Nigeria, Zambia, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa, and translated by partners in Sudan (Arabic), Togo (French) and Tanzania (Swahili) Secondary Science OER are available in English and have been versioned for Zambia, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. We welcome feedback from those who read and make use of these resources. The Creative Commons License enables users to adapt and localise the OERs further to meet local needs and contexts.

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As well as the main body of pedagogic resources to support teaching in particular subject areas, there are a selection of additional resources including audio, key resources which describe specific practices, handbooks and toolkits.

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  • Section 4: Using story and poetry

    • 1. Using poems to stimulate writing activities

    • 2. Working in groups to write life stories

    • 3. Focus on the writing process

    • Resource 1: Preparing lessons on name or praise poems

    • Resource 2: Name poems and stories

    • Resource 3: Praise poems and stories

    • Resource 4: Preparing lessons on life stories

    • Resource 5: Questions for pupils – to think about how to improve (craft) what they have written in their first draft

    • Acknowledgements

Section 4: Using story and poetry

Key Focus Question: How can you use poetry and story to stimulate pupils to write?

Keywords: name; praise; poems; stories; biographies, writing

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this section, you will have:

  • used name or praise poems or stories to stimulate pupils’ ideas for writing;

  • used resources such as magazine or newspaper articles to stimulate ideas for writing life stories (biographies);

  • explored ‘drafting’ and ‘crafting’ when writing.


Throughout Africa, we have a rich oral and written literature about people who are, or who were in the past, important to their families, their communities and their countries. They are celebrated in praise songs and poems and in life stories (biographies). Using this rich cultural history in your teaching can provide reading materials for the language classroom and stimulate pupils’ interest in writing.

1. Using poems to stimulate writing activities

If pupils listen to and read poems or stories that they enjoy, they are more likely to be interested in developing their own reading and writing skills in their home language or in the language of the classroom.

In order to become successful writers, pupils need several ‘tools’. Firstly, they need something to write about. In Activity 1, you will use examples of name or praise poems or stories to give pupils ideas. Then you will guide them in writing the first draft of a name or praise poem or story. It is important for pupils to understand that writers ‘craft’ their poems and stories. This means writing several draft versions, to which they make improvements, until they are satisfied that their poem or story is the best they can make it.

Case Study 1: Reading and writing name poems and stories at a teacher workshop

At a four-day workshop in Johannesburg in South Africa, some teachers of English read poems and stories about names. In these, the writers described how they came to have their names, what they liked or did not like about them and what words or images they associated with them. The teachers really enjoyed what they read and asked if they could write their own name poems or stories during the workshop.

On the second day, each teacher read his or her first draft to a partner. They gave each other feedback on what they liked and what they thought could be improved, for example by adding details and choosing different vocabulary or punctuation.

On the fourth day, having worked on their drafts the day before, they each read their completed poem or story to the whole group. There was laughter, there were some tears and there was much applause.

When they were asked to reflect on their experience, they said:

  • no one had been ‘stuck’ for something to write about;

  • while most wrote in English, they enjoyed using occasional words or phrases in an African language to express a particular idea;

  • they benefited from the feedback on their first draft;

  • they felt proud of the final version;

  • they enjoyed listening to the other stories/poems;

  • many of the poems were similar to traditional praise poems and songs.

The teachers decided they would read their own and other name poems or stories to their pupils and help them to write about their names.

Activity 1: Drafting name or praise poems or stories

Use Resource 1: Preparing lessons on name or praise poems to prepare for this activity and Resource 2: Name poems and stories or Resource 3: Praise poems and stories for ideas. Choose either name poems/stories or praise poems/stories.

  • Ask pupils to suggest what a name poem/story or a praise poem/story would be about.

  • Ask them to listen while you read aloud the poem(s)/story(ies) you prepared.

  • Ask them questions about what you have read to them.

  • Ask pupils to discuss with a partner either what they know about their name or that of a family member and how they feel about this name, or what they know about the person, animal or object they wish to praise.

