Simple starts : Filling in the gaps
In each of these games part of the text (a word or initial letter of a word) of
a poem is provided and players are asked to build on this base. In most
cases they will acquire a number of words or objects through the game that
are to be linked either in a single or group work, but they can choose the
form. The ability to make connections is important to developing writing
skills and these are the beginnings of a process developed in City of Poems
and later games.
Fishing for Words
has perhaps been the most widely taken up by teachers
- one school even built its own wishing well - since it allows them to ask
for short, usually three-line, poems linked by an idea or image - either to
develop flexibility in thinking or as an introduction to haiku and other
The game consists of "fishing", either with line and magnet or simply
fingers, from a suitable container (bowl, tray, hat, bin), a number of words
to use as part of the poem. In its original version a selection of random
simple words cut from "glossy" colour magazines was used, later the words
were written on slips of coloured paper. The game can be used to start
work on specific subjects by labelling the "fish" with useful words. Where
line and magnet are used, each slip is paperclipped.
The players could be asked to use the words (usually three) that they
"catch" as the first word of a line, or the last; or one at the beginning,
one in the middle, one at the end of the poem; or most simply anywhere they
can! If there is no specific theme and no connection is apparent to the player,
they can be encouraged to start by taking each word in turn and seeing what
ideas each produces, then either linking some of these or shaping the poem
around one good idea.
In playschemes the finished poem was usually written out onto white paper
and the cut-out words were pasted on in their appropriate places. This paper
was then mounted onto fish shapes cut out of wallpaper or advertising
The Tom Phillips Game
leads to interesting combinations of written and
visual work. Players will need some books - since these will be seriously
cut up and since plenty of text on each page helps the game, we
recommend the purchase of old novels. Using a shoveha'penny board or
other grid numbered one to nine, you first play for two numbers. If for
example you got a four and a one you would turn to page 14 or 41. Then
you play for another number. If it's, say, 3, you count 3 lines down the
page, pick a word and draw a circle around it. You repeat this, and for each
number you count on down the page, so a 5 would take you down 5 more
lines to line 8.
Each time you get a line you circle a word, aiming to build a sequence of
words that will `read' when it is isolated from the rest of the text. When you
have run out of lines, or feel you have reached a point where additional
words would spoil the poem - you stop.
And then, carefully removing the page, you use inks, paints, felt-tips, to
create a design or picture that will block out the rest of the page, leaving
only the circled words visible.
The finished pages can be mounted on board or card. In one variation Christmas
cards were made, using Dickens's `A Christmas Carol' as the book. This
game takes its name from, and acknowledges, the artist Tom Phillips, from
whose work `A Humument' it is derived.
For further information on this sort of game click on
SIMPLE STARTS in the INDEX side bar.