About the Competition

  • Introduction
  • Choose it - learn it - perform it
  • Andrew Motion


Poetry By Heart is a national competition in which young people in key stages 2, 3, 4 and 5 choose poems they love, learn them by heart and perform them in a school or college competition.

With our support and free materials, you pick your school/college competition winner(s), make a simple video of their performances and upload them for judging. Every national competition entrant receives positive feedback from the judges and a certificate celebrating their achievement. The best will be invited to perform their poems in front of top UK poets at the British Library – and the new Poetry By Heart national champions will be crowned.

Poetry By Heart is simple to set up, it’s all free and you have until 28th February 2021 to choose who will represent your school or college in the national competition.

You can also take part by uploading videos of your pupils performing poems for sharing on our website, if a competition isn’t for you.

What teachers say about Poetry By Heart

“The competition has generated a poetry buzz, offering young people the opportunity not simply to engage with poetry but to own it, inhabit it, and share it.”

“Students want to compete because it is a challenge. Learning a poem by heart appeals to lots of different types of students and often to those we least expect.”

“It’s egalitarian – in our school it is rarely the top set who win and the confidence and pleasure it gives the lower ability students is undoubted.”

“Opportunities to perform in public are increasingly rare. Poetry By Heart helps young people to develop the confidence to stand in front of large groups and handle public scenarios.”

“Poetry By Heart has massively increased our awareness and enjoyment of poetry: it brings poetry ‘alive’, off the page and into people’s hearts.”

“It gives students with special needs a huge boost when they can remember a whole poem by heart AND perform it. It impacts on self-confidence and supports cognition and learning.”

“In an age of growing anxiety, stress and mental health concerns, poetry that has been learned and internalised can play a vital role in equipping students to navigate the choppy waters of adolescence.”

Register now for more information about the competition, entry categories and free competition materials at poetrybyheart.org.uk/registration-form

Choose it - learn it - perform it

Choose a poem

From the website homepage you can explore a wide variety of poems and poets in lots of different ways in order to find the ones you love:

>Click an age group for your curated collection of poems and resources

>Age related timelines of classic and contemporary poems – 7+, 11+ and 14+

>100 poems with a fun Mix-It-Up feature

>Special themed collections of poems – First World War Poetry, Shakespeare’s Sonnets and Romantic Poetry

>Random poem – give it a click!

Learn it by heart

Think of a poem as a written text waiting to have life breathed into it by reading it, listening to it and speaking it aloud. There’s more guidance about how to learn a poem by heart in the Learning Zone poetrybyheart.org.uk/ learningzone, and in the Teaching Zone we have some special activities to get your whole class started by learning a poem together in just one lesson! Then challenge pupils to learn poems of their choice from our website and you’ll be well on your way to taking part in Poetry By Heart.

Perform it out loud

There are dozens of fun ways to share poems aloud that have been learned by heart. Will it be in class time or tutor group time? As part of a lunchtime or after-school club? In an assembly? As part of an existing school performance event? Part of a school or local poetry festival? In a community setting? Or a special Poetry By Heart evening?

We have loads of experience helping schools, colleges and other places where education happens work out how Poetry By Heart will work best for them. We’ve also learned a thing or too this year about how to run a digital competition when pupils are learning at home. Drop us a line on info@poetrybyheart.org.uk or call 0117 905 5338 – we’re standing by to help!

It’s easy to take part with our new drag-and-drop video upload

However you want to take part, it all starts by shooting a simple video of your young people’s poem performances on a smartphone, tablet or digital camera. Then it’s a simple drag-and-drop upload of the video and parental permission form via our website. It’s easy to join in, it’s fun for the students and it’s all free.

Register now to take part: here

Andrew Motion

Ever since I first started reading poetry in earnest, more than forty years ago, I’ve always thought its meaning has as much to do with sound as it does to do with sense. Poetry, crucially, is an acoustic form. It’s emotional noise. That is why it’s often able to move us before we completely understand it. Its sounds allow us to receive it in our hearts, as well as in our heads.

It has always been my hope in setting up Poetry by Heart that we would give young people the opportunity to enjoy a wider range of poetry than they usually find in their preparation for exams.  We want to offer new ways of finding pleasure and confidence in a part of the curriculum where such things can be in short supply. The sort of pleasure and confidence, in fact, that adds tremendously to young people’s self-esteem, to their verbal skills, to their powers of communication, and so to a more fulfilled life and greater opportunities.  The competition is an end in itself, but it’s also a gateway, a beginning.

Poetry By Heart is designed to put the emphasis on learning by heart, not on learning by rote. It is about understanding and remembering the deep recurring truths about our experience as humans, in terms that are especially beautiful and resonant, It is about doing this in a pleasure-filled way. And it is part of the same benevolent revolution in poetry-proving and poetry-teaching that formed a part of the original intention in founding the Poetry Archive during my ten years as Poet Laureate.

Most of us have some recollection of being made to learn things when we were kids ourselves, and most of us can remember bits or all of those poems in our older age. This tells us several things, I think. It tells us how important it is to learn good stuff, so that our heads are full of nourishing words and not full of junk. It tells us this good stuff changes its meanings in very interesting ways as the years pass and the words stay in our memories. It tells us that despite or because of the effort involved in learning by heart, we as humans have a primitive appetite for it. It makes us feel good. It makes us find ourselves.

When Samuel Johnson was ruminating about the value of literature, he said it helped him ‘enjoy and endure’ his existence. Those two words form the foundation of our competition. We want it to be fun, as it encourages pupils to discover new pleasures and fulfilments, but we want it to be serious as well: an excitement and a dare. To demonstrate, in fact, the marvellous form of two-way travelling that poetry allows us: into ourselves, and out into the world, at one and the same time.