  • Next, ask some pupils to report to the class on their discussion.
  • Ask pupils to write the first draft of a poem or story about their own or family member’s name or in praise of their chosen person, animal or object.

  • Collect the drafts in preparation for the Key Activity.

Did writing name or praise poems/stories give your pupils ideas for writing?

Were you pleased with the way you organised the lesson? What changes would you make next time?

With younger children, you might write a name poem together, sharing ideas and using familiar words in the classroom language.

2. Working in groups to write life stories

Some of the first stories children hear are likely to be stories about the life experiences of family or community members. The life stories (biographies) of famous people are frequently published in magazines and newspapers and even in comic form, so, whether from listening or from reading, many pupils are likely to be familiar with life stories. This is a good starting point to stimulate interest in reading and writing.

In the classroom, pupils need support from their teacher and from one another when they are learning to speak, read and write – particularly if this is in an additional language. Case Study 2 and Activity 2 show how you can give pupils opportunities to read, talk, work together in small groups and write the first drafts of the life stories of people they are interested in. Pupils need examples to guide their development as writers. The articles they read can help them organise their writing and help with sentence structure and vocabulary.

Younger pupils will need you to work with them, guiding their writing and gradually extending their vocabulary.

Case Study 2: Using pupils’ interests to develop reading and writing skills

Mr Simon Ramphele noticed that, in the playground, some Grade 6 boys – who showed no interest in reading and writing during English lessons – often sat together to read the soccer newspaper, Laduma. They told him they enjoyed finding out about the lives of their favourite players.

This gave Simon an idea. He asked the whole class whether they ever read newspapers or magazines and, if they did, what they enjoyed reading. Many said they tried to read stories about people who interested them, even though they couldn’t understand all the words. Simon organised a collection of newspapers and magazines for the classroom. Then he asked pupils who they were most interested in reading about. The favourites were sports stars (mainly soccer, but some basketball, athletics and boxing), musicians, film and TV stars, followed by fashion models, politicians, community leaders and successful business people.

Simon grouped pupils according to their interests. There were several groups for sports stars and musicians! He gave magazines and newspapers to each group and asked them to find articles/pictures about one person who interested them. Then, as a group, they helped each other to write one or two short sentences about the person’s life. They used their own words as well as vocabulary from the articles. They wrote their own title.

Simon was pleased to find that most pupils were involved in reading and, while some did more of the writing than others, everyone participated. Each group enjoyed reading their biography to another group.

Activity 2: Reading and writing life stories

Use Resource 4: Preparing lessons on life stories to prepare for this activity.

  • Ask pupils to read together the story you have copied on to the chalkboard or paper. Or read it to them and explain what it is.

  • Discuss the features of life stories (biographies). Ask pupils to tell you what categories of people (e.g. national footballers, local musicians) they are interested in, and why.

  • Give each same-interest group several newspapers and magazines that contain articles about the category that interests them.

  • Ask them to find articles about a person from their chosen category and use the information to write two important facts about the person (see Resource 4 for guidance on helping your pupils to do this).

  • Collect the drafts for use in the Key Activity.

If your class is very large, you could do this activity with half the class or smaller groups in turn. You could also group pupils according to their ability – mixing more able and less able to help each other. With younger pupils, you might do this as a whole-class exercise where you help by writing their ideas down and sharing their words.

3. Focus on the writing process

When we write something, it is important to make it clear what we are trying to say. We need to plan. Next, we start writing and then stop and read what we’ve written. We may decide to change the order of some words, to add or take away some information or change it around. Finally, we check for incorrect spelling, punctuation or grammar. The final piece of writing may look quite different from our first draft. We have ‘crafted’ our writing.

In the classroom, one piece of writing would be completed (i.e. crafted) before another one is begun. Case Study 3 and the Key Activity show you how to prepare for lessons in which pupils are to craft their writing.

Case Study 3: Working with a colleague to help pupils’ writing

Mrs Dorcas Mazibuko and Mrs Beauty Mntambo teach English to Grade 6 classes in Daveyton. They give pupils detailed feedback on their writing, so sometimes stay after school and work together on their marking.

One afternoon, while drinking tea before they began marking, they agreed that they were feeling frustrated. Most pupils seemed to ignore the comments and corrections in their books. The friends thought this was strange, because they found the comments they gave each other on first drafts helped them to improve the final versions of the assignments for their professional development courses. Then Dorcas realised something important! Her pupils didn’t get a chance to do more work on the same piece of writing. Instead, there was a new topic in each writing lesson. When she said this to Beauty, her friend agreed that the same happened in her class. That’s how they’d been taught when they were at school!

They decided to try a new approach. They would use several lessons to work on drafting and crafting the same piece of writing. They would give pupils ideas to guide their writing and rewriting. At first, pupils didn’t like rewriting, but when they saw how their work improved, they started to take much more pride in it.

Key Activity: From first draft writing to crafted poems/stories

  • Before the lesson, read pupils’ first drafts and decide on some general questions to ask them all to improve their work (see Resource 5: Questions for pupils). Write these on the chalkboard.

  • Return the drafts, with some general comments on what you like about pupils’ writing. Explain that they are now going to craft their writing.

  • Ask them to reread their first draft and to use the questions on the board to write an improved second draft.

  • Ask them to exchange their second draft with a partner and give each other suggestions for improvements.

  • Ask them to use these suggestions to write the final version. Go round the class and help where necessary. Encourage them to include drawings with their writing.

  • If there isn’t time to complete this activity within the class period, ask pupils to complete the activity at home and report back the next day.

  • Ask them how the process of drafting helped.

Were there any improvements in pupils’ writing as a result of the drafting and crafting process? How can you build on these?

With younger pupils or those less competent in the classroom language, you could work with them to draft and redraft a simple piece over two lessons – giving them space between lessons to think about what they really wanted to say.

Resource 1: Preparing lessons on name or praise poems

   Background information / subject knowledge for teacher

Decide whether you wish to choose name or praise poems/stories to work on with your pupils.

  1. Choose one or more examples from Resources 2 or 3 OR from other resources that you have OR write your own poem or story.

  2. Write the poem(s)/story(ies) on large sheets of paper or cardboard so that when you use them in class pupils will be able to read the large print with you and then refer to the poems and stories when they are writing their own. If you don’t have large sheets of paper, write on your chalkboard.

  3. Prepare some questions to ask pupils about the poem(s)/story(ies). Obviously, the kind of question will depend on what you have chosen.

For example, if you chose Tade’s or Thabo’s poem, you could begin with: ‘What do you notice about the way this poem is written?’ (Answer: Each line begins with one letter in Tade’s or Thabo’s name).

If you chose Hugh Lewin’s praise story about Jafta’s mother, you could ask: ‘Would you like to have a mother like Jafta’s? Give me a reason for your answer.’

When you have completed this preparation, you are ready to teach lessons about name and praise poems and stories. When pupils begin writing, move around the class to help anyone who finds it difficult to get started. Some may need help with ideas, others with vocabulary.

Resources 2 and 3 are all name or praise poems, songs or stories but the language is much more difficult in some than in others.

Resource 2: Name poems and stories

   Teacher resource for planning or adapting to use with pupils

A name poem written by a teacher in South Africa
Marumo – My Praise Name by Marumo Magdalene Mafokoane

The pride of the family –

Who brought this name?

How did it come to me?

No one in the family deserved it – except me!

My late aunt Mankwana’s name.

My parents did not choose it – the spirits did,

Long before I was conceived.

Marumo – the name that gives hope.

Marumo – my special name.

The spirits told my mother in a vision

You will conceive and give birth to twins.

Name the girl child after her late aunt Makwana Marumo.

She will survive the storms of life.

Give the boy child a name of your choice.

We will take him to ourselves at an early age.

(I still grieve for you, Maile.)

Marumo – meaning weapons.

Our forefathers used them to defend themselves.

So do I.

I am a fighter. I stand up for my rights.

I have fought many battles.

I have won many battles.

I am Marumo.

If I am about to drown, I think of my name.

Marumo. I gain courage and strength to move on.


My parents chose my other name – Magdalene.

A biblical name for a Sunday baby.

Both names are special, but Marumo is my strength.

Marumo is my pride.

A name poem written by a teacher in South Africa
Thoughts about the letters of my name by Thabo X
T stands for tough – I’m a man of steel

H is for happy – the way I feel

A is for ambition to be the...


One of a kind – that’s me!
A name story written by a teacher in South Africa
A naming story that was told to me by Mbhevula Ntuli
A long time ago, in the middle of summer, my grandfather, then named Mavuvu, went to the river to fulfil some ritual ceremonies. There he came across a full-grown buffalo that had come to drink. The animal charged him and they fought. He killed the massive beast and immediately ran home to tell his father about his amazing feat. His father, Muraai, sent a message round the village and people rushed to the river. It was true – there lay the dead buffalo!

From that day Mavuvu received great respect from whoever knew what he had done. Men and women, young and old, honoured him. Some people started to give him the nickname ‘Mbhevula’. The whispered name reached the ears of his father Muraai who decided to call the tribe together for a name-changing ceremony. Officially, Mavuvu became Mbhevula, meaning ‘buffalo’ in the Ndebele language.

When I was born, in the middle of the 20th century, I was named after my grandfather. It is a name that I associate with the courage and strength of my ancestor and I am proud of it.

Resource 3: Praise poems and stories

   Teacher resource for planning or adapting to use with pupils

A traditional Zulu praise poem – in isiZulu and in English translation, with some explanatory notes



Ujama kaNdaba!

Jama son of Ndaba!

UJama kaluthwana kangakanani,

Jama is not deceived to the slightest extent,

Nasenhlamvini yomkhont’angenela,

Even on the point of a spear he can be at ease,

Nasemagatshen’ angaphathetela.

Even on branches he can hold tight.

Obengumqingo wang’itshe laseZihlalo,

He who was solid like a rock of Zihlalo,

Ebilingalayezwa ngabaphath’ izinhlendla,

Which could be commanded by those who carry barbed spears,

Thina bamaklwa singathath’ichoba sophule,

While we of the broad-bladed spears could save ourselves by using a sandstone,

UMabopha wakithi kwaZwangendaba,

Inspirer of our place at Zwangendaba,

Ongibophe zaluk’ inhlazane nemfuduluko,

Who inspired me as the cattle went out to graze at midday,

Obabis’ ihlaba elikuMahogo,

Who made bitter the aloe of Mahogo,

Othabis’ idukumbane elikuNgcingci

Who made glad the trifle of Ngcingci.

This is a poem in praise of Jama who was an early Zulu chief. Hlaba (aloe) and Dukumbane (trifle) were the names of regiments of young soldiers who were made ‘sharp’ (bitter) or pleased (glad) by Jama.

A praise poem written by a South African pupil
Praise poem for Sekhukunene by Nathaniel Seleka
He was born to rule,

A pure leader.

He had leadership blood in him,

The blood of great ancestors;

No one could take it from him.

He ruled equally,

Land was for everyone,

Land was not sold,

No one was a slave;

He loved everyone who came in peace

Without checking their colour.

He was a great man;

He showed Mama Africa how to live;

Many people don’t know him,

But he ruled his own land.

A praise poem written by a South African pupil. Praise poem for Sekhukunene by Nathaniel Selka, taken from:English Matters, Grad 7 Anthology, compiled by Lloyd, G. & Montgomery, K. (1999), p.67. Cape Town: Cambridge University Press) ISBN: 0 521 66747X

A praise song sung by children in Soweto

An explanation of some of the words and ideas follows the poem.

Ma Sisulu

Here is Ma Sisulu

Here is Ma Sisulu

She’s carrying her brown suitcase

She’s carrying her brown suitcase

Ma Sisulu is bringing us babies [line 5]

Ma Sisulu is bringing us babies

Sawubona, Ma Sisulu!

Keep your mouth shut, you laaitjie.

Keep your mouth shut, you laaitjie.

The SB ... eeez will arrest Ma Sisulu [line 10]

The SB ... eeez will arrest Ma Sisulu

She ... e is silenced

She ... e is silenced

I won’t shut my mouth

My mother has a big tummy [line 15]

Mrs Sisulu will bring us a baby

From her brown suitcase

SB... eeez or no SB ... eeez

I want my baby from Ma Sisulu

And her brown suitcase. [line 20]

A praise song sung by children in Soweto, taken from: New Successful English, Reading Book, Grade 6 (2001), p.115. (Cape Town: Oxford University Press). ISBN: 0 19 571433 4.


  • Mrs Albertina Sisulu is one of the heroes of the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. Her husband Walter was one of the leaders of the African National Congress and was imprisoned with Nelson Mandela on Robben Island. While Walter was in prison, Albertina was not allowed to leave Orlando township in Soweto and for much of the time she was a banned person. This meant, among other things, that she could not be quoted in the media (i.e. she was silenced – line 12). She worked in Soweto as a midwife, helping to deliver babies.

  • Sawubona (line 7) is a Zulu greeting, roughly translated as ‘Hello!’

  • laaitjie (line 8) is an Afrikaans word meaning ‘little child’ or ‘young one’.

  • SB (line 10) refers to the Security Branch – the branch of the police who checked to see if Mrs Sisulu had defied her banning order.

A Yoruba poem in praise of the python

Some praise poetry praises animals or objects rather than people. Here is a poem from the Yoruba people. Explanation of some of the language is provided after the poem.


Swaggering prince [Line 1]

Giant among snakes.

They say python has no house.

I heard it a long time ago

And I laughed and laughed and laughed.

For who owns the ground under the lemon grass? [Line 6]

Who owns the ground under the elephant grass?

Who owns the swamp – father of rivers?

Who owns the stagnant pool – father of waters?

Because they never walk hand in hand [Line 10]

People say that snakes walk only singly.

But just imagine

Suppose the viper walks in front

The green mamba follows

And the python creeps rumbling behind – [Line 15]

Who will be brave enough

To wait for them?

Python taken from English Matters, Grade 7 Anthology, compiled by Lloyd, G. & Montgomery, K.


  • To walk with a swagger is to walk proudly – thinking you are the best, showing off. In Line 1, the poem describes the python as a swaggering prince.

  • The questions in Lines 6 to 9 suggest that the python has many houses – both on the ground and in water.

  • In verse two, the poem suggests that other animals and people would be too frightened to walk next to the snakes – that is why snakes ‘walk’ singly (by themselves).

Resource 4: Preparing lessons on life stories

   Background information / subject knowledge for teacher

  1. Collect the resources that you will need. This may take some time, but the newspapers, magazines and comics that you collect could be used for many different kinds of language lessons in addition to those on reading and writing life stories. Some pupils may be able to bring newspapers and magazines from home, so ask them to ask their families for permission to do so. Ask your colleagues and friends to contribute newspapers and magazines that they have finished with. In some countries, newspaper and magazine publishers may be prepared to donate copies to your school. Some NGOs also have excellent publications. For example, in South Africa, comics about Nelson Mandela’s life are available from the Nelson Mandela Foundation and the NGOs ‘Soul City’ and ‘Love Life’ also have useful magazine materials.

  2. Before you begin these lessons you must have enough reading material about a range of well-known people for each group of pupils to work with.
  3. Copy on to large sheets of paper or cardboard or on to your chalkboard the life story of Hugh Masekela (biography below) OR another life story of your choice that is written in fairly simple language.

  4. Make a list of common features of life stories to discuss with your pupils. These include:

    • usually telling the story in a time sequence from early years to later years in the person’s life;

    • highlighting the special achievements of the person’s life;

    • details of something particularly interesting or amusing about the person’s life.

Now you are ready to begin the lesson!

Guiding pupils while they write life stories

While pupils are working in their groups, move round the room to check that they understand the task and are able to find articles to use. You could write a ‘checklist’ on the chalkboard to guide pupils in their writing. For example:

  • name(s) of the person;

  • place of birth;

  • family details;

  • ‘history’ – school days, first achievements, later achievements;

  • interesting/sad/amusing things that have happened in the person’s life.

Encourage pupils to think about the order in which to write the information about the person and to use some of their own words. They should not just copy from the articles.

Hugh Masekela’s life story (biography)
The magic blower – Hugh Masekela’

Hugh Masekela’s love for music started when he was a naughty boy at school. At school Hugh had problems. He was not very interested in his studies. He spent his time playing soccer and dreaming about music.

One day there was an important soccer match at his school. Thanks to the goals scored by Hugh, his school won. His team was so pleased that they rewarded him with some ‘sqo’ (sorghum beer). He was very sick from drinking too much ‘sqo’. His teacher, who liked Hugh very much, became worried about his behaviour and spoke to the local priest, Father Trevor Huddleston.

They asked Hugh what he wanted most in the world. ‘A trumpet,’ Hugh answered. Father Huddleston organised a trumpet for Hugh. Shortly afterwards, Hugh and some other musicians formed the Huddleston Jazz Band. From that time he never looked back.

Hugh left South Africa in 1960 with the musical show King Kong. He did not return because the racist laws made it very difficult for black musicians to earn a living. Although he was overseas Hugh did not forget his mother country. He continued to write songs about South Africa and the problems of its people. He was very well known as a jazz musician overseas.

Now, Hugh is back home in South Africa, welcomed by all. As well as performing music, he is involved in educating children and adults about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse and in raising money to help people who have drug or alcohol problems.

Hugh Masekela’s life story (biography) The magic blower – Hugh Masekela.

Adapted from New Successful English, Learner’s Book, Grade 5 (2001), p.19 (Cape Town: Oxford University Press). ISBN: 0 19 57433 4

Resource 5: Questions for pupils – to think about how to improve (craft) what they have written in their first draft

   Pupil use

  1. Does your poem/story have a title? If no, what would be a good title? If yes, is the title likely to interest readers? Is the title a ‘good match’ with what you’ve written about?

  2. Will a reader be able to follow your ideas or the sequence of events in your poem or story?

  3. If you have written a description, have you included plenty of details?

  4. Now that you’ve read your poem or story again, what would you like to add or to take out?


Grateful acknowledgement is made to the following sources:


Resource 3 : Praise poems and stories : Original source(s):

A praise poem written by a South African pupil. Praise poem for Sekhukunene by Nathaniel Selka, taken from:English Matters, Grad 7 Anthology, compiled by Lloyd, G. & Montgomery, K. (1999), p.67. Cape Town: Cambridge University Press) ISBN: 0 521 66747X

A praise song sung by children in Soweto, taken from:

New Successful English, Reading Book, Grade 6 (2001), p.115. (Cape Town: Oxford University Press). ISBN: 0 19 571433 4.

Python taken from English Matters, Grade 7 Anthology, compiled by Lloyd, G. & Montgomery, K.

Resource 4 : Preparing lessons on life stories : Original source:

Hugh Masekela’s life story (biography) The magic blower – Hugh Masekela.

Adapted from New Successful English, Learner’s Book, Grade 5 (2001), p.19 (Cape Town: Oxford University Press). ISBN: 0 19 57433 4

Every effort has been made to contact copyright holders. If any have been inadvertently overlooked the publishers will be pleased to make the necessary arrangements at the first opportunity.

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